**Slight spoilers for Harley Merlin #4: Harley Merlin and the First Ritual**
While I’ve been praising the Harley Merlin series and especially Harley Merlin #4: Harley Merlin and the First Ritual, there is a strange lack in stakes or at least it doesn’t feel like the stakes are that high. That’s because the antagonist, the big villain of the series Katherine Shipton, doesn’t appear as much as she should. In a series as long as Harley Merlin is, it’s strange that the antagonist Katherine feels more like a myth or a story rather than a serious and immediate threat considering how “active” she is. It becomes a situation of telling us she’s a villain rather than showing us.
In Katherine’s few scenes she acts like the generic “dark lord” figure whose arrogant and powerful yet outmaneuvered by the heroes allowing them to escape. It undermines the strength of the protagonists and their development when the series’ villain of the series seemingly holds back rather than being as brutal as we the readers know she can be. It breaks the drama and the tension of the moment when the antagonist starts acting out of character whenever she appears just so the protagonist can survive.
In the case of the Harley Merlin series, the readers have been specifically told several times how twisted, ruthless and downright evil Katherine is. This is a woman who has murdered her entire family to fulfill her own goals, manipulated and enslaved others to her will, and killed children because they served no purpose to her. We know she’s evil and monstrous from what the characters have been told but not from what they have seen. They’ve never directly confronted the malicious and ruthlessness of Katherine as a villain.
One of the core rules of storytelling is the idea of showing and not telling. In more technical terms, actions have more impact and meaning than exposition when it comes to showing the nature of a character. While exposition is important to fully understand the extent of how evil the antagonist can be, it means nothing when the reader is never shown the villain actively doing something horrendous or evil. It’s even worse, like in the case of Katherine Shipton, when the only actions the reader is shown do not reflect how the antagonist has been described throughout the entire series. Rather in the scenes she shows up in so far, she feels rather incompetent in actual battle. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but four books in being told how brilliant and evil she is and then seeing her not live up to the description is a bit disappointing.
Fleshing out the antagonist is just as important as building up the protagonist as it raises the tension and drama throughout the series. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the main villain needs as much “screen time” as the protagonist, but they do deserve some time in the spotlight to show just how much of a threat they are. There’s only so much that describing someone’s villany can do as opposed to actually seeing how evil someone can be.