Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twin Reviews: DEBUT URBAN FANTASY


ROSEMARY AND RUE
Seanan McGuire
Urban Fantasy
Daw, 2009


THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS
Kelly Gay
Urban Fantasy
Pocket, 2009



Premise:
1. Half human, half fae private investigator overcoming personal loss is forced to sleuth a magical murder among the fairy races living hidden in plain sight with people.

2. Human cop partnered with siren cop investigates magical narcotics among otherworldly races living openly with people.

Cover:
1. Standard UF blue tones and leather, but in a twist on the usual the leather is a jacket instead of pants, and the heroine looks remarkably covered, untatooed, and visible-weaponless. Even so, uncertain this would have caught Apprentice Writer's eye in the store on its own. Unusual and intriguing title, though, which is not explained until almost the very end. Too bad the next titles in the series don't follow botanical precedent.

2. Blue tones again, with cover girl back to regular UF uniform and pose. Pretty enough overall look, not quite memorable title. The aspect of the cover that stands out the most to AW is hard to see in this small image; the light-and-shadow background suddenly snapped into focus like one of those optical illusions where you first see one image and it suddenly switches around to something else. Whenever AW looks, she now sees the head and shoulders of a samurai type figure in the upper right corner, staring down the heroine's cleavage. Kind of funny, and maybe not a smart thing to do to a girl with a gun in her hand.

What Works
1. So much, starting with the name of the heroine (October Daye) and continuing on to the heroine herself, a so-called Changeling (as opposed to Pureblood Fae) who has suffered multiple losses and is engaging and wry, choosing to tough it out rather than feel sorry for herself. An excerpt that typifies Toby's persona, spoken after finding a mysterious object:

"Pandora was an idiot. I dropped (it), shuddering from cold as much as from temptation; as soon as (it) left my fingers, the burning died. Whatever it was selling, I wasn't in the market. I had enough to deal with without being pushed around by magical items that shouldn't exist."

Pluses continue with the rich worldbuilding. Apprentice Writer was fascinated with the complex descriptions of the various fae races, their kingdoms and territories, and most of all, with the concept of how they adapted to live invisibly to humans in tiny pockets of nature in the urban environement. AW's familiarity with fae elements to this point was extremely narrow, and limited mostly to Tinkerbell type images or possibly Elvish ones a la 'Lord of the Rings'. Very soon into the story, she realized that the fae inhabiting Toby's world are no laughing, benevolent forest creatures flitting happily about in the sunlight. They are stark, demanding, frequently tyrannical beings with very little tolerance for weakness or departure from their customs and expectations, beautiful and terrifying at once. Each inhabitant of this fae world has certain special gifts and the varying intensity of ability to perform magic; Toby is constantly challenged by the fact that she is relatively weak in magical ability, and so must compensate in smarts and sheer personality when dealing with those who hold stronger hierarchical and/or magical power. The combination of heroine, world, and utter originality (how many stories has the Gentle Reader read lately with the protagonist being turned into a fish for fourteen years?) won AW over, and she impatiently waits for the day the second novel in the series will be released.

A common development in UF stories is for the female protagonist to encounter a male character who antagonizes her yet with whom she must co-operate to resolve the external conflict, and in the process sparks fly between them. Another plus of this story is that something else happened with Toby instead. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next book in this regard.


2. Again, so much.
Kickass female cops abound in urban fantasy land, but Charlie Madigan is the first AW encountered who is also a parent. Not to mention, recently returned from the dead. Throw in a partner who is a siren (he wears a gadget on his throat to prevent people from hearing his real voice, which would make them powerless to resist him if left unmodified), plus various characters representing the races found in alternate levels of the universe (both Heaven- and Hell-like, if AW understood correctly) and we are back at the combination of heroine, world, and originality that AW loves so well.

And in terms of heroine love interest - again, this story didn't follow the usual formula. There were at least three characters who looked like they might be setting up for that role, but in each case matters went down a different road than expected. AW was happily surprised.

What Doesn't
1. AW has often mentioned her love of secondary characters and complex, layered stories. This story delivered in droves. Perhaps - a little too much. There were so many different types of creatures, each with their own appearance, culture, hiearchy, and individual behaviour, it was hard to keep track of. Some of those mentioned only briefly created frustration for those of us who would have liked to find out more about them (e.g. the alluring water horse, the troll). Similarly, the protagonist's backstory is complicated, to say the least; there were many points where AW became confused about what had happened when and why as Toby remembered bits and pieces. A little more clarity would have been desirable for this reader (though it is possible that readers who have more knowledge of the type of folklore involved may have had no problems).

That being said, this was the first in a series so it was to be expected that world building would be extensive, and it's possible to hope for more explanantion in volumes to come.

