Supernatural/Contemporary/Urban Fantasy

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Rob B, Nov 4, 2005.

  1. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    In this topic we can discuss some of the books where Wizards are hired to deal with paranormal occurrences (The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher), Vampire killers wear Nikes (Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake novels), vampires live in the south (Charlane Harris's Southern Vampire Mysteries) or witches are a part of our world (Kim Harrison's novels).

    Of these books, I've only read a few of the Anita Blake novels and liked them fine, until they became somewhat repetitive. I'm looking forward to giving Butcher's wizard books a try, as well.

    This sub-genre seems to be almost exploding on the shelves. In addition, some of these writers' work is being translated to the screen - The Dresden Files will soon be a SciFi channel movie/mini-series (I think), with the possibility of becoming a weekly series. Charlane Harris's books are rumored to be in development for an HBO series by Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under).

    So the point is, I guess this thread could be a repository for discussion of this subset of our beloved genre. Why is it becoming popular? Bring up the authors I haven't or discuss in greater detail the writers I have mentioned. Who would you recommend? What authors should be avoided (hint, hint --> Sunshine by Robin McKinley)?
     
  2. Beleg

    Beleg Registered User

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    Who would I recommend?


    Emma Bull - (Finder)

    and


    Sunshine - Robin McKinley


    :p


    I don't really like this subgenre. It's usually too 'chick-litish' and full of modern jargon for my tastes.

    What did you dislike about 'Sunshine?'
     
  3. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Here are my thoughts from the March 2005 Fantasy Book Club, when Sunshine was the book up for discussion:
    and
     
  4. hawkwind

    hawkwind Registered User

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    Here are my thoughts:

    The Dresden Files - Jim Butcher

    I find this series to be the best of the bunch. Each book gets better and better as his writing improves. Highly recommended.

    Kim Harrison - Dead Witch Walking, etc

    A little bit of a rip off from Hamiltons' Anita Blake books but different enough. I actually enjoyed these more than the Anita Blake's.

    Anita Blake series - Laurell Hamilton

    The first 5 were very good. The rest goes a little downhill especially in plot. It seems she decided to replace plot with softcore pornography, which I don't mind but not when it sacrifices a good plot.

    Kelly Armstrong - Dime Store Magic, etc

    Very good reads with each book in the series either focusing on the werewolves or witches with characters crossing over.



    I recommend all these authors with the only warning on the later books of the Anita Blake series.
     
  5. FitzChivalry

    FitzChivalry A servant of Lord Arioch

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    I really liked Anita Blake, it was good fast action dark urban fantasy with a bit of mystery and detective work thrown in. But after 5 books or so, the main focus of the books shifted to the romantic triangle of Anita, Jean-Claude and Richard (vampire hunter, vampire and werewolf for those who didn't read it) and it became pretty boring and cliched.
    At that point i turned my attention to The Dresden Files as a substitute series and i haven't looked back since. I still think the first Anita Blake novels were better than the Harry Dresden novels, but Dresden just gets better and Anita Blake just gets worse, i'm going to stick with The Dresden Files hoping it won't suffer the same fate.
     
  6. phil_geo

    phil_geo Rat Thing

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    Anita Blake is probably one of my all-time favorite series for the first few books, but I can't even read them anymore. The only series I have ever read that collapsed in a worse way was the Chung Kuo series by David Wingrove.

    Can we list wizards-for-hire in fantasy settings? Barbara Hambly's books are well written imho and have lots of wizards being hired to cause/prevent trouble.
     
  7. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    No, you will be shot square in the face if you mention them. Seriously though, my intent with this thread was to discuss books where the setting, for the most part, is recognizable as he world in which we live, not really fantasy settings.

    Rob is waiting to see FicusFan's thoughts on these books, as well as KatG's thoughts on Glen Cook's Garret books
     
  8. Beleg

    Beleg Registered User

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    Re: Sunshine

    Rob B posted,

    Primarily, I don't think the book was really about the Others and the conflict that raged between humans and them. I think the world provided an adequate setting to explore different themes - i.e: coming to terms with things you have negated all your life and the problems that surround you once you are forced into a minority position.

    The dialogue seemed pretty true to the setting. I thought the romance/friendship was interspaced very well with the other elements, never taking over the story completely but always there as an important element.

    I found the protagnist pretty endearing too. The fact that she resembled people you knew in college does indicate some characterization skill on the author's part.


