I adore The Fever King with every fiber of my being, so when I had the opportunity to host Victoria on my blog, you know I jumped on it! And I got to ask Victoria the question, “What makes a monster?”
In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.
The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.
Caught between his purpose and his heart, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in pursuit of the greater good.
Guest Post: “What Makes A Monster?”
As a moral psychologist, this is the kind of thorny ethical question I love. What makes someone a monster? Is it their motivations? Their capacity for evil? Their actions?
Philosophers have debated these questions for a long time, but let’s forget about philosophy for a second. When we’re reading, what makes us decide a character is monstrous—too evil to be saved, too broken to be redeemed?
Maybe it’s motivation. Forgetting outcome for a second, there are some characters whose behaviour is driven by malice and we can’t forgive them for it, even if their actions are mostly harmless in the end. For example, if someone acts out of a motivation to hurt someone else, does it matter if they succeed or not? Or does the fact they wanted to cause harm matter most?
Of course, competence might play a role too. It’s hard to see someone as monstrous, no matter how bad their intentions, if they don’t have the ability to wield that malevolence as a weapon. It’s like the meme “old man shouts at cloud,” right? Just having malintent doesn’t do anything if you don’t try to do harm. You might fail, but the capacity to have succeeded might be the difference between ‘impotent meanie’ and ‘dangerous monster.’
So is it actions that matter most? Is it the behaviour of causing harm that makes someone irredeemable? What if they had good intentions—does that undo the impact of all the hurt they caused?
It seems like you need all three to be truly monstrous. You have to have malevolent motivation. You have to be capable of using that motivation to cause harm. And the outcomes of your actions have to actually be harmful, causing real—and probably lasting—damage. Think of all the greatest fictional villains. All of them had the perfect trifecta of evil: motivation, capacity, action. Voldemort’s motives to establish pureborn wizard supremacy over muggles and muggle-borns make his actions abhorrent. Moriarty wouldn’t be nearly so terrifying if he weren’t terrifyingly competent. We fear and admire Hannibal Lecter because his actions are both bizarre and lethal. But remove any part of that recipe for monstrosity, and even the evilest bad guy starts to seem more pathetic than predatory.
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About the Author
Victoria Lee grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where she spent twelve ascetic years as a vegetarian before discovering spicy chicken wings are, in fact, a delicacy. She’s been a state finalist competitive pianist, a hitchhiker, a pizza connoisseur, an EMT, an expat in China and Sweden, and a science doctoral student. She’s also a bit of a snob about fancy whisky.
Victoria writes early in the morning, then spends the rest of the day trying to impress her border collie puppy and make her experiments work.
She is represented by Holly Root and Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary.