Posts Tagged ‘urban fantasy’

cormorantChuck Wendig’s prose is a friggin’ force of nature.

Everything of his I’ve read is like an avalanche. You keep turning the pages and just try to keep up because you aren’t stopping. I’ve also got a special affinity for talking about Wendig on this blog. His first book, Blackbirds starring the foul mouthed protag, Miriam Black, debuted not long after I started posting on ye olde blog. His work ethic is like a tornado so I haven’t read all the books he’s published yet, but I still see him leveling up with each book I’ve read.

Today, we’re talking The Cormorant, the third of the Miriam Black books. My pal Drea blogging over at Scribbles at Midnight lamented on twitter that she needed to pick a new book out of the To Read Pile on the same day as me. So we both picked up with the swearing woman who knows when you’re going to die. We’re each attacking one angle of The Cormorant and getting feedback from the other. Read all the cool stuff going on below this paragraph and bounce over to Drea’s “Not a Book Review” to read all the other stuff the cool kids are going to be talking about.

Now I’m pretty sure this makes us some sort of blogging Voltron. I think I’m the left foot.

Let’s hit the back of the book copy before we get any farther along in saving the universe.

Miriam is on the road again, having transitioned from “thief” to “killer”.

Hired by a wealthy businessman, she heads down to Florida to practice the one thing she’s good at, but in her vision she sees him die by another’s hand and on the wall written in blood is a message just for Miriam.

She’s expected…

Hrm. Not much to go with, eh? I seriously feel bad for whatever person at Angry Robot that has to write back of the book copy. Angry Robot books tend to be off the beaten path, which often means spoilers and things that aren’t just going to be summed up in two paragraphs. But that’s ok when you get to book three in a series I guess. If you’re getting this far along, you’ve probably already met Miriam. I know I don’t often bother reading the back of the book in a series until I’m sitting down to blog about it. I just said “Ohh! Book three. Hell yeah to that.” I must have at some point though because I vaguely remember the phrasing in it. But I don’t think it was until after I already purchased it.

So I’m off on a wild tangent. Let’s kill the introduction and get on with the good stuff.

The big thing I want to key in with The Cormorant is the character arc Miriam has in this book and how it fits in with the character arc over all. More to the point, this is the first time I felt there was any sort of serious character growth going on with Miriam. In the first book, Miriam is a swear filled breath of fresh air in the genre. I loved every second of it, but in the end Miriam was doing nothing but surviving. In the second book, Mockingbird, Miriam starts out in a better place, but gives stability the finger early on and regresses back to just surviving. The stakes are much higher in this book so it’s all good though. Now we’ve gotten to book three and… more of the same. She spends the first half of the book doing exactly the same. She’s doing a fortune teller thing and is one small step above homeless. Survival. It started to wear me down a little bit. Around the halfway point, Miriam comes across her mother. After that, woah! There was three books worth of character arc crammed into some 150-odd pages. I definitely felt satisfied that the growth happened, but it was almost too late. I’m excited for the fourth book, when it comes out, but there were a couple chapters in the middle of this one where I got worried.

So anyways. That’s the short version of what I thought. But I’m not talking shop by myself today! We’re fancy today, so I’m tossing out some questions about Miriam and her character arc to Drea to see thinks. When you’re done, don’t forget to bounce over to her blog where we reversed the set up and I talk at length about the questions she came up with during her reading.

Me: How do you feel Miriam’s character arc in Cormorant fits in with the overall arc of the story? Do you think it took too long to get there?

Drea: I think Miriam’s character arc was pretty consistent. In the first and second books she is the same pithy mouthy smart ass. However in this third book I think she was a little more muted. Which was honestly a relief. Miriam is difficult to like, she’s rough on everyone and she knows it. What frustrates me the most is definitely how long it took for her to realize that maybe she should smooth over some of her rough edges for the sake of the people she cares about. Or even just to keep herself out of a little trouble.