In the suspension of disbelief department, a couple of recurring and related themes grated: the heroine is repeatedly wounded (par for the course in UF) and keeps bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding to the point of ludicrosity (yes, that's a word. AW just invented it). Which was made worse by the fact that through the whole book, which covers a period of three or four days minus the prologue, if AW recalls correctly, she eats a total of two sandwiches. At one sitting. Containing marshmallow fluff. There is mention of a lot of coffee, and two instances of magical healing potions, but please: if an author wants AW to believe her heroine can run, jump, sleuth, take a beating and bleed vast quantities, she/he better be providing more fuel than marshmallows or else explicitly writing in that changelings only require a tiny fraction of the calories an active human needs per day.

There were some other 'Why are you doing this the hard way, i.e. alone?' questions, but AW was willing to let these ride in the hope that they might sort themselves out in volume two.

2. Like October's world, Charlie's is highly complex. Which was all to the good, right up until AW became befuddled. This could still have been taken in stride, but was saddled with the fact that Charlie seems to have a heavily conflicted relationship with everyone around her. It became a bit much for her to reflect on problems relating to her ex-husband, partner, daughter, sister, parents of daughter's schoolmates, individuals involved in her medical history....to the point that AW wished for a single calm, angst-free relationship, even if it was with a pet or gargoyle. Her difficulty with people in general reached the point of ludicrosity (hey, if a word is newly invented, it should be used at every opportunity) in her relationship with her partner. Repeatedly, she neglected to speak to him about concerns and events, and took independent action instead of waiting for or informing him- which made no sense. When you are puzzled about behavior and meaning of otherwordly races and events, why in the world WOULDN'T you make use of the tremendous resource at your disposal that is an otheworldly being who knows about those others and is positively inclined towards you? In this blind and self-injurious insistance on going it alone, Charlie made AW equally as crazy as October did.

In minor but jarring 'What??' instances, there is Charlie's description of how the otherworldly beings chose to immigrate to Earth and mingle with humans in the major cities. So far so good. But then she specifies which ones - and they are all in the United States. Meaning what - that, say, Singapore, Mexico City, Paris, Tokyo, Bombay, Shanghai, Rome have all vanished? Or perhaps otherworldly beings for some obscure reason prefer English speaking environments? But then, why no Toronto, London, Sydney?

To go from a larger-than-planetary perspective, with beings from realms beyond Earth, down to such a localized one, was inexplicable and threw this reader out of the story. The inexplicability continued in a later scene when Charlie describes a nightlife happening street where music of all sorts beckons humans and other alike. Again, so far so good. But when she specifies the various music styles on offer, they are one and all currently existing human ones. No mention of a style brought to Earth by the newcomers, or of human music influenced by off-planet styles. AW wasn't sure if this was supposed to demonstrate that Charlie has a narrow perspective, or maybe if she is not as open to other beings as she believes. Perhaps the second volume will clear this up.


Overall
Are Seanan McGuire and Kelly Gay twins separated at birth? Although these stories were very different from one another, there were nevertheless similarities in feel, pluses, and question marks in their debut works.

AW sought these titles out due to mega buzz.

She now agrees that these two authors are destined for a whole lot of well-deserved attention as rising stars on the UF horizon. AW was completely sucked into their worlds, and will most definitely read the next books in each series.

Also: she can't wait to get hold of the third debut author buzzing in what she thinks of as the New Wave in Urban Fantasy. Hooray -Kelly Meding's 'Three Days Till Dead' is winging its way to her as she cyberspeaks. These are happy times for fans of debut authors and creative new twists on the genre.

Learn more about the authors here:

http://www.kellygay.net Next up: Book 2, 'The Darkest Edge of Dawn'

http://seananmcguire.com/toby.php Next up: Book 2, 'A Local Habitation'


m.

4 comments:

Thomma Lyn said...

As always, excellent reviews. I enjoy reading your "what works" and "what doesn't" about novels you've read. And I wanted to drop by and wish you a Happy New Year -- and a Happy New Decade!

M. said...

Thanks TL, and right back at you. I'm anticipating the day you announce that 'Heart's Chalice' is complete!

Julia Smith said...

M - your reviewer's voice is just my cup of tea. I'm just about to read this review aloud to my husband, who is a fan of sci-fi, etc. and of incredible witticism.

'and keeps bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding to the point of ludicrosity (yes, that's a word. AW just invented it).'

LOL!

'but please: if an author wants AW to believe her heroine can run, jump, sleuth, take a beating and bleed vast quantities, she/he better be providing more fuel than marshmallows.'

LOL!

M. said...

*blushes*

I'd love to hear what your DH thinks of 'Rosemary and Rue' or of 'The Gathering Storm', Julia