Writing a character with mental illnesses is difficult even if the writer has one. There’s a fine line that writers risk crossing between the dangerous stereotypes and reality. However, when done right, the challenges the mental illness poses to the character with it can demonstrate beautiful characterization and lead to some really heart-wrenching moments. Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh shows us a devastatingly beautiful representation of grief in the form of Odessa. While this character does have her faults in the storyline, taken in isolation she is a wonderfully-written character.
Odessa is a necromancer of Karthia, engaged to Evander Crowther. She is tasked with raising the dead in a kingdom where the dead rule. The catch is that those who are raised must never have their veils taken off and be seen by another, else they become terrible monsters called Shades. A powerful Shade is let loose, and Evander is killed in the process. Though drowning in her grief, Odessa grows close to Evander’s sister, Meredy Crowther. Eventually, the person behind the release of the Shades is discovered, and the dead of Karthia are returned to the Deadlands.
First off, let’s get the gritty details out of the way. A lot of people will probably disagree with me right away, stating that Odessa is a shallow character. However, I would like to object. Odessa’s largest downfall overall is in the writing surrounding her grief. There’s not much emotional buildup, and a lot of events are glossed over in favor of depressing introspection. The book doesn’t give much justice to the wonderfully written Odessa, and if it delved deeper into the storyline and the characters in general, the story would have been much stronger. However, this is a character analysis and not a book review, so taking away the context of the story and looking closer at Odessa herself, it’s easy to see that she’s a far more interesting character than what she let’s on.
A huge part of Odessa’s character is exploring grief. When confronted with death, many people go through the Kübler-Ross Model of Grief which separates the grieving stage into five chronological stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Odessa spends the least time in the denial stage, having seen her lover, Evander, die in front of her very eyes. As a result, there isn’t much to explore in terms of denial which would lend to further development of her character.
Anger is an interesting stage for Odessa. While she passes through the main stage of anger, readers see traces of anger lingering throughout her entire time through the model of grief. This says a lot about the naturally fierce character Odessa is. She may be suffering from grief, but that doesn’t make her a weak character at all. She is naturally angry about having lost her loved one, and takes it out on those around her as a way to cope.
From there, readers see Odessa bargaining as though she can bring back Evander. She engages in brief displays of affection towards fellow necromancer and close friend, Jax, who is going through his own grieving stages. This display of affection towards Jax is almost as though she is trying to gain another love in exchange for Evander’s, a love she will never be able to have again. Another way readers see Odessa bargaining is in her constant remarks about how she would trade her life for Evander’s.
When those bargains fail, people become naturally depressed which is what happens with Odessa. Odessa’s depression takes the form of her addiction to the healing potion. It reaches the point where Odessa needs to be forcefully restrained to prevent her from taking any more of the potion, and she suffers from withdrawal symptoms. This is a very real stage of grief, and one most people can relate to the most, because it is has what is arguably the largest mental barrier to overcome. To reflect that, Odessa spends the longest time in the stage of grief, often seeing Evander in hallucinations. She can’t get over the fact that the man she was engaged to has died and begins to lose her way. She stops caring about others and can no longer do what she once enjoyed doing. Instead, she is focused on revenge, but even she acknowledges that once she has achieved revenge, she won’t know what else to do. That realization makes a powerful statement. Odessa is lost in her grief, but she understands that Evander won’t come back no matter what.
Finally there comes acceptance. When Odessa accepts that Evander is gone and there’s nothing she can do about it, she stop seeing Evander’s hallucinations. She has come to terms with his death and no longer sees revenge as the sole purpose of her life. When people accept the reality of their situation, there comes some form of enlightenment. For Odessa, this enlightenment clarifies her to the people important to her such as Meredy as well as the true mastermind behind the Shade attacks.
Odessa is a powerful character who is a perfect embodiment of the five stages of grief. In fact, she is arguably underrated and needs to be talked more in the YA community.