I think that’s one of the things that confuses me about why I keep reading the series. She’s a truly unique character – she’s intentionally unlikeable. I enjoy how different she is. But I really don’t like HER. It astounds me that Wendig has gotten me to return three times considering how irksome I find this protagonist. J

Me: How do you feel about her mother, i.e. her past, being the catalyst for the change?

Drea: I think Miriam has been running from her mother and what happened to her all her life and I think it’s about time she actually tried dealing with her relationship problems instead of flipping them the finger.

That said it’s only natural that her mother sparks this change in her. In some ways I think seeing that her mother had changed gave Miriam the courage to admit that she needed and wanted to change as well. Although it’s clear just from her interactions with Gabby when she actually apologizes to her that she had already begun maturing some.

And in fact the more I think about it the more I think Miriam is just getting older and more mature in this book. There’s no one catalyst for change. When she murders the teenager she realizes she’s crossed a line and I think that more than anything else is a defining moment for her.

Me: Do you think it’s better or worse that she is doing all her character growing solo without Louis, even though he was such an important part of the previous books?

Drea: Can I just say I’m solidly, staunchly team Louis? I think he’s the main reason I keep coming back to this series.  And while I missed him in this book I think it’s an absolutely necessary thing that she’s doing all her growing AWAY from him.

As the second book showed – you can’t change just to please someone else. She tried to settle down with him before she was really ready to and the outcome was disastrous. I have high hopes for them in the future. And to be honest I hope that there isn’t any romance blossoming between Miriam and Gabby over the long haul.  I think Miriam is bad news for anyone she touches and Gabby has already had enough bad news.

In the next book I hope to see a LOT more change in Miriam because I’m tired of her hurting everyone who tried to help her.

So I hope that Wendig doesn’t backpedal on what I saw in the last half of the Cormorant because I’m tired of Miriam causing most of the conflict in the novel by being an asshole. This time I want to see some truly external conflict. I’m looking for less of a character study and more plotting.

Boom! That was rad, wasn’t it? Make sure to hit Drea’s website for the other half of the Two Person Book Club.

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So I’m sure that small cadre of frequent readers knows that I’ve shifted away from entire posts devoted to each book I read. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of having a job, a two-year-old and a novel to write. I still love talking about great books. Today, I’ve already buttoned up a chapter on the novel-in-pogress and my kiddo is happily munching on Cheerios so I am expanding beyond the 140 characters of twitter so I can pontificate about a bunch of books I’ve recently thought were pretty kick ass.

shatteringtheleyShattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier

You already saw me talk about anticipating Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier in the last To Read Pile post I wrote. (psst, a lot of those books are still in the pile, it was large and I’ve been reading slow) I added Palmatier to my Shelf of Honor with Well of Sorrow written under his pen name Benjamin Tate. One of the things I really liked about it, was it read a bit like a political thriller with its pacing and sprawl. His writing leveled up from his first book to Well and it did again from the Well series to Ley.

This new series is set in a slightly more advanced fantasy world than usual. Those magical ley lines seen throughout fantasy books are being used by Palmatier in the way people have used electricity. I had an early industrial revolution vibe to this fantasy world that was incredibly unique. Now take the sprawl of a fantasy novel and layer in tons of intrigue. It ends a touch abruptly to set up book two, but enough of the loose ends were buttoned up that it didn’t bother me beyond jonsing for the next book. Even knowing exactly how much work it takes to write a novel, impatient reader is impatient sometimes still.

 

sixguntarotSix-Gun Tarot by R. S. Belcher

Six-Gun Tarot by debut author R. S. Belcher is part of a dying breed: Books I pick up off the shelf with no outside recommendations. I saw the book kicking around Readercon. It’s got some killer cover art going for it, but I heard no buzz about it whatsoever. I finally picked it up at my local B+N because I saw a blurb from Felicia Day on it. Consider this your buzz.

