Saturday, June 30, 2012

Character Driven Fantasy

Today, I blog about another aspect of writing. Reading books. I love to read, fantasy is my main game, and I read widely throughout the genre. One of the things that sticks in my craw when listening to intellectuals talk about books is the claim that genre characters are carbon copies of tropes. Which is amusing when you consider the milque toast tragic stare of many "literary" characters, but let's not start a genre war here.... that's for later. *evil grin* I am going to give you a few recommendations of books I enjoyed where the character was a driving force and/or where the author made some brave choices for the main character that she/he put in the traces of their literary cart.

In the spirit of transparency, I freely admit some of these authors are folks I interact with cybernetically on Absolute Write. Some more than others, and some I only admire (and/or) stalk on Twitter from afar. However, I will not promote crap books on my blog - life is too short. And I was not given cake or cookies by any of these people to pimp their books. They didn't even know I was going to do this post.

Unholy Ghosts - Stacia Kane, and the Downside Ghosts Series. You wanna talk unique character? How about a strong female lead that just happens to be an addict? At first, I withdrew (inside my head) a little... I don't know... the little librarian up there tightened her bun and pushed her glasses up her nose. (I can count on one hand the number of times that I've been drunk and I've never used a substance stronger than Nyquil.) Whatever that reaction was, it fell away as I got lost in the great world-building and characters. Chess has a lot of flaws, but she also has a lot of moxie, and I admired the way she did her job. Not to mention she's a witch! Cool use of the arcane in a totally unique world, where the dead have risen, the Christian church has fallen away and a new one has risen to take its place. Chess not only fights ghosts, but herself, her past, and her position as a witch in a church that will not take kindly to her addiction if they ever find out about it. Every one of the books in this series delivers.

Banshee Charmer and Succubus Lost - Tiffany Allee I have to admit I've read Banshee Charmer, but I'm only half-way through Succubus Lost. I swore to myself I'd get this blog post done today. These two books have different main characters in the same world, so you don't have to read the first one (but you should!). What I like is that they read like detective novels, where the characters have to do cop-work to get the goods on the perps, despite their otherworldy abilities. The world is peopled with more than vampires and werewolves. Succubus and banshee are obvious from the titles, but also salamanders, goblins, selkies, brownies, etc. Now we all know the leads of a romance start off not liking each other but have a good dollop of sexual chemistry. Allee does a good job of not only having the male lead rub the female lead the wrong way, but they rubbed me the wrong way, too! Then you learn more about them, and then you get on their side and start cheering from the sidelines for them to get into bed. 

The Parasol Protectorate books by Gail Carriger I read the first four of these books in four days. One after another, gobbling them down like... well, like I do cake and cookies. Absolutely delicious. First: it's set in Victorian times in England. Second: the funniest and sexiest set of books I have ever read. Carriger's prose is like a whip-crack. Third: why aren't you reading this already? Let me explain. The lead character makes just about every mistake you can make socially and in the fulfillment of her duties for Queen and country. She has a mind of her own, doesn't back down from anything, even with fangs and claws. She breaks every heroine-trope in the heroine-trope closet. She's not gorgeous, at least not above the neck, and not according to Victorian standards. She's not delicate and feminine and doesn't faint after walking up stairs. She's a spinster, until she meets her super-hot, pain-in-the-ass werewolf husband. The subsequent books follow a husband and wife and still remains very sexiful. That doesn't happen a lot. Oh, and she has no soul. Hijinks ensue. Carriger is also writing a YA series about a finishing school where knife throwing lessons come after curtsy lessons, or some such. I can't wait to get into that.

White Horse by Alex Adams Now we switch gears. White Horse is an apocalyptic tale. I love the lead character, Zoe, because she doesn't do anything I would do if I were caught up in the apoxyclips (ie: find a Walmart to raid and then hole up in a house with a good basement and a lot of firepower). She crosses the ocean, yes, THE OCEAN! to look for her lover, who had gone to Europe to find his parents. And did I mention she's pregnant? And that he might have recrossed the ocean to get back to her and she could have missed him? Jesus! I hope that's not too big of a spoiler. There's so much tension and drama in the book, that's only one layer. Zoe makes a frenemy along the way - I have to admit I would have lost enough of my humanity by this time to kill him in his sleep, but Zoe hadn't. She still clings to hope of a future and wants to be able to live with herself, I suppose. It's hard when you read a book and think, "What would I do?" And you find your own answers sorely lacking. I wouldn't be a hero in a tale. A villain maybe.

Don't Bite the Messenger by Regan Summers This is another step away from your trope vampire story. What I love about the world Summers created is that vampires are totally cool. And the whole thing trembles on the edge of utter failure. The main character, Sydney, is a courier and all she wants is to make enough money to retire to a vampire-free place, preferably one with lots of palm trees. Couriers are necessary because vamps wreck technology like phones and computer equipment with the energy they produce. That's a problem when you have business to conduct. Lots of business with a lot of money at stake. The only thing the vampires like more than money is wrecking rival vampire's plans. Couriers are always in danger of being compromised, tracked down by rival couriers or vampires, and they don't exactly drive safely. All that is what drives the character. Sydney lives on the edge; including getting cosy with a vampire that works for the big boss. I don't want to give away too much, but I loved watching Sydney wrestle with the softer parts of herself and her desire for the sexiful vampire; her need to stay on her own feet and not be compromised. I can't wait for the second one.

Last one... I didn't realize this post would be so long.

October Daye Series by Seanan McGuire Believe it or not, this was one of my earliest forays into Urban Fantasy. I had read some of the fantastic work of Elizabeth Bear (who I've probably lauded enough on this blog, God how I love her work) and was suggested this by the good folks on Absolute Write. I was immediately hooked, and it was the first time I'd ever read one book and immediately bought (yes, bought, with cash money, it must have been after getting a vacation check or tax return) all the other books available at that time. I've since done that with Stacia Kane, but it is precious rare it happens. First of all, the lead character is troublesome. She never does what I want. *pouts* All I can say, is if I had a shitty apartment and had to work at Safeway, well, I wouldn't. I would be breaking down the door to fairy land and hangin' out with my fairy friends and wearing pretty dresses. The trouble for Toby is that she's a changeling, not a full-on fairy person. Full-bloods look down on changelings. Her magic is tetchy, and gives her a headache, but it's not something she can live in our wold without, what with the pointed ears and all. And did I mention she's a Knight? Like I said, this was one of my tentative dips into the urban fantasy market, and I came from a long period of reading mostly epic fantasy. I felt like I hadn't given all that much up with these books. The mix of fair folk and the urban jungle of San Francisco works. (Being based near where I live is another plus for me. I love the Bay Area references.) I still miss spending the night at inns, though. And horses, of course.

There are more I could list, but this thing is long enough. I may do it again. I hope no one has their feelings hurt if they weren't included. So, so many were not included.... Feel free to mention your faves in the comments.

Happy reading, folks.


  1. Evageline Stone from the Dreg City series is another example I like and it is from a another AW alum, Kelly Meding.

  2. Yes, another AWer! Love Kelly, too! Thanks so much!