Now that the garden is pretty much finished, except for the peppers and the cool-weather stuff like kale and brussels sprouts, I’ve been spending more time writing–well, okay, reading. And not just because Jim Butcher’s Peace Talks came out and the next one, Battle Ground, is being released this very same year! Harry Dresden rules!
I’ve been reading mysteries (and the various flavors of them) lately, but I always make room for select urban fantasies, like Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series and Jim Butcher’s Dresden, of course. During the wait for the highly-anticipated release of Peace Talks, Butcher’s first new Dresden novel in, like, five years, one of my blogging friends suggested a different series, the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews.
So, I figured, what the heck. It’s UF, and M said it was good. So I read the first book of the series.
Now, for those who don’t read urban fantasy, one thing popular in the genre is snark. The snark is often based on things we know, like books (The Princess Bride, for one), TV shows, movies, or other things of common “modern” knowledge. Butcher does it well. One of my favorites is the first line of Blood Rites: The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault. Not snark as much as tongue-in-cheek.
In the same scene, as Harry is running away from the bad guys, he mentions how his boots were made for walking, not running through hallways (or something like that).
When done well, it makes for an entertaining read. In the Kate Daniels series, they (Ilona Andrews is a husband and wife team) do it so well I laughed out loud more than once (even the second time around). Everything from references to Rambo to the Three Musketeers to jokes made by the main character that the reader “gets” but no one else in the scene does because they aren’t old enough.
Anyway, there are 10 books in the Kate Daniels series. I blasted through the first book in a day. Heck, I blasted through each book in two days (because I had to take time off to do important stuff like pick tomatoes and cleaning 🙂 )
Needless to say, I didn’t get much writing done the days I got sucked into Kate Daniels’ world.
Here’s the thing: Many people will only read a book once. I like to reread good books years after I read them the first time to enjoy the prose and the story again. As a writer, I want to figure out why I want to read it again. It’s like watching a TV show in reruns a decade or more later, like MASH or Seinfeld.
This series, however, was different. I have never felt compelled to reread a series right after I read it the first time. Ever. Not even the Pern books by Anne McCaffery. Not even the Eve Dallas series by JD Robb.
When I finished the last book of the Kate Daniels series, I felt drawn back to it. I couldn’t stop thinking about reading it again. (I blame you, M!)
Then my writer brain piped up. Why do I feel compelled to reread this series right after I read it the first time? What is it about the story that makes me want to jump right back into it? It’s like other UF series where the main character is pitted against tougher and tougher opponents, and discovers more about herself and what she can do. It’s like Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series or Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, where each book reveals a little more about the main character and how/why she changes.
But I never felt compelled to reread those series. Why was this one different? The clever snark? Yes, but other series have clever snark. A kick-ass heroine? Sure, but again, other series have kick-ass heroines. Hot guys the main character tries to resist but eventually falls for? Yep, the others have that, too. Awesome secondary characters? Yep, they all have some great backup singers.
World-building? Sure, but like other UF, the world we know is filled with magic and the associated creatures, and the explanations for the juxtaposition are all different, from “it’s always been this way” to some cataclysmic occurrence that introduced magic into our world.
So, what’s left?
Voice. That elusive element that is part of a writer’s style, or at least style for a particular book or genre. Voice is that thing we’re all told we need to find for ourselves, that maddening part of writing that is so hard to define, but we can pick out in other writers’ prose. It’s the voice that draws me back, I think. Andrews’ voice in the KD books is easy-going, natural for the character, and engaging, with a touch of laugh-out-loud humor.
Note that a lot of UF is written in first person POV, so voice and character are woven tight with each other. Come to think of it, almost all the UF I’ve ever read is written in 1st POV.
I won’t even attempt to explain voice, because there are so many other writers and writing teachers out there who have done a good job of it. Check out Janice Hardy, Jane Friedman, and Lisa Hall-Wilson, for starters. Lisa Hall-Wilson has been doing a good series on POV and voice in recent months.
In other news, I have one lesson left to turn in, then I’ll check in with my writing teacher (who runs the program) to see what my next steps are. And just maybe my son will send me some more pictures of his kittens 😀