21 March 2014

Things I Bounce Off Of: Hyper-aggressive Posturing

I rarely read urban fantasy, even though I keep thinking I should.  Most urban fantasies use detective tropes, which I love, and many of them feature interesting female leads (or at least women not stuck only in the roles of tavern wench, princess and prostitute).  So what keeps me away?

I just bounced off another today.  I'd picked it up because I was impressed by what I'd seen of the author online, and because bunches of people who like some of my favourite books seemed to really like it.  I'd waded through chapter one a while ago, before returning to some 1970's espionage books, then gave it another shot and bounced again halfway through chapter two.

And I should like this book.  Original and complex worldbuilding and a juicy main female character and a big sprawling city setting and...all the speaking parts so far except the main character have been male.  And all of them have been aggressive males who might kill you at any minute if you look at them wrong.  And one of the team we're going to spend the most time with has lots of history with the main character that is surely full of trust broken and hatred born of wounds, and she wants to kill him, and he mocks her a lot.  While another of the team is so immensely powerful that there's a lot of time given to "I could hardly be bothered to kill you but don't push me".

And, yeah, I know my books are overfull of stoics, and this is also a character type that exists.  But I just can't read this book.  I can't bring myself to spend time with these people.  I far prefer the courteous, the quiet, the contained, the ineffably polite, the impish, the dreamfilled, the tongue-tied, even trickster types.

So...does anyone have recommendations for urban fantasy that doesn't revolve around, essentially, two rams butting their heads together?  I really liked how Neumeier's Black Dog took us through how difficult it would be the live in such a culture, and how it's something to work away from, but I wouldn't be sad to see a complete absence of "say one wrong word and I'll take your head off" characters.

16 comments:

  1. Does it have to be contemporary urban fantasy? If not, I strongly recommend Gail Carriger's books, which are werewolves and vampires (and humans and misc) in Victorian times.

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    1. Oh and if contemporary, Skulk by Rosie Best is a YA urban fantasy with pretty original shapeshifters and minimal posturing (definitely not of the sort you just described above, anyway).

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    2. Hm, never even heard of Skulk. Will have to check it out.

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  2. I'm guessing you're looking for something closer to Sunshine by Robin McKinely, which I don't really see much of in UF. Maybe A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness? The werewolf UFs I read tend to have lots of posturing, but the POV characters are not werewolves so they get annoyed by it too (Mercy Thompson, and Kate Daniels series, which I guess you probably already tried). I think vampires are easier to do without aggressive posturing (A Discovery of Witches has vampires), but I guess my tolerance is just higher, since I still enjoy something like the Cassandra Palmer series (though the vampire male protag in this one is not as bad as the werewolf ones in the other series I've mentioned). You could also try Night Owls by Lauren M. Roy, which recently came out. Not sure if these are UF because they have a different feel (and none of them are recent), but: Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor (this one's really different from most of the UFs I've read), The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (probably not UF, actually). I also really liked Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews for the world and POV character, but the male leads are very typical for this author and so maybe not what you'd like (I just kinda ignore them . . the rest of the book makes up for it). Well hopefully you haven't already tried all of those.

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    1. Thanks cat-kit3 - that gives me a lot to sample.

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  3. My favorite trickster protagonist in urban fantasy is Patrica Briggs' Mercedes Thompson, a coyote shapeshifter with string links to Coyote the Native American trickster god. Though I have to warn you she does spend a lot of time interacting with testosterone poisoned werewolves, the world is well built and easily passes a Bechdel test. She isn't especially polite though she certainly is impish. Have you read Anne Bishop's Written in Red? It's an interesting book, though I am still not sure how I feel about the main character, it was interesting to read a protagonist who got her own way though demure charm and innocence, rather than sass and strength. The book has way too much focus on cutting for my taste, but it's definitely a fresh take on the urban fantasy. Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series is interesting too - excellent world building, though I have it admit I found the protagonist of the first two books a tad grating. Getting away from urban fantasy have you read Sherwood Smith's Banner of the Damned? It's an epic fantasy, with a lovely civilized, courteous and contained protagonist. An absolute treat! Speaking of treats I am half way through Bones of the Fair and I want the world to roll up and go away so I can finish reading it uninterrupted - SO good!!

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  4. But a warning about the Anne Bishop - the main character may be demure but the people she meets are extremely homicidal, hyper aggressive, etc.

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  5. Oooh, one more series you might like - it fits right in between the mystery and the urban fantasy, and has a very different sort of world. The Grave series by Charlaine Harris features Harper Connolly, who sees dead people and is trying to make her way in the harsh world of modern day America by traveling around finding missing bodies and/or finding out what they died from. She is fragile yet resilient and something completely out of the usual for UF. There are no vampires, no werewolves, just a lot of broken people trying to make the best lives they can. My second fave Harris series ( my first fave is Lily Bard)

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  6. I can't believe I didn't mention the Gale Girls series from Tanya Huff earlier too - it is very far from the Urban Fantasy norm and all the better for it. There have been two so far, and in each the protagonist is a young female Gale (I won't spoil the fun by explaining what a Gale is, but they are proof that in domesticity there is power). The Enchantment Emporium and the Wild Ways are both utterly delectable books. Another non- standard UF writer is Debora Geary who writes a long charming series about the witches of Berkeley who meet trouble with cookies and compassion. The first book involves one episode of posturing which is returned to later in the series so the protagonists can face up to the problems they caused by grandstanding and attempt to heal the damage they caused.

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  7. Thanks Anna! I've read the Grave series, and have the Enchantment Emporium on the TBR pile. Must shuffle it higher.

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  8. Kat Richardson's Greywalker series. I liked Tanya Huff's Summon the Keeper. The commentary from the hole in the basement was laugh out loud amusing.

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  9. Have you tried The Hollows series by Kim Harrison? It's urban fantasy, and has some of the best character development I've read, and isn't overly infested with the super macho male characters. It also has a nice balance of male and female characters, so it isn't just the heroine wading through a sea of testosterone.

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  10. looking for women authors only? cause there's charles de lint and they are well perfect!

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    1. I've read de Lint, though not for many years. Enjoyed but not captured by, I guess I could say.

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  11. Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

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