I want to take a moment to have an expanded discussion on one of my favorite things about the books by Kat Ross (see my review of Kat Ross’ latest book The Necromancer Bride coming Monday Oct 7th .) That is her mature characters. So many times these day mature is used to describe adult-rated content (or content for the 55+ crowd,) but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about characters who are deep, well thought out and act like real adults. Which is so refreshing, in a world awash in YA novels with adults who act like teens.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love YA. Just sometimes I read it and wish that the characters made smarter decisions, that they acted more like adults, that they had deeper motives and more definition.
Slight spoilers ahead… continue to the end to enter to win a Amazon Kindle copy of A Bad Breed.
One character who seems to really stand out to me in this way is Balthazar. Balthazar has been there practically from the beginning of Kat’s fantasy world. In the Epilogue to The Midnight Sea he is introduced as an evil antimagi.
The one who carried the urn went by the name Balthazar. He was old, although not nearly as old as his mistress…
He was the strongest of the antimagi, the one she trusted above all others.
In the days of the ancient Persian Empire Balthazar had been a magi, a sort of priest of the ancient Persian religion, until he’s expelled for dabbling with forbidden elements. When we meet him he is in the service of Neblis, the Queen of the Dominion. A dark queen who rules hordes of un-dead ghouls and revenants. The antimagi are her servants they use chains to drain victims of their life force, thus extending their own lives and allowing them magic abilities, like wielding fearful black lightening. The antimagi are ruthless, and Balthazar more so, killing whole villages, enslaving women and children with the chains, and are guilty of many depraved and despicable acts. Later these antimagi will be know as Necromancers.
Balthazar is more than the top dog among the antimagi, he is also Neblis’ lover. But it quickly becomes apparent that not all is as it seems. Even in the epilogue where he is introduced we get a hint that there are doubts, cracks in the world of Balthazar and the antimagi, and those have nothing to do with the stories hero’s who are so valiantly fighting against them.
It’s towards the end of The Queen of Chaos that I really began to enjoy the depth of Balthazar’s character. He ended up being so much more that a 2-dimensional villain. As revelations come to light and choices have to be made we see Balthazar making decisions less like a ruthless antimagi and more like a lost sheep. We see how Balthazar’s past has shaped him and we begin to understand Neblis’ corruption of him. We see a man desperate to be free.
This is rich stuff for a villain, especially for an under-boss. Many popular fantasy novels don’t flesh out the character of the under-boss like this. Neblis is the big baddie, Balthazar is her tool, her thrall.
He ends the series disappearing off the grid, maybe changed, maybe not. We are unsure if he is still a villain or perhaps something else.
About a thousand years later he resurfaces in the Gaslamp Gothic series as a Victorian Count…
He is at first a background player and of course our hero’s are very weary of him and his motives. Balthazar isn’t the only necromancer still around, but he’s found a way to extend his life without the chains and he’s learned to stay behind the scenes, never drawing too much attention to himself.
It seems that many of the remaining necromancers have grown even more cruel, cunning and greedy with time. Balthazar though has gained something special – wisdom. I love this about him. I love seeing his slow metamorphosis from an villainous antimagi to someone who cares about the world and those around him. Even to such a degree that he is willing to use the chains on himself to save another.
This isn’t 100% unique, but that change is different in the motivations behind it. There is no romantic interest working to “find the good in him”, no road to Damascus moment, no external force working on him to change. It’s a creeping change, so much so that even toward the end of The Necromancer’s Bride I was left wondering exactly where he would end up.
Balthazar isn’t a hero, he’s not an antihero and he moves beyond being a villain. I’m not sure what to call him, but I am so glad I got to meet him in these books.
The good news is that we are going to get more of Balthazar. The next book in the Gaslamp Gothic series is called Dead Ringer, after which Balthazar’s Bane is scheduled. And check out the cover, which was shared by Kat Ross for this blog post!
If you were going to make a list of complicated, mature characters who would you put on that list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Your comment will enter you to win a Kindle copy of A Bad Breed (Gaslamp Gothic Book 3) by Kat Ross read my review. One entry per person/account, international as long as you can receive a kindle code, ends Oct. 31st, 2019.
“Balthazar wasn’t entirely sure why he stayed, only that he was waiting for something. It was the same feeling one had on a hot summer night when the air grew heavy and charges. The primitive brain knew a storm was brewing long before the first thunderheads appeared on the horizon.
This did not trouble him – quite the reverse. He thrived on his little war against the Duzakh. Killing his former brethren was the only thing that gave him pleasure anymore.
Let them come.“
-Excerpt from The Necromancer’s Bride