Saturday, March 3, 2012

What is Urban Fantasy?

Fangs for the Fantasy is a site that examines Urban Fantasy through a Social Justice lens. Now we’ve talked a lot about the Social Justice side of things, but we’re just going to take a moment to pin down what we consider the “Urban Fantasy” side of things. What is Urban Fantasy?

This particularly matters because we are always open to book suggestions – and we do receive a lot, both from authors and readers. Of course, some of these suggestions are not what we’d consider Urban Fantasy. That’s not essentially a problem, we’re not hugely strict about the genre we read (at least, so long as it falls within the realm of Speculative Fiction) but at the same time, Urban Fantasy is our preference and non-Urban Fantasy will be pushed to the back of the line more often than not.

Of course, when I sit down to actually define what is and what isn’t Urban Fantasy… it’s not so easy because the lines aren’t clear and the more I think this post is probably going to be more one of discussion than it is a definitive definition

I think we need to draw several lines here between genres and see what we would consider belongs to each. I think in particular we need to look at:

Urban Fantasy
Paranormal Romance.

Urban Fantasy vs Fantasy:
Now, I’m actually go out on a limb here and say that the “urban” part of Urban Fantasy is actually a misnomer – since urban merely suggests the presence of a city and a lot of Urban Fantasy does not contain an Urban setting while a lot of Classic or High Fantasy can, indeed, be city based. Let me throw out some examples.

Say, for example, Tolkein's heirs write a novel based on Middle Earth, set in Osgiliath or Rivendell. We have a Fantasy novel set entirely in a city – yet I think we'd all agree that the mere presence of a city does not make that urban fantasy, it's clearly High Fantasy. Similarly, if George R. R. Martin set a Game of Thrones entirely within Kings Landing or another city, we'd still call it High Fantasy

Similarly, True Blood is set in Bon Temps. Now I think this is way beyond the definition of “city” however there's no way this is Fantasy. Kelley Armstrong sets large amounts of the Otherworld series in rural areas. Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy again, takes place primarily in rural, out of the way places even Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Series doesn't exactly ground out in major urban centres, nor does Patricia Briggs. In fact, I would say for every Urban Fantasy set in a major city there is 1 or 2 set in rural regions.

So, yes, I say that the Urban element of Urban Fantasy is misleading.

I'm going to make a different distinction. To me Urban Fantasy involves OUR WORLD. Earth, as we know it, with extras. It may have been radically altered in some ways, but ultimately it's our world or very close to it. This way I think you can also have HISTORICAL Urban Fantasy – say, medieval Britain with vampires and it still be Urban Fantasy even if it has a Medieval setting (medieval setting was going to be my other criteria for Fantasy – but I disagree. A magical modern technology world that is completely different from Earth would be Fantasy/Sci-fi IMO). Of course, I know I’m on somewhat shaky ground on the idea of Medieval Urban Fantasy and Modern High Fantasy and I’d like to know what other people think

Friday, March 2, 2012

Review of Red-Headed Step Child by Jaye Wells, Book One of the Sabina Kane Series

Sabina Kane is half vampire and half mage, in a world that looks down upon mixed blood beings.  Her vampire half is readily obvious, because like her mother and her grandmother, she has red hair. It's obvious to those that see her that she is still very young, and in fact a scant 53 years old by the fact that hair isn't very dark yet.  Sabina is an assassin, having been declined other roles due to her mixed heritage. Sabina was raised by her grandmother (because both of her parents are dead) to distrust and limit her contact with all other groupings of supernatural beings.

Sabina is fiercely loyal to her grandmother, even killing a dear friend when told to, because it was assumed that he betrayed vampires. She is strong, capable and desperate to prove her worth to her grandmother and so when she is sent to kill Clovis Trakiya, a being who is half demon and half vampire, who is attempting to supplant the Dominae (read: vampire leadership) she jumps at the opportunity.

The mission does not go as Sabina planned.  It begins to go awry when a demon stakes her and she does not die, thanks to her mage blood. Giguhl becomes stuck in the human realm and is forced to mascaraed as a cat. Adam the mage who has been following her becomes her love interest and ends up being the one to introduce Sabina to her mage heritage, causing her to question everything that she knows as true.

Red-Headed Step Child is not a unique story in many ways.  As I mentioned above, once again we have a protagonist with dead parents. I don't understand why urban fantasy writers are so determined to give their protagonists a tragic past. At times the plot is a touch predictable but it is saved from being just another run of the mill urban fantasy books by the humour.  The relationship between Giguhl in cat form and Sabina is touching and hilarious.  How can anyone not love a talking kitty with a ton of attitude?  There were times when I laughed out loud.

