Category Archives: Urban fantasy

The Girl With All the Gifts – MR Carey

I hate buying books in hardcover. The dust jackets are easy to tear or dent, they’re are too unwieldy to read with one hand while grasping a strap on the T, they can’t be placed in with paperbacks by author because it wrecks my nice even line of books. Oh, and they cost more. Drives me nuts, but I still purchase hardbacks when I am too excited to wait.

Our most recent visit to a bookstore had this book on display, and I had to get it because I was almost positive that MR Carey was Mike Carey, who wrote a lot of comics but most importantly to me, the “Lucifer” comic and the Felix Castor series. Turns out it was him.

“The Girl With All the Gifts” is a post-apocalyptic book whose reason for being post-apocalyptic is a spoiler. I don’t want to say too much because all the reveals are important. This means I can’t really talk about the book.

Let me just say that I felt compelled to finish reading the book. I don’t want to say “enjoyed” because there were a lot of things that made me uncomfortable, things that I acknowledge as being something governments/people might do. I had to see what the conclusion would be, and was satisfied. I accept that it’s a viable ending, but I didn’t love it. To love it would mean that I was happy at the end, and I was not happy.

I don’t know if I would recommend it to anyone I know, not because I think it’s bad, but because it’s very different from what my friends like to read. It’s a post-apocalyptic book about survivors fighting monstrous things, whether it’s themselves, their ideas, or the thing that made the world fall. There’s not a lot of hope and light in it.

Final thoughts: Would read and put on a shelf. Probably would not re-read, but definitely would not sell/donate it.

Rivers of London (series) – Ben Aaronovitch

I picked up the first book, “Midnight Riot” (UK release is named “Rivers of London”) because it was in a list of recommendations from Daniel O’Malley in the back of his “The Rook: A Novel”, which I greatly enjoyed. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I liked “Midnight Riot” or not, but then I missed my T stop because I was too busy reading and that settled it.

I went to Porter Square Books the following day and picked up the next books in the series, “Moon Over Soho” and “Whispers Underground” in addition to enough cookbooks to overload my bag. I feel that this bookstore merits a specific naming because it had every single book I was looking for that day, and how cool is that? It’s a magic bookstore that has books that I want to read.

So this series is an urban fantasy set in London, and is the cap on my belief that the best (English language) urban fantasy nowadays is not written by Americans, but the English (and Australians… and Canadians). I should just say non-Americans?

Another thing this series brings up is the lack of racial diversity in the other urban fantasies I’ve read. First off, the man character is obviously ethnic and this fact is brought up constantly. He interacts with a lot of different races and religions because it’s always going to happen in an urban area, and everyone will act and dress differently. I like it. At first, I thought the author was tossing the racial difference of the protagonist around a lot, then I decided that it was important.

It shows a shocking lack of reality when urban fantasies in the USA feature characters that are uniformly white, or interact with mostly white characters. Look at Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Washington DC. How is it possible to only interact with Caucasians, or even people who haven’t lived in the USA for generations? And then apply that to books. How are the only people you see, know, etc white? It’s not logical, and it could possibly indicate some race issues in books and our reading habits.

Is it because we’d rather read about characters that are white? Is it the set default we imagine when we picture a character, even if we’re not white? I feel a sense of complicity in this … white washing is too strong of a phrase and not quite right, but I cannot think of another… of the genre because I mostly read books with a European (specifically, Irish) fantasy bent. Generally, I do not read a lot of urban fantasy with Asian myths in it, but I cannot decide if it’s because it was neglected in the genre or if my strong feelings against exoticism result in me selecting against it.

Anyways! The “Rivers of London” books are great reads. The protagonist, Peter Grant, is a police officer that gets thrown into the midst of magical dealings when investigating a police case. Interestingly, his superiors know that magic is possible (and they dislike it), and push him off to be apprenticed to the last known English wizard, Lord Thomas Nightingale, a relic of a by-gone age made even more apparent when the reader learns that magic was supposed to be on a serious decline.

Lord Thomas Nightingale handles the supernatural part of law enforcement, and had not been called into duty for years until the case, and Peter himself, was flagged. From then on, Peter begins his schooling (and his experimentation) in the subject of magic, whether it is casting spells, meeting the human personifications of the rivers of London, seeing the effects of previously unknown dark magic users, or experimenting in methods to blend his previously modernized life with his new one.