    I don't really think the exposition and backstory far outweighted the actual content. That would depend on what one considers 'actual content' to be. Is the running commentary on the minutiae of baking and the customers that came to the cafe part of the story? If one doesn't enjoy them than big chuncks of the story are pretty much worthless.

    I found that the best way to contend with Sunshine's stream of conciousness was to just flow along, instead of trying to make a linear sense out of it.

    Perhaps the only thing I disliked about the book was the action sequence at the end - it just seemed way too bloated and contrived, didn't pack enough energy to get my adrenalin teeming.

    Another interesting take on 'witchcraft and witches being part of everyday life' is Alice Hoffman's 'Practical Magic'.
     
  9. Hobbit

    Hobbit Administrator Staff Member

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    I enjoyed the Anita Blake books up to about Book 9; haven't read any more for a while.

    I was pleasantly surprised by Jim Butcher's Dresden Files (official review HERE) with Book 2 review on the way.

    There does seem to be a few of these around. Rachel Caine's Weatherwarden series is very similar to Harry Dresden but uses a female lead character. Reaing this at the moment; so far, they're pretty good, in a girl-power sort of way.

    Kelley Armstrong I really must read more of, though what I have read is good.

    Simon R Green's Tales from the Nightside are short and a little cliched but quite intriguing.

    Hobbit
     
  10. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    Ok.

    Sunshine
    : weak characters: boring whiny, stolen ideas: (the Night Inside/Kiss of the Vampire), lack of purpose in the story arc: what is the deal, besides trying to stay alive, Lots of boring talk about baking, confused sexual signals, vague world that is not well defined or explained. Some of the ideas about the world are interesting, and it could be cool, but she never translated it well to the page. Read like someone trying to cash in on the fad for books in this genre, but with no real passion for it.

    The Emma Bull book, War for the Oaks was a good read, though it didn't hold up to scrutiny once it was done.

    Diana Tregarde by Mercedes Lackey

    It is a 3 (?) book series about vampires and a rock band in the modern world. I read the first and it was ok. Couldn't keep reading the second and never bothered with the 3rd.

    Anita Blake by Laurell K. Hamilton

    The mother of them all, still the gold standard, no matter how horrible. Books are fine up to #7 Burnt Offerings. After that they become sexfests and lose almost all plot. Can't stop reading them though.

    I thought Incubus Dreams had some glimmer of hope, but who knows, her blog doesn't hold out hope for #13. Also the first chapter is nasty. I am going to try to resist Michah when it comes out because I hate him soooo much.

    Hamilton's great skill, which I have never seen better, is making great memorable characters that you love or hate, and can see living outside the pages.

    The only series/author that I will buy a hardcover book for, on the day it comes out (or even earlier if I can get it - and I have driven into Boston to get it). All the others are trying to create the same Anita-magic in terms of blending genres and big sales and big money.

    Merry Gentry by Laurell K. Hamilton

    This one was about sex from the start, and it just bored me. I prefer Anita's sass to Merry's diplomacy.

    Harry Dresden by Jim Butcher

    His first couple of books were kind of blury. They had interesting and funny bits, but they didn't grab me. Harry and his world didn't seem defined enough. The last couple of books have been overusing the 'Harry saves X' format so much that it has become boring and predictable. Also Harry has become a smug bully and Butcher's sexism has leaked out. That said there are some developments I like in the later books. The middle books are pretty good. Haven't read the last one yet (in HC still).

    Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

    Probably the best of the Anita-wanna-bes. Good characters, interestng stories, good writing, lots of balance between action, and character interaction, suspense and homey stuff, real stuff and the supernatural.

    Sooky Stackhouse by Charlaine Harris

    Haven't read this series yet, but have heard good things about it, though it is supposed to be softer and more romance-based than action-based.

    Weather Warden by Raichel Caine

    This is a series about a woman who is a weather wizard. There are now 4 books out, haven't read them yet.

    Women of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong

    A group of books about women who are supernatural in the modern world. Haven't tried them yet. I think the books stand-alone in that they have different characters.

    Victoria Nelson by Tanya Huff

    A series that has a debilitated Toronto cop becoming a PI, who gets involved with the Supernatural in modern day Toronto. There is a main vampire character in the book, though other beasties are explored too. The next to last book (Blood Pact) has a twist and is pretty nasty. There are 5 books and these are from the late 90s I think. I enjoyed them except for the 4th book and the twist Huff used, but they were never in the same league as Anita - sort of Anita-lite.