Review: Kitty Goes to War, by Carrie Vaughn, book 8 of the Kitty Norville Series

The government has a job for Kitty – or a request anyway. It seems that that nasty idea of werewolf soldiers has actually gone forward. Not officially, but a werewolf soldier thought it was a great idea and created his own little pack/squad. The problem? Well, a mortar round landing on him in Afghanistan, leaving his squad leaderless, and worse, his pack alphaless is the problem. Even more of a problem is the remaining werewolves, ignorant of what it is to be a werewolf, trained with lethal combats skills warring with each other for the new alpha position. Oh, and going AWOL.

Kitty, as the public face of werewolves, is asked to find this little pack of soldiers, bring them back to military custody and, even more, try and find a way to reintegrate them not only into civilian life, but into humanity as a whole. Something she has to think of as she goes along for, despite being Agony Aunt for the supernatural community, no-one has written a manual on exactly what it means to be a werewolf anyway.

At the same time, her reporting of a series of weird supernatural occurrences at a chain of convenience stores seems to have ruffled feathers. Faced with a lawsuit – and extremely dangerous magic, she has to rely on the newly released Cormac to figure out exactly what insidious plotting is happening at Speedy Mart.

This book isn’t an action packed book, at least, not until the end. But nor does it need to be. After all, Kitty has lead a pretty action packed life, especially in the last book. It was nice to see Kitty take on a more cerebral, emotional challenge after the death defying action of Kitty’s House of Horrors. After all, Kitty can’t have a life that is entirely death and destruction – even if she does have plenty of action, drama and major issues to deal with.

I really love the story about re-integrating the were-wolf soldiers into civilian – and human – life. I think it shows  not just an idea of how adapting to civilian life can be difficult, especially after a war zone but it also brings home the message we have seen in book after book about how hard it can be to be a werewolf. We’ve seen kitty fight her instincts, the effect of body language on her and her pack, the effort of navigating life as a werewolf, but this really brings it together as to the full difficulties of being a werewolf above and beyond the need to go camping every month. It also shows the importance of a supportive and helpful pack extremely well as well as why werewolf soldiers would be such an utterly poor idea.

In short, it finally brings together and shows us all the problems Kitty has mentioned in a very concise example. It has the added bonus of showing Kitty as an alpha and how she has grown into the role as well as the problems of there being no user-manual to being a werewolf and how much Kitty has to make it up as she goes along.

The Importance of Critiquing Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is something that we both clearly enjoy.  It’s a break from the everyday with it’s fantastic flights of fantasy, and slightly warped version of our world.  What has always attracted me to fantasy is that it contains so much hope. Each time an author sits to tell a story, they have a chance to erase the problems of our current society and start anew. Unfortunately, in many cases, urban fantasy does not live up to its potential, because though authors are starting with what is essentially a blank slate, they have grown in a culture that promotes isms at every turn, which inevitably means that their fantasy worlds are as flawed as the world we live in today.

Because urban fantasy falls into the category of speculative fiction, and largely written by women, there is a tendency not to take it seriously.  This is a mistake on the part of consumers of this genre and reviewers quite frankly. The popularity of fantasy flares and wanes over the years. We are currently in an upswing, with movies like the Twilight saga pulling in large box office dollars -- if not critical acclaim -- and shows like True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, The Secret Circle and Teen Wolf etc., airing in prime time. Fangs and angst mean big box office dollars, large conference attendance, and constant social discussions.  Whether or not you like urban fantasy, there can be no doubt that it has had a huge impact in the last six years.  

It is because of this impact that we cannot ignore the messages that it brings.  Like many, I am tempted to ignore the work of Stephanie Meyer, who needs to send her thesaurus on paid holiday, because of the obvious abuse in her writing, but to do so would be a mistake.  Years from now it will not be the dry tome that is written by an academic that will be studied as representative of our time, but the work of popular authors like Stephanie Meyer. If you doubt that, think about the fact that Lady Chatterley's Lover was highly dismissed when it was first published, and today it is considered a classic that is studied in literature classes across North America.

What do you think shapes culture more? A verbose, dense literary fiction artistic epic read by English literature professors in universities, who in turn congratulate each other on how wonderfully dense and nigh incomprehensible it is? Or Twilight? Or True Blood? A series that has been read by thousands, if not millions, turned into a TV series or a film, and watched by yet more people? Personally, I think it’s the latter that will have the greatest effect on our culture.

Urban fantasy is the mythology of our time and this means that the treatment of historically marginalised people, who are being erased or placed into subordinate roles signifies an ongoing oppression rather that a fantastical world.  What will it say to future generations of readers that GLBT people are either erased, turned into side kicks, or die routinely?  What kind racial equality is being promoted in fantasy worlds, where protagonists of color are almost solely written by writers of color, or are otherwise erased -- or placed into secondary roles -- to sacrifice or serve White protagonists?