It’s a weird west book; a mashup of some serious Lovecraftian occult stuff and the post-Civil War west. There is a lot going on. A lot. A woman part of a secret society of pirate assassins? Done. Mad scientists? Booyah. Immortal sheriff? Of course and he’s got a demigod deputy. Chinese gangs? Of course they’re in the Nevada desert. Where else would they be? It takes a little while to sort out everything going on but once the book hits the halfway point, it flies by and becomes un-put-down-able. There’s crazy potential for a long series with this and I hope it pans out.

 

generationvGeneration V by M. L. Brennon

This is the first time an urban fantasy novel has taken place where I live and holy crap it is super rad to see Rhode Island in a SFF novel. Also, vampires would explain a lot of our politics here. Uh oh, did you tune out the second I said vampires? You stop that right now! ML Brennon took Generation V and put a fresh spin on vampires. That takes a lot because the vampire population is pretty high in our genre.

For every bit of action and drama in this book, there’s an equal amount of fun. Fortitude Scott is a vampire, but he drives a crappy car, lives in a dump in Providence and gets beaten up by muggers (which goes along with living in the bad parts of Providence). He’s not even particularly thrilled about being a vampire. It’s like he’s the average joe of vampires and I absolutely loved every bit of it.

tomeoftheundergatesTome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Ok I read the first of Sam Sykes‘ books a long while ago. Apparently it was even before I started the blog because I never wrote a post about it before. He’s got his fourth, A City Stained Red, coming out soon. But for some reason a lot of people have been asking for adventure packed sword and sorcery recommendations from me lately. I got someone to buy his book with “Swords. Demons. Farts.” Sykes writes with a “I fucking love this stuff” attitude which makes it a joy to read. I also think he is one of the most thoughtful authors out there when discussing genre issues and craft. The “Buy My Book” gags are priceless and I really want a calendar of them someday.

throneofthecrescentmoonThrone of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed was one of the first book reviews I did on this website. It’s still awesome. It fits into the same sword and sorcery adventure type fantasy as Sykes so a lot of recommendations lately. I convinced a couple people at Readercon to check out his writing. I’ve been reading in the genre for twenty years so the fact that it’s an Arab based fantasy world made this book hugely refreshing. If you want to check out Ahmed’s writing, he’s got a free ebook of short fiction available. I posted about it a while back too. It’s got a couple of my favorite short stories in it.

lextalionisLex Talionis by RSA Garcia

I reviewed Lex Talionis by RSA Garcia recently. Go read it again. But there’s a good chance that’s how you found my blog in the first place. A significant portion of my traffic has been heading to her book and I’m ok with this. I’ve been recommending this a lot in person for people who are wanting a fresh feel on the classic sci-fi tropes starring an ass kicking lady.

 

hurricanefeverHurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell

I’m ending with my current read, which I’m only about halfway through and will go back to reading as soon as I’m finished typing all this. Hurricane Fever by Tobias Buckell is the sequel to Arctic Rising. At first when I heard that Fever was going to be about the Carribean spy, Roo Jones, instead of Anika Duncan, I was a bit disappointed. I admit it. Anika was such a kick ass character, I really wanted to read more about her. But I’ve read quite a lot of Buckell’s books, so I felt ok trusting that he’s writing the best story possible. The book isn’t letting me down a bit. Roo is kicking ass and taking names and I’ve flying through it. I’m not even done and I’m ok recommending it to everyone.

Spec Fic 102: Introduction to Speculative Fiction Subgenres

Science fiction is such a broad based term, many different flavors of it exist. Kind of a duh statement. This is another one of my “If I was teaching this class” formats. I did an Intro to Sci Fi a while back. Today, we’re going to dive into a sampling of specific subgenres.

