Archive for August, 2013

krakenUrban fantasy and it’s nebulous cloud of variants take all those tropes from the elder statesmen of fantasy and mash it up in the real world. It quickly built up all it’s own special tropes. Personally, I think that as a subgenre, UF is finally starting to grow up. Back when I could go to Borders, the majority of UF was “Hey look, another Buffy rip off.” Girl with a [insert weapon] kills [insert magical baddie.] That’s the past. I don’t think it’s a needle in the haystack situation to find good, fresh UF anymore. These are fantastic things. Some of my favorites are Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series, Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series and Kraken by China Mieville.

So we’ve got all sorts of new takes on the old fantasy tropes.

But there’s two parts to Urban Fantasy… what about the urban part?

Well, take a look at those three examples above… they represent the majority of where urban fantasy takes place. Pacific Northwest, New York City and London. A quick perusal of the bookshelves in my office prove this. Chalking up every book that takes place in a real world location (including bleed over from steampunk and godpunk), London creams everything. It doubles up on the Pacific Northwest which has a sleight edge over New York City. Not a single other location has more than two. In fact, most of the non-Big Three Settings are because that’s where the author lives.

Why do these places attract our imagination more than others?

New York City is somewhat easy. It is one of the oldest places in America and has always been one of the most important in just about every category you can qualify as an important city. So much of American culture comes out of New York City that I think it’s almost hard to avoid it. I think any writer worth half a damn could pull off a passable New York City without ever setting foot in that town. It’s also got age on its side, something that not a lot of American places have. We’ve got states that aren’t a hundred years old yet so New York with its 1624 founding means there’s been a lot of time for the magic and hoodoo of UF to take hold.

New York isn’t the only place in America with age. St Augustine in Florida is the oldest European settlement in the US. But since we speak English in America, most people forget about all those Spaniard settlements down south. Boston, Providence, New Haven, Baltimore, Philadelphia, hell almost any major east coast city can lay claim to age, but New York gets all the buzz. It’s a safe location. It’s weird and wild and this giant mishmash of the world’s cultures. That makes it both attractive and easy.

London fascinates Americans. There are pubs older than our country out that way. It’s older than New York by what, a thousand years, so London lays claim to the same “it’s old” argument that New York uses. I think that London in UF fascinates people so much because Niel Gaiman introduced a lot of us to the subgenre. Neverwhere is considered essential reading. Period. Doubly so for urban fantasy.

Pacific Northwest? Gah. I have no idea really. I’d like to go there on a vacation some day. I don’t really think that counts. But more than the other Big Three Settings, the Pacific Northwest has created its own set of tropes.

At least it seems that way to someone on the East Coast.

blackbladebluesThe example that set off this pontification on locations has been sitting in my head for months. It came out of Black Blade Blues by JA Pitts. The main character was driving down the highways out of the suburbs back into Seattle, frantically trying to get away from some baddies. It’s a first person past tense book so she was all “I’m just gonna have to push it to seventy and hope no cops are out, or maybe yay cops they could protect me from the baddies.” I’m paraphrasing obviously. The point is, the main character was freaked out by going seventy miles an hour on the high way.

Seventy. Miles. Per. Hour.

I stopped and out of disbelief, reread the passage about four times. Then I guffawed.

Look, I’ve never been out there, but my sister lives in Portland and my parents go out to Seattle for work and vacations. I’ve heard how driving is out there and have been thoroughly advised to not ever attempt to drive out there. Apparently police will pull you over for going one mile over the limit. In Rhode Island, unless they’re gunning for quota, the cops won’t even look up unless you’re doing twenty over. Even then there’s a good chance you’re safe because someone is going faster than you. On my daily commute, I’ll pull 65 in a 45 and still get the finger for going too slow. You’ve got to top 100 to get people to raise eyebrows on the highway. That one guy in Rhode Island who thinks it’s smart to obey the 55 speed limit on I-95 is way more dangerous than the guy doing 85 since most people are driving 70. Apparently it’s not a thing out west to drive eight feet behind the person in front of you. If I leave more space than that, someone is going to jam their car in there. Hell, they might anyways.

Okay, you get it. East Coast drivers are way different that west. I’m getting to the point.

This little localism of the Pacific Northwest completely and totally threw me out of the narrative. I read this book six months ago and it’s still poking at my brain. How does someone reconcile this sort of thing? What tropes of a city add to it’s character and what ones will just distract everyone else? I’ve got this one the brain because I started outlining my next novel which takes place in Rhode Island. There’s going to be a car chase set from Route 4 up to 295 and the four people from Rhode Island who might read that are all nodding knowingly. My commute is a half step from a car chase as is.

But that’s normal for me. That’s normal for anyone who drives around here. But when I talk about cars flying by at a buck ten, darting in and out of traffic with zero response from anyone beyond extended middle fingers, that’s going to gobsmack all the nice kindly drivers out yonder. How is this fixed?

And now concludes my 1100 word rhetorical question. Ponder and enjoy.

Blood’s Pride

Posted: August 10, 2013 in Reading
Tags: ,

bloodsprideCatching up with my blog backlog, it’s time to hit up one of my major scores from Readercon. Thanks to the power of twitter, I got to meet Evie Manieri, author of Blood’s Pride. Twitter is awesome like that what with facilitating a community outside of the little cell phone windows too.