    Huff has now started the series up again, but with minor character from this series ( Smoke and Shadows, Smoke and Mirrors).

    Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

    This is a light and funny series where there are magical keepers who travel around and deal with accidental evil magic spills into this world - much like hazardous waste. It is set in modern day Canada and features a woman and her family who are also magical, and of course her cat, and a hunky younger man.

    Staying Dead and Curse the Dark by Laura Anne Gilman

    Partners work to solve magical problems. Haven't read these yet.

    Undead Series by MaryJanice Davidson

    These are really romance, though strangely there is little actual sex or romance. The romance set up is there, but mostly in the background. There are 4 books out. I have read the first 2 because the last 2 are still in HC. What the series is about is humor. It takes a valley girl type (though good-hearted and not stupid) and makes her a vampire. She is powerful enough to be their queen and yet she has no interest in playing their games or following traditions and rituals. She drives them insane, and it is very funny.

    There may be others, but I can't remember them at the moment.

    Edit:

    Thanks Hobbit.

    Nightside by Simon R. Green

    I have read a couple of these. They are flat and tired, and while they have some cool ideas (Nightside as Purgatory (?) with access to the world, heaven and hell) there is no 'juice' in the characters. The stories just lie there flat on the page. not horrible, but not great.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2005
  11. Yobmod

    Yobmod Yobmod

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    I picked up Sunshine at the library, then put it back when i remembered this thread :)

    Just wondering - if the author of this type of books really believe in magic, does it then count as fantasy?

    What if the reader is a believer? I know ppl that believe in ghosts and astrology etc, maybe they would consider these books mainstream fic?
     
  12. Wulfa_Jones

    Wulfa_Jones Gentleman and Scholar

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    I've read the first few Dresden books by Jim Butcher and I've quite enjoyed them. I buy from amazon so alot of the other authors mentioned in this thread have appeared in my recomendation list on amazon.

    I've had a look at them and alot of them seem to be bordering on the the 'chick-litish' mentioned by Beleg and others seem to be a little more than a adult Buffy sytle horror.

    What I like about the Harry Dresden books are the 1st person point of view - the film noir like Detective style. They aren't amazingly written - very workman like (which, was the description of most of my work according to my former writing lecturer!) but so far quite enjoyable.

    I've heard about Sci-fi adapting the first book for a TV movie/feature length pliot which could work depening on who gets it. Fans choice is James Masters as he has done the audio books.
     
  13. FitzChivalry

    FitzChivalry A servant of Lord Arioch

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    I actually don't really remember when Anita Blake stopped being interesting and turned into a boring soft erotica overromantic trash. I read 10 or 11 books in that series, it might have been on book 7 or so, and not book 5 as i said.
    I any case, i gave it few more chances and it striked out.

    Another series in this vain is Laws of the Blood by Susan Sizemore, i read the first book, The Hunt, it was pretty bad in my opinion, but maybe die hard fans of this sub-genre would find interest in it.

    I forgot the title of that book, so i searched for it on amazon.com's lists, and i found out there are really A LOT of series in this sub genre, some call it supernatural romance.... and i also noticed most lists are written by females... so what is it about vampires that excite you girls? Uber Bad Boy image?
     
  14. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

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    Beleg, see FicusFan's thoughts on Sunshine which are quite close to what I thought. It all boiled down to me simply not caring about the annoying/boring characters, the world, overall, what was happening in the book.

    Ficus, thanks for the great overview on these books!
     
  15. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    Thanks Rob, I checked my Database and I have more. :D

    Laws of the Blood, by Susan Sizemore

    I have read the first one of these, and there are 5 I think, but they are standalones set in the same world. The first one wasn't great, but the intimation that Alexander's mother was somehow involved in the creation of vampires, or the vampire police, was an interesting twist. Of course the next book has different characters and takes place in a different city. That pissed me off more than the badness of the first book.

    The idea is that there are special types of vampires who are empowered to police their kind and keep them in line so that humans don't find out. Each book seems to focus on a different enforcer in a different city, and his difficult personal and romantic arrangemets.

    They are not all chick-litish, though some are. Anita never was, and still isn't even with all the sex. There is lots of action, blood, gore, and chopped body-parts (or children).