A recap of the structure for my mythical classes: Once a week for twelve weeks, a book every other week. That gives us six books, and in this instance, six subgenres. It’s going to skew modern. Somewhat. A lot of the genre’s more colorful subgenres are more recent. I blame the internet. People aren’t restricted to just what they can find on the brick and mortar shelf anymore. It allows people to seek out a wider variety of interests and then lets more writers help codify them into solid tropes.

vN-144dpiArtificial Intelligence vN by Madeline Ashby

Asimov may have given the world the Laws of Robotics, but vN has been a watershed moment in human-AI storytelling. I wrote about it when I was heavy into book review posts. The protag of this novel is a von Neumann, a self replicating AI, that is missing the failsafe preventing her from harming humans. This tackles the tropes of AI/robotic servitude to humanity head first. As a near future novel this makes the book a lot more accessible than the older, philosophy with off camera action type books from the early days of robotic fiction. There are a lot of extremely plausible scenarios in this book, making it hit home a lot stronger.

snowcrashCyberpunkSnow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Gibson may have done it first, but I’m much more partial to Snow Crash. Cyberpunk as a genre is film noir full of hackers in a post-industrial world. This book takes place both in and out of cyberspace. The protag is a freelance hacker of renown, out on his own after cutting ties to the mafia. The interplay between the real world and the virtual comes from the titular ‘snow crash,’ a drug that affects people in both worlds. Information as a commodity adds a healthy dose of dystopia the subgenre is known for.

 

americangodsGodpunkAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is the 900 pound gorilla in the room when it comes to godpunk. There have been some that came before, but this really set the tropes into a proper, albeit a smaller subgenre. The ancient gods are alive but not so well in America. The old gods are trying to navigate a world that doesn’t believe in them anymore, drawing what little power they can from modern habits drawn from ancient traditions. Norse, Slavic and African deities feature predominantly in this book along with leprechauns and mythic American figures like Johnny Appleseed. They are in direct conflict with the new gods born from American obsessions with things such as media, the internet and black ops work. This book features a more worldly cast of deities than many which stick to the Big Three of godpunk, Norse, Greco-Roman and Egyptian, and few display the old vs new conflict as well.

boneshaker-coverSteampunkBoneshaker by Cherie Priest

This book is widely considered the magnum opus of the subgenre. Steampunk is a vision of the future derived from an early industrial revolution point in history and much of the societal norms from that time. Boneshaker embraces the aesthetic right down to the cover art and sepia colored printing of the text. The zombies of the ruined city of Seattle are outside the box for the subgenre but a frontier city on hard times is the perfect place to feature the technological innovations like airships and gas masks.

 

discountarmageddonUrban FantasyDiscount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

It would be easy to pick any of McGuire’s work as a platonic example of what the urban fantasy subgenre has grown up into. The subgenre is a lot more than “Buffy clone beats up [insert monster] with [insert weapon/talent/schtick]” that it started out as. Between her two main UF series, I ended up going with the InCryptid series over the Toby Daye books because it features a larger variety of mythical creatures than just the faerie. Verity, the protag on the cover over there, is part of a family that studies, protects and polices the cryptid community to enable coexistence. That’s not terribly easy to do with a secret society of monster hunters looking to destroy them all. The society hidden within society is one of the things that makes this such a layered world.

thieftakerHistorical Urban Fantasy – Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson

This is a new trend I’m noticing and it’s something I want to see more of. This takes a very historically accurate setting and adds in magic/horror/scifi and such. I started seeing it with military themes like Joe Nassise’s WWI zombies and Harry Turtledove’s Civil War with AK47s, but it’s moving to a true urban fantasy set in the real world past. The protag here is a conjurer living on the fringes of society in 1760s Boston. You don’t need to know much of American history to know this is a very interesting time and place to be hanging out solving murders with magic. This books creates magical causes to actual events in Boston’s history and has the protag rub elbows with guys like Samuel Adams. Bonus points, the author has a PhD in US history.

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.

My last batch of books brought a lot of sequels home lately and I’m continuing today with the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire, specifically, Midnight Blue-Light Special. She’s a very prolific writer. Her big October Daye series has its eight book due this fall and she won a metric ton of awards and nominations for the Newsflesh series writing as Mira Grant. I started in when InCryptid was brandy new via recommendations from Scalzi and Jim Hines.