So I’ve been excited about the fantasy side of our genre a lot more recently than I had been in a few years. People like Sam Sykes, Joshua Palmatier/Ben Tate and the new Scott Lynch just over the horizon have really brought me back to swords and magic again. Now I first found out about Manieri and Blood’s Pride because of ye old twitter again and it caught my interest right away. I was impressed enough to actually break my Paperback Rule and spring for the hardcover when I was at Readercon.

We’re just going to get on with the Inside of the Flap (hardcover and all)

Evie Manieri’s Blood’s Pride is the first book of The Shattered Kingdoms, an engaging, action-packed, and “highly imaginative” (Kirkus Reviews) series of fantasy novels with epic scope and “the perfect mix of romance, family ties, betrayals, and agonizing dilemmas” (RT Book Reviews).

Rising from their sea-torn ships like vengeful, pale phantoms, the Norlanders laid waste to the Shadar under cover of darkness. They forced the once-peaceful fisher folk into slavery and forged an alliance with their former trading partners, the desert-dwelling Nomas tribe, cutting off any hope of salvation.

Now, two decades after the invasion, a rebellion gathers strength in the dark corridors of the city. A small faction of Shadari have hired the Mongrel, an infamous mercenary, to aid their fledgling uprising—but with her own shadowy ties to the region, she is a frighteningly volatile ally. Has she really come to lead a revolution, or for a more sinister purpose all her own?

Set in a fictional quasi-Medieval Mediterranean region with a strong cast of male and female characters, the series “presents a striking world with civilizations similar to those of the Vikings and the nomadic cultures of the Middle East, and with the Mediterranean sensibilities of the ancient Greeks. Her characters are passionate and memorable, lending a personal touch to a complex tale of clashing cultures and philosophies. Fans of Sharon Shinn, Elspeth Cooper, and Gail Z. Martin should enjoy Manieri’s approach to culture and drama.” (Library Journal, starred review)

The quotes in this flap copy are good. They show a lot of promise right in there, especially the talk of worldbuilding. I love me some worldbuilding. The Norlanders, the Shadari and the Nomas all have very distinct and unique cultures. A lot of details have gone into the cultures of the three peoples. While the book never actually goes to the Norlanders home, their physiology is shaped by their home environment. Coming from a frozen, dark land, sunlight can actually burn and kill them because it’s not something they have to live with. The Nomas culture is one I really find interesting and want to see more of in future books. The men are desert nomads. The women are ocean going nomads. They only get together a couple times a year. The Shadari are really the primary people for Blood’s Pride. They’re a subjugated culture. They themselves are discovering bits and pieces of of their past in order to shape their future. The pieces always fit within a larger picture. I felt that the grand picture of the glory days of Shadari were fully realized, even if we didn’t get to see all of it on the page. It was lurking there in the background with all its influence.

One of my favorite details in Blood’s Pride is a pretty small one but the kind that really makes the different cultures come alive to me. When the Norlanders invaded, they did on the backs of flying beasts kind of like drakes. The two different people use different words for them. The Norlanders call them triffons and the Shadari call them dereshadi (giving my spellcheck a heart attack). (Also, spellcheck doesn’t like the world spellcheck) I know things like this are set dressing in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve always thought that the set dressing in fantasy needs more colorful details than any other subset of the SF world. Maybe it’s because I read so much fantasy back in my formative days and I’ve seen so much it takes more to impress me. Details like that impress me.

So I’ve talked a lot about the details of Blood’s Pride, but what about the characters and story? That’s really where the meat and potatoes of any book comes from. The book opens with an actual Dramatis Personae. Hell yes. There are a lot of people in this book and while I never really lost track of who was who, it’s is a comfort to have. It’s also really helpful for people writing blog posts who can’t spell.

There really is a lot going on but at the same time I thought it was very streamlined. The Mongrel, aka Meiran (see the bad ass on the cover above) is the merc to beat all mercs. A scrappy group of rebels among the Shadari hire her to come in, bust some heads and free their people. It is simple at its heart, like all good stories should be. But also like all good stories, there are a lot of complications. The Norlander governor is in his sickbed leaving his children to maneuver among themselves. Frea, know to the Shadari as the White Wolf, is an iron fist. Eofar, not so much. He’s actually friends with Daryan, his personal servant who happens to be the next in line to lead the Shadari. Isa wants to be the proper Norlander but it isn’t what’s in her heart. There’s a schism among the Shadari rebels between Harotha and Faroth. The Mongrel, she was hired to crack head but is going about it in a very roundabout way. She’s got a half dozen of her own motives. At every turn she seems to be helping a different section.

Got enough layers yet? Let’s add in some prophetic visions for Harotha to chase after. Oh wait, and what’s the number one conflict between people? Relationships. Across cultures for good measure. I’m not going to spoil who’s with who but it’s a very real driving force for these characters. As it should be. It’s a driving force between real people, so it should be in fictional people.

Isa is actually my favorite character. She goes thought some heavy stuff in the course of this book, more than anyone else I think. Physically and emotionally she gets beaten up quite a bit in her quest to be a “true Norlander” even though she was born and raised in the Shadar. Her character arc is the most profound. Around the 2/3 mark of the book she’s the focus of one of toughest and best moments of the book.

So I’ve talked a lot about the world building and the characters with their many layers of plots. Bringing this around to a conclusion, Blood’s Pride is very reminiscent of the high fantasy of the 80s and 90s. Moving around the POVs a lot and the huge plot web really bring the feel about to me. Blood’s Pride is like the fantasy books from back in the day but with all the crap from back in the day stripped away, distilled down to all the good parts.