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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is young adult author Deborah Falaye, whose debut novel was just published last month! Blood Scion, which is inspired by Yoruba-Nigerian mythology and research on child soldiers, follows a fifteen-year-old girl descended from gods who is forced to become a soldier by the people who colonized her own. You can read or listen to a sample on the publisher’s website, and you can find Deborah on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok.

Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye - Book Cover


The first time I heard the term “morally gray” was on Absolute Write. I was a new writer back then, still in the middle of completing my very first manuscript. After a few recommendations from friends, I took the plunge and joined the online community to learn more about writing and all things publishing. One of the first forums I visited was already deep in a discussion about whether or not morally gray characters had a place in YA. I had no idea what morally gray meant at the time, but apparently this was such a hot topic. So safe to say I was intrigued.

I lingered on that forum for a while, rummaging through everyone’s responses until I had a clear understanding of what it meant for a character to be morally gray. To simply define it, these are characters whose morals are ambiguous, characters who are neither good nor bad, who aren’t quite the hero or the villain of the story, but rather, they straddle that gray line in-between. And this is where the divide in the forum came into play. Some loved these types of characters because they saw them as being far more complex, which made them feel more realistic. Others, however, argued that there should be a clear line drawn between the hero and the villain of a story, and the main character (who also happens to be the hero) shouldn’t have questionable morals. I disagreed heavily with this, especially when I started to notice the common thread in those responses: the main characters being critiqued were, more often than not, female.

“She (insert morally gray female character here) was too unlikeable for a main character.”
“She was too self-centered, too selfish, too cruel.”
“I tried, but I just couldn’t relate to her. I couldn’t sympathize with her.”
Her, her, her.

In fiction, we’ve witnessed the long-standing tradition where female characters (unsurprisingly written by men) were often depicted as nothing more than damsels in distress, weaklings who needed saving by the heroic men around them. These types of female characters weren’t allowed to have agency, couldn’t affect the world in a meaningful way. They were contrived caricatures, prettified props placed in a man-made box to be either good or bad. The good ones would be saved; the bad ones would be used and discarded. They were there, just there, for the glory of the heroic male. So what happens when you introduce a female character in fiction, and you not only hand her all of that well-deserved power, but you also give her agency, ambition, drive, a well-rounded backstory? A female character who has her own needs and desires, wants more than what the world tells her she can have? One who doesn’t exist within the constraints of your box, but outside of it? One who isn’t the “good girl” because she makes choices, both morally good and bad? A female character who is complex, so, so complex?

Well, you get criticisms. Especially at a time when morally gray girls didn’t really exist in YA. You get unsolicited opinions from those who think they know and understand the full complexities of what it means to be female. Yes, we can be both vulnerable and badass. We can have morals and still engage in some very questionable shit. We can most definitely be cruel and angry and vengeful. It’s called range, honey.

Sloane, the main character of my fantasy novel BLOOD SCION, is a fifteen-year-old child soldier who is fighting to reclaim everything the colonizers have stolen from her and her people. She is a deeply flawed character, and as you follow her journey, you see her make some really terrible decisions for the sake of survival. I’ve heard some readers call her one of the most morally gray girls in YA, and that pleases me because I intentionally wrote her to be just that. She’s a character whose lived experiences have shaped the way she navigates the world around her. She’s suffered some devastating horrors and unleashed a few of her own. She is angry and vengeful and wants nothing more than to burn down the world and build a new one from its ashes. And yet, like some of my beloved morally gray girls in YA (i.e., Adelina Amouteru, Jude Duarte, Karina Alahari, to name a few), I would argue all of that only makes her more real, more human.

And I think that is why I’m more drawn to these types of female characters, because they exist as a mirror of our own reality, of the gray spaces that we, as humans, often tread. We are all a little morally gray, and that’s okay.

Photo of Deborah Falaye by John Bregar
Photo Credit: John Bregar
Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian-Canadian young adult author. She grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where she spent her time devouring African literature, pestering her grandma for folktales, and tricking her grandfather into watching Passions every night. When she’s not writing about fierce Black girls with badass magic, she can be found obsessing over all things reality TV. Deborah currently lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and their partner-in-crime yorkie, Major.