Jennifer Estep claims that the inspiration for the Elemental Assassin series came from her fascination with the moral questions surrounding assassin characters and her desire to challenge herself by writing a villain-as-hero. Readers empathize with, and easily bond to, a defender of truth and justice, but when the protagonist who kills strangers for profit, things get more complicated. Though evil may be fascinating in some ways, the reader will often desire that the villain-protagonist be defeated in the end. In order to put her readers in Gin Blanco’s corner, therefore, Estep had to first find some common ground and then establish some respectability for her character.
To make her character more relatable, Estep shows the mundane aspects of Gin’s life along with the supernatural. When Gin cooks for her family and friends, we can relate to doing simple acts of service for those we love. Each of us have had boring days at work, so when Gin has a quiet day at the Pork Pit, it is familiar. By mixing the small familiarities of every day life into a story about a supernatural assassin, the gap between the reader and protagonist shrinks. The small moments matter to the reader because they matter to Gin.
Gin’s friends and family not only make her more relatable but more heroic as well. Each time Gin bickers or pokes fun at her sister or foster brother, we are reminded of our own relations with our siblings. Having established their mutual love, Estep can then endanger or estrange those characters to increase tension. Estep wrote Gin to be fiercely loyal and violently protective, willing to risk and sacrifice herself for those she loves. Gin is often at her most dangerous when she is acting in their defense, allowing Estep to demonstrate Gin’s heroic attributes and nobler nature.
Finally, Estep creates a dark and gritty world to serve as the backdrop for her protagonist, using the contrast between Gin and her world to give context and justification to her actions. Though she may be violent and mercenary, Gin doesn’t enjoy killing. It’s business, and at times, a necessity. By pitting Gin against characters who are brutal and cruel, Estep is able to make Gin the least evil in a menagerie of bad guys.
The concept of an assassin protagonist may have a dark appeal, but it isn’t a recipe for a sympathetic character. To allow her reader to suspend their disbelief and root for a bad guy, Estep had to make her protagonist both relatable and worthy of respect. By showing us the things and people Gin loves, Estep humanizes her assassin and establishes common ground. She is also able to threaten these things to establish tension and drive plot forward. Finally, by making her milieu dark and brutal, Gin Blanco isn’t that bad by comparison. Gin Blanco may be a villain, but through skilled manipulation of her audience, Estep makes her the reader’s villain.Tags: Sequence 04: On the Shoulders of Giants