The series is really hitting its stride with Midnight. We’re getting right to it with Back of the Book time!

Bam!

Telepathic mathematicians. Chess-playing dragons. Boogeyman nightclub owners. Talking mice. The Price family has spent generations studying the monsters of the world, working to protect them from humanity – and to protect humanity from them. Verity Price is just trying to do her job, keeping the native cryptid population of Manhattan from getting into trouble, and doing a little ballroom dancing on the side. But her tenure on the East Coast is coming to an end, and she’s still not sure what she wants to do with her life.

Enter Dominic De Luca, an operative of the Covenant of St. George, and Verity’s on-again, off-again boyfriend. When he tells her that the Covenant is sending a full team to assess how ready the city is for a purge, Verity finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Stay, and risk her almost-certain death, or flee, and leave the cryptids of New York with nothing between them and the Covenant.

It’s not the kind of choice that ever comes easy. With allies and enemies on every side, an no safe way to turn, it’s going to take some quickstepping for Verity to waltz out of this one. There’s just one question on everyon’s mind: Is this the last dance for Verity Price?

Point blank, I liked this one better than the first book, Discount Armageddon, which I blogged about before I really hit my groove with these posts so I’m not going to link back to it. There’s a lot of establishing world building that had to take place in Discount even though it’s a variant of New York. There’s Price family history, Covenant history as the baddies, plenty of different cryptids to describe and their whole interaction with the world around them. All those things are already done. Even with a year since I read Discount, I never felt any sort of steep learning curve with Midnight. I forgot a couple of names but McGuire caught me up without having to drop into an infodump, one of the hallmarks of a great sequel. You could get away with reading Midnight cold, but since Discount is a good book in its own right, there’s no real reason to.

The more of McGuire’s work I read, the more I think she is to urban fantasy as Cherie Priest is to steampunk. This series is everything that urban fantasy should aspire to. Granted, UF is somewhat of an umbrella term for a large swath of subgenres, but I still hang my hat on that statement. The InCryptid books should be considered a high water mark, a Tome for urban fantasy.

Let’s get specific to Midnight now though. There’s a Romeo and Juliet thing going on in this book which telescopes certain parts of the plot out ahead of you. This completely being flagged as a personal preference thing. If you like sneaky foreshadowing and romantic plot threads on the down low, you might get a bit annoyed. It doesn’t bother me one bit, the romance or picking up on what’s coming up. The Romeo and Juliet kind of romance certainly isn’t new, nor is it subtle, but it works. There’s a reason the world still reads the Bard after all these years.

Before anyone gets all in a wad over romance, first of all, get over it. People like each other. It creates conflict. Conflict creates good stories. The relationship plot thread certainly isn’t the only one in this book. There’s problem solving, ass kicking and shit hitting the fan (which involves more ass kicking). I think because the heavy lifting of the world building was done in Discount, all those plot threads were able to breathe a little bit better in this book. Verity’s supporting cast got more room to move around in Midnight too. Sarah, Verity’s adopted cousin and psychic cryptid herself, got POV chapters. McGuire was able to deftly pull off the “almost human but not quite” voice for Sarah. There was also a whole lot of Istas who is thoroughly awesome. She’s essentially an Inuit werebear that loves gothic lolita fashion. She pouts when she’s told she’s not supposed to talk about bloody carnage more than once per conversation with regular people. I would read a whole book about Istas.

I want to take some time to talk about the cover art for Midnight before I’m done. This may well turn into a full blog post later

