Interview by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban
Today, Sabrina Benulis, author of Archon (Harper Voyager, December 2011) has joined The Enchanted Inkpot to discuss her debut novel Archon.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I found Archon to be a complex and fascinating take on the Angels/Demons/Humans mythology. In this your first book on The Book of Raziel trilogy, you raise many questions and I can’t wait to read the next volumes to get the answers.
In the meantime, I would love you to share with us some information about how the universe of Archon came to be and also, maybe, some hints on what is to come.
Apart from the Bible and, I assume, Dante’s Inferno, what other sources did you use as inspiration for the complex mythology and worlds you have created in Archon?
Thanks so much for the opportunity to be interviewed, and I'm glad you found the book so fascinating! Now to answer your first question, there were many, many mythological sources and religious influences for Archon. The mythology is primarily Christian and Jewish, but there are also large influences from Islam and Hinduism, as well as the ancient religions of the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Greeks. For instance, the concept of the Jinn was taken from Islam, while the idea of an angelic trinity of a Creator, Preserver, and Destroyer was inspired by Hinduism's Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva respectively. Also, I am very much inspired by striking images and complex, darker fantasy. All of these elements combined resulted in the world as it is presented in The Books of Raziel.
2. In the Middle Ages, Catholic Church scholars spent a lot of time and energy discussing the sex of the angels. In Archon, you have answered that question in a most unexpected way, by portraying angels as androgynous. Did you steal this concept from some ancient interpretation I’m not aware of or are these sensual androgynous beings your own creation?
Well, the answer lies half in "reality" and half in my imagination. In most world religions that believe in angels and demons, they are considered to be sexless beings, albeit ones that will often take on a form that is either male or female when they appear to humans (in most religions they are interestingly always male). Technically, then, you could say they might have an androgynous appearance. I kind of took that concept and developed it for the novel, trying to get across the idea that these angels and demons are most definitely flesh and blood creatures with their own desires and passions, but that they are also very alien to humans (much as real angels and demons would be) and thus have that otherworldly kind of sexuality to them. While most of the characters are solidly male or female--like the demoness Naamah, or the Jinn Troy, who are both females--the angels Israfel and Lucifel are in questionable territory as they are part of a trinity that symbolizes certain aspects of the universe. In Gnostic Christianity, this theme of androgyny is prominent, and it influenced me a good bit. I also really enjoy Japanese anime and manga, which loves to play with the idea of gender and portrayals of beauty for both.
3. In the world you describe in Archon, the three main archangels are siblings and lovers. Are we going to see more in the two upcoming books about their complex hate/love relationship?
Oh yes! In fact, the plot pretty much hinges on this intense conflict between Israfel, Raziel, and Lucifel in the past and how their respective hatreds and loves have put the universe in the perilous position that it is in. The Book of Raziel--which only the Archon can open-- is sought after not only for its power, but the secrets within it. These secrets have much to do with these three angels, and indeed their past is the entire reason why the Book has come to exist in the first place and why it is necessary for the universe's salvation. Keep in mind that the history of these three as it is presented in the novel is from another character's POV, and also that there can be severe misunderstandings between people that lead to great tragedies . . .
4. Angels have become very popular in books these days. How does Archon mythology compare with that of other recent paranormal titles featuring angels?
It's fascinating to me how popular angel novels have become, especially considering I first started writing what is now The Books of Raziel trilogy about six years ago!! But if you want to compare Archon to what else is available out there right now, I can honestly say that with Archon you're getting a world that is complex and rich--and I'm just using this to illustrate what I mean--like you would find in an epic fantasy. It is also much darker and, in a sense, realistic. One of the themes throughout the trilogy is the paradox of the beauty, and yet also the supreme danger, of the supernatural for humans. I think a lot of angel novels out there now, especially those for young adults, find a little too much romance in what would realistically be a very scary and potentially dangerous thing. That is why I wanted to portray love in these books as it would truly be between a human and an angel--illusive, uncertain--with the idea that infatuation is not love and that real love usually grows through shared trials and hardships, as well as forgiveness and understanding.
