Tuesday, June 30, 2009

are these books all the same, or is it just me?


I picked up the first of a new urban fantasy series on the weekend. You probably know the one. It comes out every few months in different guises, by different authors and with different titles, but you'll know the one when you see it. It's had a lot of hype. It's got fancy packaging, sassy cover art and kick-ass blurbs. It's had gushing reviews, everyone says it's new and original and a fresh twist on the genre and the BEST thing EVA.

You pick it up in the store, and hairs lift on the back of your neck. The cover's stunning. The cover copy sounds fantastic. The premise sounds fresh and interesting and full of yummy potential. The characters and the world don't sound quite like anything you've ever read before. Excitement tingles your skin, and you can't stumble to the counter to buy it fast enough. You rush home with a dopey grin on your face, itching with anticipation to read something different.

Finally, you curl up on the couch and begin to read.

And by page five, your delight is shattered. The heroine is the same wisecracking kick-ass creature-hunter you've read a million times before. The hero is generic and alpha, dark and handsome and freakishly sexy and the same as every other frickin' hero you've seen the last eight hundred books. The writing is fine, sure, but the dialogue is tired. The characterisations are bland and old. That magical fresh premise is wasted on boring characters that could have come from any UF book.

In short, the book is nothing new. What you thought could be your new favourite book of the year is the SAME. OLD. STUFF.

Sigh. Disappointed. I'm not going to name names. But this was a DNF for me.

On a brighter note, I did finish an ARC of a cheeky fantasy mystery called The Sword-Edged Blonde. Now THAT was something different. Crazy goddesses, psychotic crippled dwarves, ruthless kings and murdered princes and a baffling mystery -- and most gratifyingly, NOT your standard fantasy hero. Mr Eddie Lacrosse, witty, smooth and clever, seriously kick-ass, but with this shy little wounded heart that just charmed the socks off me.

I'll have the author, Alex Bledsoe, here tomorrow to show off his book. Please drop by and say hi.


  1. I think the kick-ass wise-cracking tough-as-nails heroine has simply become the archetype of the genre, the same way the lonely farmboy with a great destiny has become a fantasy archetype. People just assume that's what's required and write it.
    I think it may also be seen as necessary for the genre - how else is our intrepid heroine going to hold her own against the vampires, werewolves, demons, and assorted beasties that she'll be fighting/romancing throughout the book?
    Personally, I now find it boring and predictable, but am willing to overlook it if the rest of the book holds up in terms of worldbuilding and plotting. But yeah, UF is massively overpopulated with angry chicks in leather and it's always something of a shock to see a book that deviates from this.

  2. Absolutely. The heroines have to be tough chicks to survive, and of course it's better than reading about foolish, weak women who need to be rescued all the time, or whatever. I write tough chicks too -- or I try to :) -- and I love and respect them for what they are.
    The shame of it is -- there was nothing actually *wrong* with that book, y'know? It wasn't a *bad* book. My expectations were just misaligned by the reviewers and blurb writers and book bloggers who obviously saw something in it that I didn't think was there.
    I take this far too seriously, of course. I need to let go :)

  3. I think there's a line between "tough and capable" and the type of "verging on masculine" women that tend to crop up from time to time. Kit Whitfield actually wrote an excellent post on this type of character a while back... http://www.kitwhitfield.com/2006/09/mary-sue-gets-mean.html
    I like tough, capable heroines. But I like them to be women with the same fragilities, skills, and feminine qualities a real woman would have. Often in the UF genre there's a tendency to forget that in favour of having the baddest, strongest, most super-special heroine evah evah evah!!! Which may be why I write about drug addicted werewolves. I don't know.
    And no! You can never take these things too seriously! :)

  4. Great article. LOL @ 'Snappy Sue'! If a real-life woman behaved like such a bitch, no one would hang out with her. Probably why a lot of UF heroines have no female friends.
    Drug addicted werewolves?? Cool! :)

  5. It's not just you. It seems to me to be the case for most "genre" novels.

  6. Yeah, I guess the publishers find a set of ideas that work, and run with them. Which is fair enough, and no doubt pleases a lot of readers.
    The problem was with my expectations, not with the book itself. Meh.

  7. I agree. A lot of genre books just follow the same old established formulas. For UF, kick-ass heroine - check, dark/handsome/mysterious/broody hero - check, saving the world somehow leads to falling in love - check.
    On the one hand, people think, if it works, you know it'll sell, and why change it.
    On the other hand, as a reader, when you've read one, you've read them all. It is extremely disappointing to pick up a brand spanking new book, get all exited and then find out that you've read this a hundred times before. The specifics of the plot is different, the names are different, but the broad stokes of the novel stays the same.
    For me, great characters is what makes a great book. I'll accept just about any half decent plot and go along with it if the characters are great. If there's nothing unique about the characters, then I'm going to be disappointed. That's mainly why I am extremely hesitant to branch out from my established list of good UF and traditional fantasy authors, because I know I'll probably read the same characters all over again.

  8. Yeah, it's tempting to stick with the ones you know you like. But I try to keep an open mind - I don't wanna miss the next cool thing, y'know?
    I guess that means I need to steel myself for a little disappointment every now and then :)