Thursday 30 April 2009

Urban Fantasy Romance = Oxymoron?

Believe it or not I am trying to retain some objectivity here. This is just my opinion, subject to change I guess, though I've yet to be convinced that UFR is anything but a nightmare I can't wake up from. And I'm trying to bear in mind the quote about there being two kinds of fool. But I can't help but feel that whoever thought of sticking Urban Fantasy and Romance together, kind of missed the point.

The moment a romantic/sexual relationship becomes over 30% (random number choice) of the plot I think your right to call it urban fantasy in any sense becomes tenuous. Call it paranormal romance, call it romantic fantasy. But to me, when the protagonist and their situation (to me, the driving element in UF) become overshadowed by their sexual/romantic needs you no longer have UF.

Ghostland by Jory Strong was the catalyst for me thinking about this and in a way the book has succeeded because it's got me thinking about why I read what I read and why I feel the way I do about it.

But this book has also frustrated me (gross understatement) because I feel there was a brilliant urban fantasy to be told here - a breakout book for 2009. Instead I'm left with the desire to go through the book and delete all references to hardening cocks, swelling labias and 90% of the sex scenes.

I'm also left not knowing whether to give this book away or keep it and read the next book in the series in the hope that the sexual element will be toned down in favour of more plot and character development. This is a world that I want to be taken deeper into DAMNIT!, but I don't want to be skipping pages and pages of sex just to get back to the good stuff.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Ghostland by Jory Strong - Story so Far

It's taking me a lot longer to get through books, so here's the interim review. Currently reading Ghostland by Jory Strong - up to page 122 of 341. Here's the blurb from the back cover.

"In a post-Apocalyptic world where supernaturals have emerged from hiding, wealthy humans delight in decadence while the religious gain power through temptation. For the masses, fear reigns from birth to death, and the afterlife holds beings that only the bravest can summon—or dare to desire…

Taken from her home and family, shamaness Aisling McConaughey has no choice except to enter the “ghostlands” in order to learn the fate of a wealthy man’s mistress. But there is always a price to pay for the use of her power. To save the woman’s life she must summon the Djinn prince Zurael en Caym—and yield to his savage, sensual rage.

Zurael fears nothing except being called and bound to a human’s will. He intends to kill Aisling after she’s served as bait to find an enemy in possession of an ancient tablet. But the more he tastes of her innocent spirit, the more he’ll use his fiery touch and seductive whispers to keep her hungry for his mercy—even as they weave an erotic spell that he cannot escape…

Powerful forces threaten both their worlds, leaving Aisling and Zurael with an unbearable choice. Follow their hearts…or stay true to their honor and risk losing an eternity of pleasure."


Labelled as an urban fantasy romance - I remain unconvinced as regards the genre expansion - if nothing else so far this story has engendered strong emotions in me, mainly frustration.

Lows - The prose in places is a little clunky, though that improves greatly as you get into the story. The worst thing for me is the fact that the hero seems to have a permanent erection (and seems is understating it). His cock is constantly either stiffened, engorged, weeping, hardening or leaking. And the heroine's labia has just joined in.

Highs - And hence my incredible frustration with the fixation on the protagonist's genitalia. The worldbuilding in this story is FANTASTIC! And the plot when you get past the sex is absolutely compelling.

In summary - I'm torn. This is a series that I'd like to follow but so far I'm not sure if the original worldbuilding, characterisation and enthralling plot will be enough to get me past the unnecessary sex acts (I flick past them) which keep interrupting an otherwise excellent story.

Full review coming soon.

Monday 27 April 2009

What is Urban Fantasy

One of the things that makes reading exciting is the constant potential to discover something new. Genre (I believe) is not static, the stalwarts are always there - Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, etc. - but they're also evolving and changing. However, genre needs conventions. It's how we know we'll find science fiction in the science fiction section and crime in the crime section at book shops.

So where would we find Urban Fantasy (UF)?