5. It’s my understanding Archon is the first book in a trilogy. Did you plan it this way from the beginning? Did you have the story arch for the trilogy already in mind when you started writing Archon?
The Books of Raziel trilogy was originally all one large book, and now that it has been split into three it has gone through a good deal of revision and development. So in a sense, yes, I did plan it that way! I do know the overall plot of what happens in each novel, it's the details in between that are difficult. Archon is essentially an introductory book, which is why there are a good bit of characters. I had the large task of introducing a sizeable cast while also explaining both the overarching plot of all three books and moving Archon's own particular plot along. It's a lot more difficult than people think and it can be hard to strike that perfect balance between getting to know some key characters and moving the story along.
6. Could you give us any hints of what is to come for the characters we met in Archon?
The idea in Archon is that people aren't always who we first judge or expect them to be. For instance, it certainly seems that Israfel is a villain, but as his tragic past begins to unfold in the second book, your opinion might begin to change. Troy too comes off as rather harsh, but remember she is an alien creature and a hunter who has learned to survive in a very harsh and severe world. Her new and somewhat forced relationship with Angela becomes fascinating. Also, Angela's relationships with Sophia, Israfel, and Kim expand immensely. Although Angela has tried to distance herself emotionally from people in the past, she will not be able to deny the particular feelings and attachments she is growing to all three. Sophia is a friend, and Kim actually seemed to understand her. Also, Angela's bitterness at what she now sees as a meaningless infatuation with Israfel causes immense tension in their growing relationship and shows just how vulnerable this angel can be.
7. In Archon, the POV changes continuously throughout the novel, sometimes in the same page so that we are in the mind of all the characters at one point of another. What was your reason to do this?
It actually surprised me a little how jarring some people found that aspect of the novel, as I have read many epic fantasies that have a million more POVs than mine! But in truth, I had to do it because the entire story could not be told properly or effectively from only, let's say, two points of view. It all came down to necessity really. I never put a character in the book that isn't important, or present their thoughts if it isn't necessary. This will probably become more apparent as the trilogy progresses.
8. Did you want the readers to identify with a particular character(s)? What about you? Do you have a favorite character(s)?
I think most people will tend to identify with Angela, but this will not happen initially, as in the first book Angela is still a very damaged and hurt personality. In the second book she becomes much softer and begins to evolve immensely. My favorite characters are a three-way tie between Angela, Israfel, and Troy. I've merely scraped the surface with all three of them. Troy especially, since I only had time to merely introduce her in the first novel.
9. Archon takes place on Luz, a Vatican owned University city built on a small island off the coast of America. A city you describe as overbuilt and falling apart. Were you thinking of any particular place when you created Luz?
When it came down to the imagery, not really. I just began to picture an isolated spot of land that was the very essence of gothic. In many ways, Luz is a fantasy city. In all reality its architecture is completely impossible I think! However, it was important to me that Luz also had a very otherworldly isolated feel to it. That was why I didn't go on and on about where it was in relation to what continent and so forth anymore than I needed to. To me it just felt important that it was there and it felt like another world, and it was isolated enough that you could imagine angels touching down and mingling with people. The ruin and decay were byproducts of isolation, primitive technology, and weather. The rain and the storms that seem to give off that claustrophobic feeling are caused by the looming presence of the Archon--or at least that's what the Vatican thinks. I wanted everything to have a very medieval, restrictive feeling. This needed to be a place where spirits were commonplace and candles outnumbered lamps.
The name Luz comes from a Jewish legend about an isolated mythical city that could only be accessed after passing beneath a great tree. This tree was further guarded by an angel. From there, you can probably see the connection between my version of Luz and the legend.
10. Archon is a dark, gothic, fantasy that is being marketed as YA. Did you write it with a YA audience in mind?
When I first wrote Archon, I actually did not have a particular market in mind. Angela was eighteen because she was, if that makes any sense. It was all about what worked for the story. Technically, Archon can be read by anyone about 16 and older. I wouldn't go younger than that.
Thank you very much.
You're very much welcome! It was a lot of fun, and thanks for the opportunity to discuss my novel!
If you want to know more about Archon, you can read my review at http://www.myshelf.com/teen/fiction/12/archon.htm