I’ve always had a fondness, even well before it was popular, for the genre of urban fantasy. I adored the The Chronicles of Narnia stories as a child, but I still daydreamed with excited bemusement of what it would be like to have such wondrous magical creatures in today’s world. Admittedly, Charles de Lint has been writing delightful stories for years now about a modern world where magic still exists but is hidden [here’s a nice example: Moonheart ], and Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks is a much beloved classic in that field. There was a part of me, though, that wished for the magic to be open — to be a recognized part of the world.
I suppose that was why I was so shocked and delighted to discover Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” series. By that point in time I’d gotten used to the entire concept of a series as being a huge disappointment: the first book would be absolutely riveting! -exciting, well written, putting forth a fascinating new concept that made me eagerly await the second in the series. The next book would finally be published, and I’d happily scoop it up — only to find it was… well, interesting if predictable. The third book would be pedestrian at best, and reading anything past that was such unmitigated dross that it would actually tarnish my breathless pleasure at the fascinating new concept put forth in the first book. A classic example of this problem is just about every series written by Piers Anthony [two examples off the top of my head: On a Pale Horse (Incarnations of Immortality, Bk. 1) or A Spell for Chameleon (Xanth, Book 1) ].
However, not only did the first Anita Blake book [Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Book 1) ] leave me absolutely delighted with it — but when a trusted friend urged me to read the second book [ The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 2) ] despite my initial reluctance to do so, I was shocked to discover it too was mesmerizing and exciting! For several years I happily devoured each new Anita Blake book as they came out, greatly enjoying the tales of the small but gutsy and clever heroine, and fascinatedly following her explorations of morality as she struggled to uphold her personal belief that might supports right, in a world which often seemed to try its best to respect only might…
…and then Hamilton discovered “sex sells” — and kinky sex sells even more.
After that the series went rapidly downhill, at least as far as I was concerned. An emphasis on crisp, clean writing and tight, swift, intricate plotting turned into an emphasis on having Anita tumble just about anything on two legs or four. I couldn’t help noticing the decline started when Hamilton was no longer crediting her writing group, so I suspect the loss of several more objective and trained sets of eyes was directly reflected in the quality of her writing. I stopped reading the series, and wistfully figured I’d have to content myself with my memories of the first eight or so books — and if I was lucky, I’d find another such author to happily follow.
That’s when I realized, to my dismay, that the genre of urban fantasy was “hot.” Admittedly, it’s nice to have a plethora of authors to choose from, and I’m delighted to see people no longer scoff at strong female protagonists. But can anyone tell me why on earth it is that making a genre hot means we must have every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a typewriter spewing out poorly researched drivel?!
Admittedly I’ve not waded through many of these — I have a very low tolerance for being irritated by something that I’d hoped to be entertained by. But just off the top of my head, Kelly Armstrong’s Bitten (Women of the Otherworld, Book 1) (review here) was based on an easily researched and absolutely faulty gender-based biological premise, which galled me throughout the entire book — and I kept wishing she’d done more research on wolfpack behavior as well. I also read the first two of Kim Harrison’s series on the witch cop [ Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows, Book 1) and The Good, the Bad, and the Undead (The Hollows, Book 2) ], which contains a fascinating background — and an astonishingly whiny, stupid heroine whose idea of planning for battle is: wait for it… to not tell anyone and then simply walk unprepared into the enemy’s stronghold — when he’s at his most powerful! She’s damn lucky she’s got script immunity, is all I can say. I finished the second book mostly because I read really fast, and if it hadn’t been borrowed I’d have thrown it across the room in disgust. I don’t care how pretty the guy is — you do not date a man who is trying to kill you!
I’ve had both Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series and (more tentatively) Charlaine Harris recommended to me, although I’ve not yet checked them out at the local library; being rather head-down in schoolwork most of the time means my reading for entertainment is somewhat catch-as-catch-can. Also, a friend has promised to loan me the first three of Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty the Werewolf” series (i.e. Kitty and The Midnight Hour, Kitty Goes to Washington, and Kitty Takes a Holiday), so I’ll see how those go as well. Most recently I checked out the first three books of Ilona Andrews’ Magic series from the library, and while the heroine, Kate Daniels, was not a suicidally whiny, incompetent, and flaming moron like Kim Harrison’s protagonist (“No, Collie, don’t hold back so! Tell us how you really feel!”), I found myself mildly entertained but unsatisfied overall with those as well. However, I feel it’s important to really understand what I’m looking for if I’m going to say something was good or not, so I thought I’d review the books here. I figure it’s a bit of positive thinking: if I can state what I do and don’t enjoy, perhaps it’ll be easier for me to find what I really want.