You cannot truly change culture without addressing the media. Ultimately, we can pass 100 laws saying that misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, ableism et al are not okay. We can we fight, we can vanquish a thousand bigots, and make a thousand impassioned speeches, but if everyone goes back home to books and TV full of hate speech, stereotypes,  tropes, and marginalised servants/villains or – and most commonly – to fictional worlds where we don’t even exist – then how much can you change? “Hearts and Minds” are the key here – and it’s in the pages of books and the light of the TV screen where we will reach them.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Alcatraz: Episode 8: Clarence Montgomery

So Clarence Montgomery, the first POC inmate we’ve seen. And we begin with him at a swanky auction then joyriding with a beautiful woman in a golf buggy. Ok, whatever he’s guilty of, pardon him now because he’s already declared several kinds of awesome.

Except the awesome is interrupted by some odd flashes and then Clarence carrying her body with its throat cut – and him wondering who did it.

In the past we flash back to a racially segregated Alcatraz and Clarence tasting food for Warden James. And we learn that Clarence is a chef with an expert palette and that, despite segregation, Warden James wants him to cook for everyone.  Something he’s apparently very good at – judging by Warden James’ excellent line “put the seamstress on alert, my waistline’s in jeopardy”

Except, of course, the white inmates won’t eat the meal Clarence has prepared and quickly a fight breaks out – and Clarence is beaten.

Clarence has an interview with Dr. Sangupta where she talks about him working as a chef in an all white country club and his girlfriend (the owner’s daughter) having her throat cut, but Clarence is very clear that its his race that resulted in him being arrested. But later he gets a far worse experience with Dr. Beauregard with electroshock therapy apparently intended to make him admit to being guilty.

Except it seems to have the opposite effect, making the innocent man more stab happy. Well done Dr. Beauregard. Or, rather, this was intentional on the part of Dr. Beauregard and Warden James

In the modern world, Dr. Soto is doing his detective thing – and connects the dead woman with Clarence. Just as we see Clarence seeking refuge with a friend, Emmet Little, who was in Alcatraz with him – but someone who hadn’t leaped through time. Clarence also appears to have been an innocent man in Alcatraz, which is definitely a new one.

At the murder scene we gather the Scooby gang to do some investigating. But no witness can identify Clarence as the murderer and the pathologist examining the bodies is certain that past and present victims were not killed by the same person – different methods despite the same body position. But the killer must have copied Clarence’s alleged ancient crimes and know a lot about them. They get to meet up with Emmet Little and are told that Clarence was innocent of his past crime – but through the medicine Clarence is taking, the pathologist identifies one of Clarence’s hairs left on the modern victim’s body.

The Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein: Book 1 of the Anna Strong Series

The Becoming as actually a good book, and has a strong female protagonist. Anna Strong is a private investigator and she and her partner David are trying to Donaldson a man who jumped bail in San Diego. They track him to a bar and think that they will have no problem him hauling him back to jail in time to appear in court the next day.  Unfortunately for them, Donaldson is not the human they expected.  He very quickly knocks David unconscious and then rapes Anna in the back of her car. 

Anna awakes days later to discover that she has been raped.  David argues with Avery, Anna's doctor about her being released but in the end he consents and she returns home.  Once home she realizes that she is hungry and attempts to eat some lasagna but the smell immediately nauseates her and she is forced to throw.  Suddenly, out of the blue, Avery shows up at her door and informs her that she is a vampire and wants to know if she has any questions.  At first Anna is disbelieving until she notices that she can read his thoughts, her reflection starts to disappear in the mirror, and her body is healing at a rapid rate.

Life for Anna as a new vampire is not easy. Though she is granted immortality, a mystery quickly develops where her house is burned down, her best friend is kidnapped, and there is an attempt on her life.  Anna is desperate to find and save David even as Avery, her vampire mentor encourages her to forget about him an move on because David is mortal.  Anna is tempted because Avery quickly becomes her safe space, protector, and her love but she cannot let go of her ties to David.

Cover Snark: Deformed Female Bodies and Photoshop Gone Wild

In our weekly cover snark we have focused a lot on how women are unnecessarily demeaned and sexualised though there is a trend to try and present women as strong and capable in urban fantasy.  Most of the writers in this genre are women, most of the protagonists are women and the largest consumers of urban fantasy are women and yet sexism abounds. In the following covers you will see that not only are these women positioned as sex objects to appeal to a male gaze, they are beyond unrealistic.  The logic behind this fails to make sense to me.

Unfailing Light is a typical romantic cover.  Notice the period dress and the light colour back ground.  At first glance there appears to be nothing wrong with this cover.  The protagonist is not positioned in a manner to display her body and her dress is relatively modest.  A small part of me admired the dress until I notice her waist and diaphragm. 

I understand that this is period dress, but how exactly is this woman breathing?  She must be panting to just to keep alive because there is absolutely no way she could take a deep breath. A second look not only caused me to confirm my original conclusion but to decide that the barbie doll is far more proportionate than the woman on the cover of this book.

