Thursday, September 9, 2010


Apprentice Writer is suffering a reader ailment.

She 'discovered' the Urban Fantasy genre some time ago. If she has understood correctly, stories in this niche involve no-nonsene protagonists who deal with decidedly non-everyday realities by discovering or unleashing their super-human talents. As a rule, tremendously creative world-building is involved, and it is this aspect that usually draws AW's interest - as opposed to straight Paranormal tales, which also involve non-regular humanoid beings, but seem more narrowly focused on the romantic attraction between characters. That isn't enough to hold AW's interest; not helped by the fact that she is not a vampire-, werewolf-, or zombie person.

AW has now read enough speculative fiction & UF novels to discover a pattern: being highly impressed with the creativity of a debut book, and then reading the second and having lukewarm rather than excited anticipation for the third.

To wit:

Gail Carriger's 'Parasol Protectorate'
(Victorian steampunk romance: female protagonist is soulless)
Enjoyed the humor and contrast between stuffy society rules and outrageous situations in the first a lot, liked the second but was more irritated by author style idiosyncracies.
Read the 3rd? Yes, but more because of weak resistance to a beautiful cover than anything else.

Stacia Kane's 'Unholy Ghosts'
(Dystopia: female protagonist is a government-employed witch)
Loved the carefully thought out world of the first, second held AW's interest but developed opinion that the series is better described as horror than UF.
Read the 3rd? Undecided. AW is really not a horror person. Yet, anti-hero secondary character is compelling.

Ilona Andrews' 'Kate Daniels'
(Alternate universe: female protagonist is an uber-trained killing machine)
Loved the energy and dry protagonist attitude in the first and second, both elements still good in third but became irritated by third new group of antagonists introduced in as many books with not enough depth of understanding of where they came from, how they work, why they're such fanatical opponents. Gives the series Jackie Chan syndrome, i.e. no one cares that the bits in between fight scenes range from silly to absurd, because they're just empty filler for the main event.
Read the 4th? Yes, but not rushing out to get it.

Seanan MacGuire's 'October Daye'
(Urban fantasy; female protagonist is half fey, able to move between human and fairy worlds)
Delighted with exquisite world-building and alternate races in the first, which was still good in second, but became seriously irritated with heroine herself.
Read the 3rd? Undecided.

Claire Delacroix's 'Guardians of the Republic' (Dystopia, female protagonists are members of different social classes in a totalitarian big-brother society)
Loved the worldbuilding and suspense of the first, felt somewhat dissatisfied when the nature of the story dwelt heavily on relationship of protagonists in second where this reader really wanted more detail of the society.
Read the 3rd? Yes, since the female protagonist promises to be the most interesting yet.

Jennifer Estep's 'Elemental Assassins' (Urban Fantasy; female protagonist is an assasin with magical ability)
First and second held reader's interest, yet somehow, not inciting a 'When is the third one out?' reaction.
Read the 3rd? No strong opinion either way.

Then there are the series in which AW liked the first and yet hasn't moved on to the second in the series:
Kat Richardson, 'Greywalker' (Urban Fantasy; heroine has capacity to see and move in next world after a brief period with no vital signs)
Devon Monk, 'Allie Beckstrom' (Urban Fantasy; heroine has magical ability)
In these two cases, the matter is actually one of author skill that may be too good - the protagon ists' stuggles with headaches and nausea, as the price they pay for their abilities, seems to induce same in this reader.

Gentle Reader: What's your advice? Should AW grit her teeth and keep going? Are any of the next in these series not-to-be-missed keepers? Or should AW simply give UF a break and go to historical fiction 0r mysteries for a year?



Rachel said...

Wow, great round-up! Sorry to say I have no practical advice for you here. I'm not a huge fan of urban fantasy and have read none of these. My UF repertoire is tiny indeed. However, I can completely commiserate with sequel fatigue. I am very much in that mode right now. So much so that I just read a book that I really really liked (huh, could it be UF? White Cat by Holly Black) and it's the first of a planned trilogy and I have no inclination to read the next. I thought it was a great story and I loved the characters. I just want to leave it at that. For me, there is great enjoyment in imagining what comes next. I don't need the next book for every story I read.

JRVogt said...

I'm intrigued by this post from a slightly different perspective. I've actually got an urban fantasy novel with a literary agency, getting ready to send it to publishers, and am halfway through writing the sequel. I'm aware that sequels can be particularly difficult for debut novelists. Lots of new challenges and questions to answer. How to recap the backstory? What elements of the characters do you keep, and what evolves? How can the story continue to raise the stakes without going melodramatic?

Obviously I want the first novel to make people anxious for the second, and the second to provoke the same reaction for the third. One of the reactions I see you noting a bit is irritation/annoyance, mostly towards the characters. Is this because the sequels highlight aspects of them you don't like, but could stand for at least the first exposure? Do they grow in ways you don't think are realistic (funny word to use in conjunction with UF, I know)?

Curious about your specific turn-offs in regard to characters.
Follow @JRVogt

M. said...

Rachel -
Kelly Armstrong (mega YA and paranormal author) mentined 'White Cat' as being excellent this weekend at a writer's seminar also, so now I'm doubly intrigued to search it out.

And I get how sometimes just a great Book 1 in a series is all you need - I loved 'Outlander', but feel no desire to work my way through the hugely long series.

M. said...

Josh -
Welcome to Apprentice Writer! Glad to have your thoughtful comments, and good luck with your manusscript.

What was the problem? With each series is was a slightly different problem, but it all added up to a severe case of cranky reader.

I appreciate how it can be enormously tricky for an author to judge the golden mean of feeding in backstory from Book 1 in a sequel, and leaving well enough alone so the reader isn't inundated. I guess it comes down to skill at judging the tolerance point of the majority of readers.

The kind of thing that will keep me going is: a) if I'm truly fascinated with the world, b) if I'm truly impressed with the author's writing style, c) if the protag is compelling. Of course, more than one or all of those increases the odds of staying with that author through thick and thin volumes.

In terms of these specific series:
Parasol Protectorate: author uses 'accent speak' (trying to show people speaking with a French or Scottish accent phonetically)which is a pet peeve of mine, style is somewhat repetitive, protag often seems to react to situations differently than I expected, and a big minus: protag doesn't seem particularly good at their job.

That's an irritant shared by protag of October Daye series. I was also much sidetracked by how that protag drinks endless coffee (described on what seems like every page) but not to eat anything (srsly) throughout entire books. The worldbuilding in these books is excellent, though.

In Elemental Assassins, I was adequately entertained while reading, but not so engaged now that I'm done to think about the characters anymore.

In Guardians of the Republic, the resolution in Book 2 seemed a little easy to me, and seemed to contain a logical flaw in terms of social rules of that world.

Kate Daniels books do a great job of spinning out the tension between protag and potential love interest, and keep the protag consistent in terms of characterization from book to book, but it falls down with the villains. Involved, yet unclear in important aspects.

In Unholy Ghosts, the protag is certainly unusual (heavily drugaddicted) and the world compelling, with a fab antihero character, but things became a bit too bloody and horrific, in a literal sense.

I say all this with the greatest of respect for the creative flair of all the authors involved. What I would give for a tenth of the imagination.

JRVogt said...

Thanks for taking the time to reply in such detail, AW. I can understand how each book or series can have different flaws which make it difficult for you to continue reading. I agree as well--phonetically trying to write accents is rarely done well.