    Also

    Sonja Blue by Nancy Collins

    Sonja is a vampire, but she was raped as it were into being a vampire, and so she takes it out on all vampires she finds, She hunts and kills them, looking for her maker. Very dark, violent and nasty. Other beasties are introduced in some of the stories.

    The very end of the series takes Sonja into the world and rules of White Wolf's World of Darkness, Vampire the Masquerade - which enraged many of her fans. I actually liked the book, but then I read WW-WOD-VTM also. Not that they are great, but some are good.

    Since then she has written other books, and re-issued some of the Sonja books in different formats and with different titles.

    Lawson the Vampire by Jon F. Merz

    There are 4 of these and are not chick-lit. The main character is a spy vampire and he works for the vampire council. They keep the humans from finding out about vampires, and Lawson is the guy who executes their orders. It is a bit silly because it is like a full-blown spy thriller, just the spy is a vampire.

    Vampire Detective by Lee Killough

    Two books about a SF cop who gets bitten and becomes a vampire PI. A police procedural with a vampire detective. Blood Games and Bloodwalk.

    The Vampire Files by PN Elrod

    There are 9 books so far. Set in 1920-30s Chicago and the main character is a vampire. As I recall there are only a few other vampires, and not a lot of magical beasties in this series. It is more a human becomes a vampire and hooks up with an old guy (retired PI) and becomes a PI, and uses his special abilities to beat the bad guys. Not bad but very bland.

    Sherry Gotlieb has a couple of books about a human police detective in LA who falls in love with a vampire and gets turned. The first is Love Bite and in the second, he gets turned because of a terrible disease and he finds its a fate Worse Than Death, because his equipment no longer works. Dark humor.

    Barbara Hambly has 2 books about vampires in the real world that are fabulous. They are set in Victorian England and have an Oxford Don who is a retiree from the 'Great Game' who gets mixed up with vampires trying to solve 'who is killing the vampires of London'. Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling With the Dead. Don Simon Ysidro is what vampires would be like if they were real. Highly Recommended. I re-read these two about once a year. BH has said there are at least 2 more, but she is not ready to write them yet.

    Necroscope by Brian Lumley

    This series has 13 books and is about a British man who can speak to the dead. The government uses him to fight against vampires who pop in from another dimension. It is set in the real world, sort of modern times I think (post WWII). Three of the books are set in the otherworld from the vampire's and other-people-in-that-realm's POV. He may also have written more with the son of the main character as the new POV. It is ok, but a bit predictable. My favorites are the otherworld ones, because vampires are one-dimensional bad guy walk-ons in the others.

    Marquis de Sade by Mary Ann Mitchell

    5 books set in the modern world with flashbacks to the time of MdS, who is one of the vampires. Ok but doesn't live up to the premise - S&M lite.


    The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice

    12 or 13 books, some of which are set in the modern world, some in the past, and some in heaven or hell. They also interact with the Witches/Lasher series. Very tough slog for most of them.

    Michael Romkey has a vampire series with 8 books. The first 3 or 4 have the same character. Not sure I remember what his issue is, but he is always in trouble of some kind. They are set in the real world, modern times and recent past.

    Dracula by Fred Saberhagen

    FS has taken the Dracula character and made him into a sort-of-good guy. He is like a cross between a vampire and a mob boss (think Godfather). He spends his time protecting a family who may be his descendents, and foiling bad guys, and people who are trying to do him in. Not bad but very predictable. All are set in the real world, but some are modern and some are in the past.

    Whitley Strieber has 3 books about vampires set in the real world. The first, The Hunger was made into a movie.

    Mick Farren has a series about a coven of vampires that moves to LA and tries to survive, though it is set in the modern world, the last one has something about a past link to Merlin, and something else odd. Haven't read the last one yet so am not sure.

    The Vampire Legacy by Karen Taylor

    A series about a vampire trying to hide in plain sight. She is a fashion designer and eventually has problems with other local vamps. There are 7 books and the last couple may have switched to her daughter as POV.

    Wm. Mark Simmons has 2 books that are set in the modern world and are also humerous. His main POV is a half-vampire. He got mugged and only got enough to change a littel bit and is stuck half-way. So he is not quite human and not quite vamp. The storys deal with the trials of trying to live in 2 worlds, and not really fitting in either. One Foot in the Grave and Dead on My Feet. There are other magical beasties in this series.

    Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. Not sure how many books there are. But it is a bit like Casino Royale where you have all these famous people doing cameos. In this series all these famous real people are actually vampires and they run the world. In Anno Dracula it starts with Queen Victoria and those in her circle. Didn't work for me, so I haven't read any others.

    Finally there is a new series that seems to be very chick-litish:

    Crimson City

    They seem to be written by different authors and it seems to be about a secret vampire world, perhaps something like in Underland. Not sure how close to the real or modern world it is. It is published by a romance publisher though so it may be more pink and fluffy.

    Crimson City by Liz Maverick
    A Taste of Crimson by Marjorie M. Liu
    Through a Crimson Veil by Patti O'Shea

    Edit:

    Forgot there is a recent book that is a noirish, detective-type story where vampires are called 'Sailors' and there isn't a lot of explanation. The Quick by Dan Vining. A cool take on them.

    Also

    Tinker by Wen Spenser, and it seems a bit bodice-ripperish, so I think it is a definite cashing in on the fad. The story is set in a future Pittsburgh, and a fantasy world called Elf-home. Half of the city is in their world - and half of their world is in our world. No vampires but lots of elves and other magical beasties.

    Also

    The Vampire Huntress by L.A. Banks

    It is still going on, and is up to about 5 books. A woman who is a vampire is also a vampire hunter. It is billed as an urban, hip-hop vampire series.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2005
  16. algernoninc

    algernoninc Now I'm an axolotl

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    I haven't seen any mention of Terry Pratchett - usually his books have a detective flavor mixed with a lot of magic events, so I think he qualifies for the topic. Also Martin Scott and his Traxas series - a humorous Raymond Chandler set in a magic kingdom - I think they are good books for relaxation after a mastodont series like Wheel of Time or Erikson's Malazan
     
  17. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

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    Well all the books Rob was talking about books that were set in the real world and had some interaction with the magical. The books you mention are all set in fantasy worlds, so they would be pretty much plain fantasy, humerous or not.
     
  18. Postaurch

    Postaurch Registered User

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    Just to mention, because it was too good not too, Octavia Butler started a new vampire series with the first book 'Fledgling' recently out.

    Technically the story is SF not fantasy as she identifies vampires as a distinct genetic race that has co-existed with humans throughout time.

    There isn't a vampire hunter per se, but the story centers around vampires being hunted and killed. It starts with a lone survivor of such an attack, her entire family slaughtered and her own injuries severe to the point of near death.

    The writing is excellent, the first-person narrative unflinching and anything but self-absorbed. IMO, Butler has taken the modern-day vampire story into new territory and I expect her to stand with Rice and Hamilton as ground-breakers.
     
  19. FitzChivalry

    FitzChivalry A servant of Lord Arioch

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    Well, i guess the thread turned into vampires books thread. So here are another two.

    Agyar by Steven Brust - This book is written a bit differently then most books, it's not clear what's going on until somewhat late in the book and to reveal it would be a spoiler, good prose, but i found it pretty boring overall.

    Those who hunt the night by Barbara Hambly Pretty interesting detective story, it's the 19th century in London and vampires are dying, a human ex spy for Her Majesty is hired to solve the mystery... it was pretty good.
     
  20. KatG

    KatG The Bony Hand of Death Staff Member

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    Quick defs, so people are clear, though the major writers in this new sub-genre seem to be being brought up.

    Supernatural fantasy is contemporary fantasy, which means a post-industrial setting -- late 1700's and up to the present or future. Supernatural fantasy deals with the occult and the paranormal, and thus includes vampires, werefolk, witches, ghosts, demons, angels, succubus, shamans, and the like. Supernatural fantasy ranges from dark and horrific to suspense to comic.

    While it looks like it suddenly exploded in the market, that's deceptive. An increase in supernatural fantasy has been occurring since the late 1990's, with publishers actively promoting such authors, and now it's large enough to become an official sub-genre, with the top sellers being lead titles on publishers' lists in paperback, less often in hardcover. Mainstream interest, fueled by a surge of horror movies and paranormal fantasy series on t.v. such as "Lost," have given it a recent boost in the last two years.

    A lot of the authors are women, who perhaps have gravitated to these types of stories rather than try and write children's fantasy or large, grand epics, but a number of the more prominent authors are men. Supernatural fantasy is ideally suited for movie or television adaptation, and for appealing to mainstream, non-genre audiences and to fans of other genres such as mystery or romance. Therefore, it has the backing of not only the publishers, but the bookselling community as well.