Paula Weston discusses angels and demons in paranormal/fantasy novels

Paula Weston, author of Shadows, published by our sister imprint Indigo stops by the Gollancz blog to talk angels and demons in paranormal and fantasy novels. Shadows is out now where all good books are sold. 

As with other paranormal beings, there are endless ways to present angels and demons in urban fantasy/paranormal fiction.

Vampire lore can vary enormously (from teenage creatures that sparkle to terrifying post-apocalyptic monsters), but they at least all have one thing in common: the need to feed on blood – or not, as the case may be.

With angels and demons, there’s not necessarily a central myth – and there’s also the added challenge of if/how to handle theological elements.

Possibly more so than any other sub-genre in paranormal fiction, angel/demon stories can spark passionate reactions from readers who bring their own beliefs (or non-belief) to the reading experience.

There are certainly plenty of approaches to choose from. We have traditional angels (Alexandra Adornetto’s Halo), agnostic angels (Susan Ee’s Angelfall), fallen angels (Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush Hush and Lauren Kate’s Fallen), demons (Lyn Rush’s Wasteland) and even fallen demons (Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series). And then there are the hybrids (Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series and Laini Taylor’s stunningly original Daughter of Smoke and Bone which, technically, is more fantasy than paranormal).

I think, generally, there are three ways to go as far as theology is concerned: the first is to ignore traditional foundations of angel lore (whether it be Jewish, Islamic or Christian); the second is to acknowledge it but not dwell on it; the third is to make it an essential part of the story.

The first can sometimes mean a plot lacks substance; the second can seem like a cop-out; the third can feel heavy-handed.

To be honest, I didn’t set out to write a story about angels and demons. I had an idea involving lost memories, warring factions and ambiguous loyalties. At the centre of the story was a girl and guy with a complicated history that only he remembered. And if he took advantage of the fact she didn’t remember the tension between them, there would be hell to pay if and when her memories returned. I knew there were paranormal aspects to her memory loss and that the two of them were part of a wider conflict.

I brainstormed plot and characters, trying to find the best lore/mythology to build my story around, but nothing grabbed me. And then I read a story in the Book of Enoch (a non-biblical historical text) about a fallen angel called Semyaza and his two hundred buddies. Regardless of whether or not the story was true, it set up some interesting possibilities and the ideas for plot came thick and fast.

I knew from the start I’d have to build a fairly complex society to achieve what I wanted to with the story, which would involve a lot of work for readers. With angels and demons, the foundation for conflict already exists – so it makes it easy to play with perceptions.

I took the Semyaza story and built on it. What would happen if the fallen angels got out of hell? What if they made the same mistakes all over again? What if the offspring survived this time? What would their lives be like?

Ultimately, I ended up going with option two for Shadows and the Rephaim series – giving a nod to traditional theology and then building original mythology from there.

And, then I threw in some violence, a couple of foul-mouthed characters and a bit of sexiness…

Ultimately though, regardless of how angels and demons are handled in fiction, the story and its characters have to stand and fall on their own merits.