morrigirl: (Lila Black)
[personal profile] morrigirl
After finishing The Raw Shark Texts yesterday, (good book; kind of like "Momento," "The Matrix," House of Leaves, and "Jaws" all rolled into one), I picked up the copy of Dead Until Dark that has been sitting on the office book swap shelf for ages. I read three pages, and put it back.

I have an aversion to characters who tell me how drop dead gorgeous they are on the first page. A start like that tells me a lot about what is important within the narrative: beauty, sexiness, romance, and sex. They usually come hand in hand with cliches, unrealistic relationship development, shoddy writing, and cringe-worthy sex scenes. None of that interests me. I don't like reading about pretty people, particularly pretty people who bitch and moan about how they can't get a date. Three pages of Sookie Stackhouse was all I could take.

Having abandoned Charlaine Harris, I turned to one of the urban fantasy books I acquire through PaperBack Swap - Guilty Pleasures, the first book in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. Like the Southern Vampire Mysteries, I've never had any strong desire to read the Anita Blake books, but was willing to give them a go because 1) everyone loves them so much, and 2) they are basically considered urban fantasy "canon."

Laurell K. Hamilton pretty much invented contemporary urban fantasy. Guilty Pleasures was first published in 1993 when epic fantasy was still the industry norm. It came out four years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer hit television, and roughly ten years before urban fantasy became a driving force in fantasy literature.

I'm up to page fifty, and though I'm not impressed, now I know where every urban fantasy cliche originated: the generic, sassy, opinionated heroine; the sexy, yet sensitive and overly protective vampire lover; the ridiculous, comedic side-kicks. They're all there. Hamilton's writing is serviceable, but that's about it. Nothing dazzles on the page. Anita herself has virtually no personality. Fifty pages in all I know about her is what she does for a living and that she hates vampires. She has no interests, hobbies, quirks, or defining characteristics. She's a blank slate.

I think the urban fantasy novelists who have taken Hamilton's formula and run with it over the last ten years have improved upon it greatly. Writer's like Kelley Armstrong, Rachel Caine, and Richelle Mead give their characters actual personalities! They give their romantic subp-lots time to development in a realistic fashion. They come up with fleshed out secondary characters who are just as charming as the protagonists. They bring an improved awareness of craft and technique to their books. They have zeroed in on the problem areas of the urban fantasy formula and fixed them. So it's kind of sad that new urban fantasy writers still try to imitate Hamilton when they could be trying to imitate her successors, or better yet, coming up with something totally new.

Problems aside, I do plan to finish reading Guilty Pleasures. It's good enough and short enough, and it's not as off-putting as Dead Until Dark. But it's going to have to get A LOT better for me to move on the second book.

Thanks to PaperBack Swap I've accumulated a small library of urban fantasy books I was never interested in spending money on but am perfectly willing to sample for free. I've got the first book in Kim Harrison's Hollows series, Jenna Black's Morgan Kinglesy series, Vicki Pettersson's Sign of the Zodiac series, and Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series. To be perfectly honest, I'm not optimistic about the quality of these books, but feel I should at least give them a chance because I'm fond of the genre. And, you know, I have been wrong in the past. I wasn't optimistic about the Georgina Kincaid books either and they turned out to be freaking awesome! So, who knows?
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January 2012

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