As it turns out, magic and technology do not get along.

The plots were intriguing, and the tie-ins with history and pop culture references were always good for smile and wikipedia moments. My favorite one involves Peter asking Lord Nightingale about the largest object he used a spell on. The answer was, “A Tiger”, but it’s not the feline kind; it’s a Panzerkamfwagen. (There was a special joy in this reference because M loves history and has been playing “World of Tanks” for the past year. He got the reference immediately.)

I think what I enjoyed the most about these books is that I felt like I had not encountered all of the ideas before. It felt good to read them and think, “Oh, I like this idea a lot” as opposed to skimming over bits that match another plot or world.

There weren’t any overflowing descriptions that seem to have become the staple of urban fantasty, and I loved the sparser wordings. I am not a fan of an outpouring of descriptive words, akin to word vomit, and so I was pleased to enjoy imagining the world as I read without having to read overblown efforts to describe everything.

I cannot wait for the next book to come out. My only dilemma is, do I buy it in hardback for immediate gratification, or do I wait for the paperback so it matches the rest of the books on my shelf?

Moon Called – Patricia Briggs

Several months ago, M. looked down at his armful of books as we walked to the cashier and sighed. “I hate it when I get books that are clearly marketed to me.”

I looked at his selection of alternative history and sci-fi battle books, and looked at my stack of steampunk romance books (The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger) and replied, “I know what you mean.”

That is how I feel about urban fantasy books. Or, as they are categorized by some, “Supernatural Romance”, to which I say, what the christ?

Back in the dark ages, I loved urban fantasy books. Sadly, there weren’t many urban fantasy books and I had to dig a bit to find them. Now, there are too many of them and I can’t stand reading them. The biggest reasons are because they are poorly written and contrived, and I dislike how many of them are based around sex, romance, and sexy romance with supernatural critters. With that phrasing, I think people who fantasize about sexing up vampires or werewolves can be related to furries!

It’s not just that the books tend to be terrible. It’s also that the covers are terrible. Please, think of the commuter-reader who doesn’t want people to see her reading a book with scantily-clad anythings on the cover.

Those things contributed to me not wanting to read the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs: suspicion of the content and irritation with the cover. The heroine is supposed to be a mechanic. Would a mechanic unbutton her shirt to her boob line, roll her shirt up to said line, wear long dangly earrings, and leave her hair lose? This is an embarrassing book to be seen buying or reading, but hey, at least she’s not wearing some sort of taffeta number with wings or dripping mascara.

“Moon Called” introduces nothing new to the urban fantasy genre. There are werewolves, vampires, and faeries. They don’t like each other. Also familiar is how the main character, Mercedes, is none of these but interacts with all of them. It cannot be helped! The local werewolf leader is her neighbor, and her stepfather was a werewolf! Vampires shake her down for protection money, and the previous owner of her shop (and her car mentor) is a faerie.

Mercy is a skinwalker, the only one she knows of (qualifying her for Special Snowflake heroine status), who doesn’t know her father, was raised by a werewolf, and left the werewolf pack to live on her own. Currently, she works as a car mechanic in her own shop, and goes about her la di da business until a werewolf she knows isn’t a part of the local pack comes and asks her for work and she learns that he was an illegally made (by the werewolf pack standards) werewolf that escaped from people experimenting on him. She brings this to the attention of the local pack leader, and hijinks ensue. People get hurt, infighting and subplots come to light, all 3 supernatural factions get involved, and we learn more about Mercy and how the factions work.

I’m not going to say this book was horrible; it’s not. It is also not worth buying. The writing is a bit clunky and awkward, and the world-building is nothing special. It’s not that a book has to have something Super Special to make it worthwhile, but there most be something compelling about the first book in the series that will convince me to buy the rest of the books.

I don’t see an overarching good vs. evil battle coming up, nor do I feel empathy or curiosity for any of the characters. The organization of the factions isn’t interesting yet, and none of the characters have been given enough depth to be interesting.

What I’m saying is that this book is a fast read for a boring day. You’ll want to finish reading it, but once you’re done, it won’t occupy your mind. You might be curious about the sequels, but you will also realize that each book is $7.99 and you could buy a burger or a bowl of ramen that would be more enjoyable.