This cover gives new meaning to the phrase bootylicious. This is hardly a surprise as the media tends to believe that there is no such thing as a flat assed Black woman. There is no doubt that girlfriend has got back however, it would not nearly as noticeable if she didn’t appear to have a 15 inch waist.  I don’t understand the point of giving her strong arms to give the appearance of being fit and then add a waist that is enough to make one wonder how she is supporting the top half of her body. Considering she is holding that heavy sword, it’s a wonder that she doesn’t simply collapse.  Yes, some women are naturally curvy, but nature tends to design female bodies in a way that supports both their frames and their weight.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine, Book 6 of the Morganville Vampires Series

Morganville is under the control of Bishop. All resistance is quashed and even Claire is forced to obey with the magical tattoo that compels her will. The whole town is under Bishop’s brutal regime, anyone walking around after dark can expected to be hunted and killed by vampires loyal to Bishop and the old system of tax and protection has faded. In short, things may have been bad under Amelie, but they’ve never been close to as bad as this.

Of course, there is a resistance. Amelie is still alive and leading her vampires in a shadowy campaign against Bishop in a clever and desperate ploy to release his grip. Other vampires are seeking to flee the city, and no small number of humans as well. But Claire finds herself forced into the margins, unable to be part of the battle as people fear her under Bishop’s control (and others revile her as a traitor) and further as she is forced to follow the mentally unstable Myrnin who appears to have thrown his lot in with Bishop.

Add in Claire’s worry for Shane who has been imprisoned for trying to kill vampires along with his father, Claire’s being forced to work with Bishop even as he uses her for his vile control and Claire’s worry for her parents and being ostracised from her friends, well altogether times are pretty dire in Morganville.

This book had a really great story. Bishop is ruling the town and the resistance must both find a cure to the pervasive illness that is continuing to afflict them while, at the same time, work away to bring bishop down and roust him for good. It’s especially hard because several vampires have been forced to convert, serving Bishop – as has Claire herself. There follows a lot of careful manipulations, crafty plans and covert movements around Morganville, helped by some very clever and brave undercover agents in Bishop’s regime – all cumulating in a truly genius plan to finally bring Bishop down in an amazing play of cross and double cross.

The problem is I’m kind of extrapolating here. Because we’re following Claire. And Claire is involved in NONE OF THIS. So we don’t see it. Instead she whines about Shane being imprison, then spends a lot of time with Shane (and I’m not against this because the relationship is touching and sweet and actually kind of well done which surprised me. But there’s a war going on, less teen romance, more war!). She then spends much of the rest of the book moving medicine from lab to lab and following people around while they do things for the resistance with occasional bursts of random activity that doesn’t do much. I’m particularly not impressed by having Claire go and explore places for no reason. We’ve seen her do this before, in this book she decides to explore the boarded up coffee shop of Common Grounds. Why? No idea, a vague feeling at best. It’s sloppy writing.

And while we didn’t get to see all this fascinating behind the scenes plotting, instead we got some random scenes that didn’t matter much and added nothing to the storyline. The Goldman storyline that added nothing. Claire being kidnapped, AGAIN, for no good reason. The Dean storyline. Even the ending where they play pass the book with Bishop. They all seemed tacked onto this glorious main storyline we didn’t even get to see.

Claire, as a character and a portrayal continues to annoy me, especially since she is an observer to the actual events rather than an active participant.

Wednesday Reboot: An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London was released in 1981 and stars David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne.  David and Jack are two best friends who are backing backing through the U.K.  The stop at a small pub to get warmed up and from the moment they walk in, it's clear that they are not wanted on the premises.  The creep factor escalates when David notices a pentagram surrounded by candles on the wall.  When he tells Jack that they should ask about what it means, because he is aware that it is a sign of a werewolf, Jack brushes him off.

When the tension gets to be too much, they decide to leave. The barmaid tries to appeal to the customers in the bar not to let them go.  The Chess player pipes up long enough to tell them to beware of the full moon.  David and Jack leave and it immediately starts to rain and so they decide to look for an inn to spend the night.  Inside the pub, the barmaid tries again to encourage the customers to stop David and Jack but she is told that they don't want their business going public, that no one would ever believe them and that they are in the hands of God now.  

It's not long before Jack and David start to hear the howls of wolves.  Quite suddenly a wolf appears out of the bushes and kills Jack.  David runs off but returns to help Jack when he hears him scream. He sees that Jack has been mauled just before the werewolf attacks him.  Luckily for David the pub people grow a conscience and kill the werewolf, who instantly reverts to human form. 

Being Human U.S. Season Two, Episode Seven: The Ties That Blind

Monday's episode was filled with drama, though I am not sure that it greatly advanced the plot.


When we first see Danny she in the house and the furniture has all been rearranged and the lights are going on and off.  Josh is upstairs in the shower and discovers the word whore written on the mirror. Both Aidan and Josh believe that Sally is responsible for what is going on.  Josh's reaction to the lights make me wonder if he has epilepsy.  If so, that would make him one of the few disabled characters in urban fantasy on television; however I am not holding my breathe on this one. 