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

but since this book has the cover I want to talk about, it’s appropriate here. Science fiction and fantasy as a whole suffer from an image problem when it comes to covers with women on them. Look at Jim Hines’ blog as it’s something he talks about in the most humorous ways while always having real valid points. Short version, SF doesn’t usually seem to realize that women can look good AND be tasteful about it at the SAME TIME. Urban fantasy as a subgenre seems to carry the stigma in its own special way to boot. It all too often has this “Buffy rip off” look about it. I think these things are starting to get better, particularly the Buffy look, but it’s still prevalent in the genre. The cover art for Midnight  breaks the mold in all the ways it should have been broken a long time ago. The characters are accurate to the story and they are entirely tasteful. Verity is wearing a regular cut shirt and jeans. Appropriate and practical ass kicking attire. Sarah is on the cover with Verity and she’s wearing a long sleeve sweater and a long skirt. Regular clothes. Entirely appropriate to a character that’s a self defined math nerd. While I think it’s unfortunate that tasteful and true to the story cover are a note worthy thing and not just the standard MO for the genre, I think it’s more important to point out the good examples of the genre thinking the way it should be than just harping on the bad. This cover art by Aly Fell is a cover that should be aspired to.

Doesn’t hurt it’s for a novel that should be aspired to as well.

Discount Armageddon

Posted: April 10, 2012 in Reading
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Finished the latest read last night, Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire.

When I grabbed this book, I was looking for something a little different than the last few I’ve read. This is very much that and that’s 100% a compliment.

The urban fantasy subgenre is one that I find equally fascinating and frustrating. After I read Neverwhere for the first time I wanted to devour all of it. It was new and different from the high fantasy I had been reading for years. Well, now it’s not so new and I’m still searching for the different. Back when Rhode Island still had useful bookstores, I could peruse the SF/F shelves and they would be inundated with books written by men and women who clearly watched a metric ton of Buffy. Don’t get fooled by Discount Armageddon. Yes this book is a girl kicking supernatural ass just like Buffy was, but it has a scope and a voice vastly different and way too cool to pass up on.

Let me talk about the scope first. There is talk of magic in this book but it’s very minor and used almost offhandedly. This book is all about a human ass kicker and cryptids. “What’s a cryptid?” Bigfoot. There. I just explained it. A better definition? Fine. They’re creatures that science hasn’t proven if they exist. So bigfoot. Want the typical vampires or werewolves? Move along. The creature cast here is large and one of my favorite parts is that a lot of them were new to me. Ever heard of an ahool or a waheela? Me neither so I thought it was pretty damn cool that they were hanging out in New York. On top of these creatures I’ve never heard of there are ghouls and boogeymen and bugbears. It’s like the D&D monster manual is thrown in for good measure. I’m all for this. In a way the cryptid diversity makes the world of this book a bit more realistic.

What do I think is the other biggest selling point to Discount Armageddon? It’s the voice this is written in. The first thing you read is on the unnumbered page before the prologue. I’m just gonna quote it. “Cryptid, noun – 1. Any creature whose existence has been suggested but not proven scientifically. Term officially coined by cryptozoologist John E Wall in 1983. 2. That thing that’s getting ready to eat your head. 3. See also ‘monster.”

Delightfully irreverent and exactly what you’re in for. The book is told from the point of view of Verity Price, the aforementioned ass kicker. She’s snarky and blunt and completely refreshing. Verity is the kind of person that would fit in with my friends so it made for an easily accessible read even though I’m not freerunning across Manhattan or ballroom dancing or kicking ghoul face.

So what does the refreshing Verity Price and her casting of characters do? Well she’s a west coast girl who went to NYC to make her own way in the world as a professional ballroom dancer at the same time as being a cryptozoologist. An ass kicking cryptozoologist, don’t forget that. She watches out for the good cryptids and roughs up the bad ones, preserving the ecology of New York. I really liked how humanity was a part of the ecology of the city. She meets Dominic, part of the faction her family left generations ago because they like to kill all the cryptids, no questions asked. He’s a noob and while she’s not, she is separated from her normal support network in a new city. Now a lot of cryptids are disappearing and she thinks he’s killing them and he thinks she’s tipping them off to get out of Dodge. Now add sewer lizard men. And a dragon.

The character progression through the book is logical and satisfying. The minor characters are interesting without being distracting from the main characters and story. McGuire has written other short stories set in the same world (available here) and it is clearly going to be a series. I’m quite happy with this.

Now go read it. It’s thoroughly awesome.