Currently, anywhere from horror (Kelley Armstrong) to science fiction/fantasy (Patricia Briggs) to romance (also Patricia Briggs :) ).

Urban fantasy is a relatively young genre, though maybe older than you think. The Wikipedia Entry says it's been around since the late eighties and cites authors such as Emma Bull. The entry defines it as "a subset of contemporary fantasy, consisting of magical novels and stories set in contemporary, real-world, urban settings...". Okay, that's a pretty broad spectrum. But in recent years (for me at least) urban fantasy has come to mean certain things. I've come to expect certain conventions when reading an UF novel.
  • Usually written in first person or very tight third person. The reader experiences the urban fantasy world through the eyes of the protagonist.
  • The story has a modern urban setting - that's kind of critical. :)
  • The worldbuilding is TIGHT.
  • The protagonist and their situation are the focus of the plot - this could be anything from just doing their job to trying to integrate into society. The plot may or may not involve a romantic/sexual relationship. But said romantic relationship will not overshadow the main storyline.
  • If a relationship is included as part of the storyline a happy hearts and flowers ending is not guaranteed.
  • Often the books are a series following the protagonist over a period of time.

If rules are meant to be broken, then I agree that conventions are meant to be bent. Everyone wants to read something original, the next big thing, but the conventions are there for a reason. If one of the conventions is broken then the rest of them better be outstanding.

I agree that there is a gradation from urban fantasy to paranormal romance that isn't always easy to define. I'd include the following authors as writing UF - Kelley Armstrong, Simon R. Green, Patricia Briggs, Jenna Black (Morgan Kingsley), Karen Chance, Kat Richardson. Paranormal Romance - Sherrilyn Kenyon, Alyssa Day.

Then there are those authors that fall in between more gritty that PNR but with more romance that UF and I'd include Nalini Singh's Changeling series here. I'd also include the first three books in the BDB series here. The following books in that series I'd classify as paranormal family saga (lol speaking of making genres up on the spot) not urban fantasy, mainly (among other things) because there is a lack of single protagonist.

So why is this important?

It's important to me because urban fantasy is my favourite genre, it's my comfort read, it's the place I go to when real life sucks.

When a publisher labels a book PNR when it's clear that it's urban fantasy and there's a reader/reviewer outcry it annoys and frustrates me. When publishers latch onto the urban fantasy label as they latched onto the Paranormal Romance label and slap it on everything regardless it annoys and frustrates me.

I predict that in the future a lot of books previously labelled as PNR will be labelled UF. Not because they are UF but because it's the next big thing* (despite being around for 30 years or more).

* - I actually think the next big thing (which has also been around for a while) is going to be Steampunk. Can't wait to see how that gets labelled.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Is Genre Important?

This is a question that's been plaguing me recently.

And I think the short answer to the question has to be:-


Genre acts as a signpost, especially when the publisher chooses to put it either on the front cover or the spine of the book you're looking for. So why do publishers keep cocking it up? Or is it really not as simple as a yes or no answer?

There's nothing more annoying for a romance reader than to find out that their story doesn't come complete with a happy ending, a m/m fan to find the story going m/m/f or worse going m/f/m, or for a contemporary fan suddenly to have their favourite series go all time travel.

Is it because certain genres are now considered passe? Is it because certain genres are perceived as selling better than others? Is it because the person(s) at the publisher who decide such things haven't always got a clue?

I'm going to look at this over the next couple of weeks concentrating on Urban Fantasy.

Friday 24 April 2009

In the Blood by Adrian Phoenix

In the Blood picks up where A Rush of Wings ended with certain forces in government eliminating all evidence of project Bad Seed - the programme designed to produce sociopathic killers under the control of the authorities - leaving Dante and Heather not knowing who they can trust. Meanwhile Lucien the Fallen is caught between protecting Dante his son, and the rest of the Fallen who would see the young Maker installed on their Chaos Throne.