Alone at home, Sally expresses her frustration at what is going on.  At the hospital with Aidan, they do a google search and discover her abusive ex boyfriend Danny, who was serving time in prison for murdering her and burning down the house died in jail. Aidan promises to help her deal with the issue and assures her that has been a ghost so much longer than Danny that she can take him.  He tells her that iron causes a ghost to disperse.

At home, Danny makes his big appearance.  He quickly disarms Sally and informs her that because he died in a prison he knows all of the tricks.  Sally tries talking to distract her but Danny attacks.  When it is clear that he is going to seriously harm her, the reaper appears and destroys Danny.  The Reaper tells Sally that it is his job to keep the balance and that normally he does not converse with the ghosts he takes but he finds her interesting.  Apparently he has quotas to fulfill and tells her to get her affairs in order.  When Josh and Aidan return the next day, they tell her that they had a hard night and head upstairs before Sally can tell them what is going on with her.  She sits sadly and the stairs and whispers goodbye, though neither Josh or Aidan can hear her.

It's about time that the storyline with the reaper got moving.  I feel like it has been dragging on forever.  The fact that Aidan did not come back to the house to help Sally though he knew she faced a life and death situation reveals that his relationship with Josh, is clearly the relationship he sees as primary.  Sally is in the position that she is because she gave up her door to help save him, and he didn't even give her a second thought.  I don't expect a man to come running to the rescue of a woman, but if he promises to be there, he should damn well be there. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What We Wish from Authors in the Internet Age

'work_computer_3664' photo (c) 2005, Pete - license:

We are now comfortably in the 21st century, we have technology stuff that I pretend I understand and for the last 5 years I’ve spent more time pushing buttons on an e-reader than I have turning pages of a book. And it has never ever been so easy for me to spend money on books. Giving money to authors (well retailers who give it to publishers who, I assume, give some of it to authors) has never been easier for me! Well, if they let me - and sadly, they don’t always make it easy.

Now I’m sure lots of professionals can give some great advice on marketing and whatnot to authors - certainly better than I. But here is what I want, as a lazy reader, in order to give you money. And that, right there, is the simplest guideline all authors and publishers need: pretend the reader is a lazy git. A lazy git who wants to give you money. So long as you don't tax my Laziness. Because, ultimately, if you make it too much effort, I'll be giving my money to someone else; don’t make me work to get my hands on your book, make it easy for my Laziness to give you money.

Firstly, you need a website. Really really really need it. It’s the 21st century, join us in it. The first thing I do when I am recommended/come across a new author is google their name and click on the links. If your website isn’t up there, you’re letting other people tell me about you. They may not like you very much, they may be wrong, they may be rabid Twilight fans. Wouldn’t you rather have your say first? Or worse, you may not have a web presence AT ALL. Which is a little better than not actually existing, but not much. If I’ve gone through 4 google pages and still haven’t found your name? That’s bad. You’ve made me work to try and track down your books. The Laziness does not approve.

Now, if I find your website, it’s fairly imperative that it be updated and contain all your books. We have recently discovered the wonderful tool that is Fictfact, that tells us when new books are released and shows us all the books in a series. And we discovered that there were several series we read that had many many books we’d never heard of! Authors, why are you hiding your books from us? The Laziness does not approve of having to play hide and seek to find the things we want to buy.

Similarly, if I find your website, I’m sure there are many fascinating things there. Your blog. Links to other authors you like (I love them, helps me find more good stuff). Short stories. Web content. A series playlist/wiki. Fanart. Some pithy quotes, even pictures of your pet. Pictures of you in numerous daring poses/fancy dress... or what I took to be fancy dress but apparently isn’t. By all means go with all of them - but put your books first. The Laziness is here for the books so I can give you money, everything else is secondary (though fascinating. Except maybe for pictures of the pets). Don’t make me dig to find your books. Don’t make me work to give you money - the Laziness does not approve of that. Upon reaching your site it should take me, at most, 2 clicks to get to all of your books. 1 click for books, 2nd click for series. No more. More is a treasure hunt.

Review: Forever Girl by Rebecca Hamilton, book 1 of the Forever Girl Series

Sophia is trying to make her small town life work – though she’s not exactly enamoured with it. Unfortunately, being a wiccan in a town with a rather… inflexible church is not very fun. When your mother is a member of said church it’s many times less than fun. And that’s before you consider the daily grind of living with her curse.

Still, life was working, until she suddenly finds herself introduced very abruptly to a whole new world. A world of elementals and vampires and shapeshifters, each with their own agendas. And at least some of those agendas seem to involve her, whether she wants to be involved or not.

Of course, one agenda she certainly wants to be part of is Charles, the intriguing and extremely good looking shape shifter who has his own secrets. Keeping safe, finding a balance with Charles and dealing with their own issues with each other are more than enough to keep anyone busy, but there are others who are also watching – and have their own designs for Sophia and Charles.

They find themselves dragged into a centuries old obsession and, worse, into the very depths of supernatural politics - and war.

