Much to this subgenre's authors' chagrin, urban fantasy/paranormal romance continues to be considered low-brow and shitty material. And yet, even the most ardent detractors will admit, albeit grudgingly, that there are quality reads out there. Too few according to most for the subgenre and its writers to garner much in the way of respect, however.
To elaborate on this sad state of affairs, I invited urban fantasy author Lilith Saintcrow to write an ad lib column on the subject last year. Her piece generated a lot of discussions, and was followed by another column. Then came Carrie Vaughn's "Deconstructing Urban Fantasy."
Now, I don't mean to flog a dead horse and throw oil on the fire, but this proved to be too much for me. I received a review copy of Jenna Black's Speak of the Devil (Canada, USA, Europe) a few weeks back, and the blurb stuck in my head and won't go away. Knowing that I would likely take some heat if I posted my thoughts online, wisdom prevailed upon me not to do so. But still, that blurb kept nagging at me. So I showed it to a couple of friends, curious to see what they would make of it. Most found it so ridiculous that they thought I had made it up. Their jaws dropped to the floor when I showed them the actual novel. Since they were all men of various ages and since such a book is aimed at a female audience, I elected to try the same experiment with women. Oddly enough, their reaction was even worse. And the word that kept coming back was "trash." Moreover, the majority of the 24 girls I asked opined that they would never bet caught dead with such a book. Fortunately, thousands of women don't share that aversion, which is why this subgenre remains so popular.
Okay, so I'm acutely aware that I'm not the target audience for this sort of thing. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Nor can I judge Speak of the Devil on its own merit, for I have only the blurb to work with. For all I know, Jenna Black might be better than Jim Butcher and Carrie Vaughn put together. But with such blurbs, respect won't come knocking on urban fantasy/paranormal romance's door any time soon.
Don't let the trashy cover influence you. Most urban fantasy and paranormal romance cover art feature the same sort of crap. After all, had I let the cover fool me, I would never have read Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Midnight Hour (Canada, USA, Europe). And as you know, I am now a big fan of the Kitty Norville series. And though my agent says that those books are my guilty pleasure, let me assure you that there is no guilt whatsoever on my part. Vaughn writes good books, period!
So here's this blurb:
Morgan Kingsley, America’s most successful exorcist, is paying the price for an exorcism gone wrong. The victim’s family is suing the daylights out of her, the Exorcism Board has suspended her, and now she’s living on a diet of ramen noodles and bad coffee. But Morgan has a few good men at her side. One is her current boyfriend, nice-guy legal eagle Brian, who’s suddenly starting to reveal his inner bad boy. The other is Philly cop Adam White, who’s trying to help Morgan find out who sent her a little present—a severed human hand—and why someone seems determined to destroy her.
As her stalker turns more violent, leaving dead bodies in his wake, Morgan turns to the dark side of her life: a group of demons steeped in secrets, sinful eroticism, and otherworldly family feuds, including one sexy beast who shares Morgan’s body—and some X-rated fantasies. Soon Morgan must choose between her friends, her enemies, and her libido: to escape a mad demon determined to destroy her completely.
Now, that first paragraph isn't at all bad. If not for the mild "chicklit" feel, it is quite similar to the blurb of Jim Butcher's Fool Moon.
But that second paragraph literally killed me. And it had the same effect of basically everyone I showed it to. As I mentioned, Jenna Black can well be a heck of an author. I have no idea, really. But her work has been nominated for urban fantasy awards, so the woman obviously has legions of fans. Nevertheless, for all that this subgenre is a multi-million dollar business, it's awfully difficult to take it seriously with blurbs like these.
Can you imagine attributing such a blurb to authors like George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, or Carlos Ruiz Zafón? Or Robin Hobb and Jacqueline Carey?
Conventional wisdom says that urban fantasy and paranormal romance will continue to be a huge commercial success. Authors such as Laurell K. Hamilton and co. will top the bestseller lists. But I have a feeling that respect will remain as elusive as it has been thus far. . .