This was the Kelley Armstrong bookclub book for March and I'm sorry that I missed so much of the discussion there, unfortunately it's taking me quite a long time at the moment to get through a book. First off - the cover this time is a 100% improvement over the previous one, less streetwalker, more street smart and is much closer to my own image of Heather and she's even wearing a trench coat. :)

This is a complex tale that builds on the story from the first book, so I can't recommend that you start the series here. Instead I'd recommend you check out A Rush of Wings first. In the Blood has conspiracy on conspiracy on conspiracy but Dante stands at the centre, still hardcore when it comes to the truth, setting an almost impossible standard for others. Lucien tries to tell him
"The truth is never what you hope it will be...And the cost is always higher than you imagine."
If Dante is going to be saved then the Bad Seed project needs putting to rest once and for all, but Bad Seed are no longer the only people after Dante, everyone wants a piece of him for their own purposes, from the shady human government to the Fallen angels. Which brings me to the quote that is at the centre of the book for me, and one which could be applied to most of the characters. Again from Lucien,
"We all do what we must. Each one of us. Then once we've done what was necessary, we begin anew."
More characters are introduced here - Heather's father and sister. And my favourite new character Caterina Cortini - the cleaner - human child of a vampire. She walks between two worlds having not yet made the choice which she'll live in. Through her we learn a little more about the vampire culture and I hope she'll have a role to play in future books.

There is a point in this story towards the end where everything starts to go a little haywire - this is in keeping with the tale and the worldbuilding but I find myself going 'Whoooaaaa, I'm not quite sure about this' and it's credit to Adrian Phoenix's storytelling that she manages to keep me on the ride. In fact if I had any complaints it would be that occasionally I lose track of who the characters are - there is quite a large cast and towards the end as we build towards the climax we get multiple points of view. The one I kept not being able to place was Sheridan. In the previous book if I remember correctly it was Silver and Simone I kept getting confused - maybe I have a problem with names beginning with S?

It seems we haven't yet seen the limits of Dante's powers. The next book Beneath the Skin releases early 2010. And I can't wait to find out what happens next.

Monday 6 April 2009

It's Just the Beetroot

Bear with me.

In the UK there's a tv programme called Masterchef, which features amateur cooks competing against one another. One of the first tests they take part in is an invention test, where all they have to do is create a dish from everyday ingredients. For the most part this goes off okay. But every so often it goes cringe-makingly wrong. A contestant will make a perfect spaghetti carbonara, panic and add soy sauce at the last minute. Well it seemed like a good idea at the time. Then, there's the things that seem like they shouldn't work - putting beetroot in chocolate cake - but they do. (I admit here that I can't cook, so those examples are pulled from my terrible memory).

So...back to books.

We get to hear about the 'soy sauce' all the time. The urban fantasy marketed as paranormal romance where the hero dies at the end. The contemporary romance that morphs into a time travel. The series that changes genre halfway through.

But what about the beetroot? These are books that you often find have 50% five star Amazon reviews and 50% one star.

And why am I thinking about this? Lol.

Currently I'm reading In the Blood by Adrian Phoenix and I've kind of slipped into beetroot territory. The protagonist Dante is a maker and can create and recreate the world around him. So far in the series the strings suspending my disbelief have held firm. But as I come to the last part of this book I struggle a little bit to hold onto them. But hold onto them I do.

In Twilight Fall by Lynn Viehl, the sixth (and penultimate book) in the Darkyn series, we are suddenly introduced to a new type of supernatural. Previous to this, the conflict between the Darkyn and Brethren was compelling enough, that I didn't feel I was missing anything by not having other supernatural creatures in the story. Again I feel my belief in the world being pushed to the limit but Ms. Viehl manages to hold onto my attention as a reader and keep me with the story.

What is it about some writers that they can take you to the edge and you trust them, even as they are dangling you over the cliff?