What I love most about this book is the world. The idea that supernatural beings are different elementals, the concept of the universe and how each elemental has its own gifts and was intended to correct the problems of the previous elemental is fascinating. I actually wish it was more explored, especially since I think Sophia has the opportunity to ask a lot more questions than she did. I love this world. I’d really pick up the next book simply because of this world, it’s more than enough reason to keep me reading and keep me hooked to the series.

I’m also quite interested in how the magic system and ritual are performed. It’s structured, but free-form, like it has loose rules but not strict boundaries and allows a lot for personal touches and interpretation. It’s something else I’d definitely like to see more of.

The plot was also interesting in its way, and yes I’m slightly more guarded here. I think this book has 3 stories that gradually meld one into another. To begin with we have the story of Sophia living in the world which isn’t very friendly, discovering the supernatural, beginning to understand the supernatural and slowly adapting to the supernatural and even beginning to realise that she, herself, has a place in the supernatural world. It’s not a rapid discovery, even with the plunge into the deep end introduction, she then gradually finds her feet. In some ways I find this very refreshing, far too often in urban Fantasy does a protagonist discover the supernatural and then decide she’s going to leap in with both feet to SOLVE THE MYSTERTY! Even though, realistically, she knows absolutely nothing about what she’s doing. Sometimes it’s done well. Sometimes not. Here we have more of a slow exploration – with reservations, certainly, but not so much running and screaming. Perhaps she’s more reticent than I’d like but otherwise I like it.

Review of Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler: Book 2 of the Jane True Series

Tracking the Tempest begins four months after the ending of Tempest Rising. Jane is back in Rockabil and she is beginning to learn how to control how powers.   She learns how to raise her shields but not without burning off one her eyebrows.  Life has settled into a nice little routine. She works at the bookstore, takes care of her father, trains and goes on long weekend with her boyfriend Ryu the vampire.  This is the happiest time in Jane's life and I suppose that should have been a warning that the bottom was about to drop out.

On a visit to Boston to visit Ryu for Valentine's day she comes to the attention of Conleth a rogue vampire hafling.  For the majority of his life Conleth had been experimented on and now he wants revenge and he wants Jane because he feels that she alone can understand what he is feeling.  Not wanting to be in danger, Jane returns to Rockabil only to have Conleth follow her there and attack.  Realizing that staying in Rockabil means endangering her loved ones, Jane decides to go back to Boston and aid in the hunt for Conleth.  Fearing for her safety Anyan the Bagharest follows and though she is not used to him in his human form, they become closer.

As a protagonist Jane continued to grow in this book.  Ryu tried to play the alpha male and he expected Jane to just stay behind like a good little woman, but she did not tolerate this.  At one point she even jumped in front of a knife meant for him.  Though Jane is clearly afraid, she keeps pushing forward.  She discovers very necessary clues that the others would have missed because they discount things like reading due to the belief that writing books is a pathetic attempt of humans to secure immortality. Her decisions are well thought it which is a rare thing to see in a genre that is filled with spunky agency.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Fangs for the Fantasy podcast, episode 55

This week we discuss: the Walking Dead with She Who Has Taken to Her Bed and strict gender roles, Being Human (US), Lost Girl, Once Upon a Time and Grimm

Our book of the week is Urban Shaman by C.E Murphy.

Review: Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy, Book 1 of the Walker Papers

Joanne Walker - or Siobhan Walkingstick - is a rational woman. A sensible woman, a practical mechanic, she has very little to do with woo-woo of any kind and seems to have developed and aversion to it.  Along with shunning anything paranormal, Joanne spends much of her life running from her past, and this includes her heritage as an Indigenous woman.

And then, after feeling a desperate urge to save a woman she saw fleeing for her life from a plane, (can we just pause for a moment and say how ridiculous this is, there’s suspending belief, and then there’s stupidity) she has a near death experience at the hands of an ancient Celtic god, before putting herself together at the instructions of Coyote.

At this point, it became much much harder to ignore magic and the fantastic. Not least of which because ancient Celtic gods and demi-gods are now killing people and Joanne maybe the only person who can stop them.

There are some huge positive elements to this book. The story is nicely paced and fun with plenty of interesting twists and turns as Joanna tracks down her adversaries - after figuring out exactly what they are and what they’re doing. And, for that matter, who is doing what and who they actual enemy is. It’s knotty, it twists and there are many points in the book where I didn’t know where we were going or why - it’s nice to have some unpredictability, especially in a mystery. All in all, I managed to read the book cover to cover only stopping when forced to - I didn’t want to put it down, I didn’t want to stop reading. It made me smile and it made me curious - a very nice combination if you can pull it off - and it didn’t make me bored at all.

The way the magic is handled is interesting and nicely described. It makes me want to learn a lot more and to figure out where the parameters are. I do wish we’d actually had some cultural references for the magic, rather than just the descriptions, but still it’s a nice, rather unique system that I very much want to see more of. I love her emphasis on healing - even when it comes to hunting down a killer, it’s all about healing and a magical drive to heal and help people. I also like the blending of both Celtic and Native American traditions, it has a great deal of potential but it could certainly do to be developed more.

I’m curious about the world and how accepting everyone is of the fantastic. How so many of the police around Joanne see her magic and kind of accept it. But then, I can see the dynamic - after all, if you live in a world were magic is real, you’re going to have more people with experiences who are willing to believe it. And police are a group who are highly likely to be exposed to the shadowy corners of the world.

I’m also quite impressed that there didn’t appear to be any kind of romance (albeit a couple of budding ones). not that I’m against their being a romance, but by the signs of it we’re not going to be fast-tracked into a hurried, rather convoluted romance that consumes the story as is so often the case

The characters also interact extremely well. Joanne’s banter with Gary is hilarious and they have a real, powerful friendship even if it did come about quickly. Joanne bounces off her colleagues in the police station extremely well. I do love that in a story - powerful personal relationships and great, natural interaction

Face Off: Musty Vampire Edition

This week we were going to use a Face Off to decide who is the Mustiest Vampire of them all. You know, the vampire who is so sad and tortured by his need to drink blood, who just wants to be human and normal and fluffy and find the love of a good woman to settle him down. But, alas, it never works out, his nature/the world/the convoluted plot line/the super specialness of their love interest just forever prevents them from knowing peace - reducing them to practicing their most tortured look in front of the mirror.

Sadly, we couldn’t reduce our options to just 2 - there are a lot of these Musty Vampires crying blood tears into their kleenex out there. With much effort we reduced it to 4, but Aidan from Being Human certainly deserves and honourable mention.

Stefan Salvatore:

Mystic Falls’ original musty vampire, Stefan Salvatore refuses to drink blood from living humans as drinking human blood will quickly send him over the edge to become a murdering ripper. Of course, his primary source of angst is his love for darling Elena who... well, loves him unreservedly but still manages to be a source of constant angst (I think he may also be a little guilty about the enormous number of people he has brutally murdered... but I think his beloved Elena matters more). Unfortunately, since Elena is the Most Special Doppleganger, it’s near impossible that their love would ever run smooth - It doesn’t help that he keeps poking angry ancient vampires to give himself more reason for angst and why he and Elena need to be apart (woe).
Perhaps most remarkably of any of the Musty Vampires, Stefan Salvatore’s mustiness is actually contagious. Yes, he is infecting Damon with his mustiness! He is slowly turning from the sexy villain in season 1, to the ever more Stefany-clone of Season 3.

Edward Cullen

Edward and his family are different from all other vampires because they live off the blood of animals and have declared themselves to be vegetarians. Even though he has chosen to make this sacrifice he is convinced that his soul is damned to hell and that there is something evil about him. This of course leads him to remind Bella of how evil he is constantly, even as he tries to control every facet of his behaviour.

When Bella tries to initiate sex, Edward is forced to stop lest sexual congress without a wedding ring, damn Bella to hell alongside him.  When he first reveals himself to Bella he takes great care to point out that she cannot out run him, that he is stronger than her, and that even his scent is appealing to others.  Everything about him he has determined to be evil, though without becoming a vampire, he would have died 100 years ago.

The Walking Dead Season Two, Episode Ten: 18 Miles Out

The episode begins with Rick confronting Shane about Otis, who claims that one of them wasn't going to survive. Shane asks if Rick thinks that he can keep, Lori, Carl or his baby safe, and Rick says that he is not the good guy anymore, and that to save Carl's life, that he would do anything.  Rick warns Shane that he is not going to be dangerous to anyone anymore.  "You don't love her, you think you do, but you don't. Now the only way you and me keep on is that you accept everything I just said right here, right now and we move forward with that understanding," Rick says. 

Shane says that he tried to get Rick but he couldn't. He tells him that in the hospital, the military was shooting civilians. "Lori and Carl kept me alive, and I want you to know that I didn't look at her before like that, and if I could take it all back I would," Shane says.

This whole exchange was very much a pissing contest between the two men.  Though Shane seemed very much like he regretted his relationship with Lori, that man is not to be trusted.  If he was so sorry, he would have admitted to Rick that he tried to rape Lori when she rejected him. 

Back at the farm, Maggie talks with Lori about Glenn. It seems that Glenn is still not himself.  "Men are going to blame the little woman for the reason they do, or they reason they don't, and we're just trying to keep it together until they come back.  If you have nothing to apologize for, tell him to man up and put himself together, just don't say man up, Lori advises.

In these two scenes we can see the clear division between men and women in this series.  It seems that if the world goes to hell, gender roles become even further entrenched.  The little women stay home and the men go out and face danger. Instead of carrying clubs, the men carry guns and knives.

She who has taken to her bed (read:Beth) is finally awake. When Lori goes to Beth's room to check on  her, Beth says, "You're pregnant, how could you do that?" Lori answers that she doesn't have a choice, and leaves the room. Great, and now we have she who has taken to her bed, believing that she has the right to question.  Is there a woman on this show who is not going to throw in her two cents about Lori's pregnancy? Beth may well be worried about the state of the world, but the writers did not have to include this question. It's policing, and just because they put these words into the mouth of a female character, doesn't make them any more appropriate.

Shane notices that they have gone more than 18 miles, and Rick says that he is looking for a place to give Randall a fair shot. Rick pulls into the Merit County Public Works, and decides that this is the place. They notice a walker, and Shane goes to shoot, but Rick draws his knife slices his finger to attract the walker and then sticks a knife through his brain. They cut through the chain link fence and start looking for supplies. Rick sees a pile of burned bodies as Shane climbs on a school bus.  There looks to be sheets and blankets, almost like someone was living there at one point. 

Rick is siphoning off fuel, when Shane calls him back to examine two bodies who are coincidentally two former police officers, and notices that there are no bite marks. Rick tells him that there have to be scratches. I get the imagery of the two cops lying together in death but it feels a bit forced to me; however, this makes me wonder, if they are taking a page out of the comics, and have everyone who dies turn into a walker?

Lori checks on she who has taken to her bed, and discovers that Beth is crying.  Lori tells her that she knows how hard it is, and that she tried for days to get her own mom on the phone. Lori reminds she has taken to her bad that she has Maggie, Hershel, Patrica and Jimmy, and that she's gotta stay strong for them. "I wish I could promise that it will be alright,"  Lori says as she gives her a plate of food and leaves  When Lori returns to the kitchen, she realizes that she who has taken to her bed, still has the knife and walks back into the bedroom to collect it. Once she gets the knife back, Lori runs out and asks Andrea to find Maggie.

They undo Randall's bindings and he says that he can't make it alone, and that he lost people like they did. In desperation Randall says that he went to school with Maggie, but when Rick and Shane walk back, he admits that Maggie didn't know him or that he existed. "There is no way I would do anything to hurt her or her family. I'm not like the guys I was with," Randall says.  Shane tells Rick that Randall knows where the farm is, and he grabs a gun to shoot him, but Rick pushes him out of the way. Shane is livid over Ricks actions, and asks when he is going to deal with this. Rick says when I have had a chance to think about it, and then he says they're going back, and that he needs a night to think it through. Shane reminds him that Randall shot at him, and that Rick is bringing Randall back to his family. Shane says that the right choice, is the one that keeps us alive.  Rick tells him to stop acting like he knows the way ahead, and that he knows the rules. Finally, Shane says he doesn't think that he can keep them safe, and a fight breaks out. As the two men grapple, Randall spies the knife and starts to crawl towards it. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Grimm, Season 1, Episode 12: Last Grimm Standing

“The beasts were loosed into the arena, and among them, a beast of huge bulk and ferocious aspect. Then the slave was cast in.”

Ok no idea where that quote comes from, so I’ll have to see on the fairy tale. And so we open with some men on horseback hunting down a Grimmy creature – who kills an older couple and wastes some very nice looking steak in the process. I hate wasted food (and dead people, of course, but that was a really nice looking steak).

In comes the police, who, at this point, really should be wondering why Portland of all places is the centre for so many weird monsters. In comes Nick and Hank to find the poor gnawed steak – and the dead people. Go go Grimmy police work (well Hank police work, anyway) follows a chain of evidence from a print to a man called Dmitri, to a parole officer, to a gym to talk to a black Vesen (and one of the few POC we’ve seen on the show) who leads them to a running trail with horse manure down it. At least the trail of evidence is more sensible this week.

A few more trails of evidence (again sorta sensible albeit somewhat coincidental) leads them to a large warehouse and an arcane, bloodstained circle on the floor with latin around it That hank and Nick declare looks like and arena *head tilt* whiiiich I’m not seeing. I see arcane circle. I think “arena” here is less a leap of logic so much as a death-defying plummet of logic. And a broken Morningstar – medieval weapons arena.

Reaper-Maybe-Evil-We-Don’t-Know-Because-We-Never-Get-Any-Damn-Meta-Plot Police Chief (Captain Renard) speaks Latin and plays babelfish for the circle. Maybe-Evil boss hunts down Dmitri’s parole officer (Tamor) who is running these fights. He is not a happy Maybe-Evil-Guy, this is his Canton and he tells them who they can use in their fights. Canton? Oooh, is this meta? World building? Be still my heart!

One thing to note here is who is considered expendable. The gang bangers and drug addicts on Captain Renard’s list are disposable and unimportant. There’s no comment on this beyond a throwaway line, which is a shame, more could have been said.

Nick goes to check his own stash of medieval weapons and invites Eddie, who is awesome and instantly begins rhapsodising about being invited to the Bat Cave (well, the Grimm Caravan. Which doesn’t have the same ring to it). And he researches Lowen, vicious, wild, Lion-Vesen – that were dragged into gladiator fights back in ancient Rome.