Blood Singer series (Cat Adams)

This is book 7, “All Your Wishes”, in a series billed as “paranormal romance.” That’s code for “straight-up romance with a werewolf instead of a pirate” but the blurb made it sound like more than that. Besides being book 7, where a decent series might have gone bad, it’s by only one of the original two authors.

The overall backstory is that magic and science have coexisted for a long time. Stores sell real magical charms, there exist combo magi-tech items, police forces employ mages, anti-vampire fences are common, magic is taught at college, and so on. Fully integrated and has been that way forever, so that’s fun.

The main character is a 1/2-vampire, 1/2-siren (and 1/2-human?) detective, running her agency out of a former church. Her best friends and employees are a werewolf, a wizard and a ghost. Nothing special there. Going against tradition, she’s generally happy with her appearance — vampires are a sexy pale and siren’s are naturally beautiful. But at least she has personal problems: sirens magically bring out the catiness in other women. 1/2-vampires need to frequently eat gross baby food and smoothies, use lots of sunscreen, and they lisp horribly when their fangs pop out. She was turned into one by an attack and is not happy about it. She’s also cursed.

Her boyfriend is a sexy mage with strong hands from a family of powerful mages, and also mobsters. They start off with a big unspecified argument that sounds like it could be trouble — maybe about children. But he’s gone the entire book visiting his dying mother, then is out of the picture. We never find out what the argument was about. The extent of their romance is her calling him to ask if his mom is dead yet. In the 1-year-later epilogue she gets together with a cute, minor character with whom she previously had no sparks. I’m guessing the absent writing partner handled the romance parts.

The plot starts with a client being told to contact her by his oracle, then being told to take the case by her oracle. As everyone knows, you can’t ask oracles too many questions. That goes for readers, too — she just has to help the guy, OK? In case you’re wondering, she solves the case by doing something else her oracle told her to do.

The plot involves some super-evil wizards from a previous book, including an evil wizard ghost sworn to kill her (also from a previous book) led by a super-powerful demon. We never find out their plot, but they free a super-powerful genie for it, who, shocker, gets out of hand and possesses the main character’s body. It either wants to go home, or to free a bunch of other evil genies (in the book, it’s the first — it’s a genie serial-killer of other genies and wants to kill the judge who sentenced it; but the book jacket says it wants to free an evil genie army).

At the very end, she wins by realizing she has friends. Literally just realizing. She suddenly remembers she has siren telepathy, which she has been using through-out the book, and reaches out to all of her friends at once. That gives her the strength to shake off the genie control. Then she executes the plan she made with the only female genie-keeper and her young son (who hasn’t yet grown into a swaggering jerk of a man). The stupid male genie-keepers were all “you’re not an initiate and are the wrong sex. You can’t do anything”. That’s why diversity is important.

Various secondary events are crammed in:

  • Her main evil ghost enemy dies after her heart stops in an unrelated matter (her death was it’s Unfinished Business.) After constantly being reminded of how lethal wizard ghosts are, this is the first time we see him. He just shows up, says “I was actually just hanging around waiting for someone else to kill you, and they did,” and poofs away. Just in case readers notice that she’s had her heart stopped several times before, her friends ask her “haven’t you had your heart stopped several times before?” and she explains this was extra-stoppy, so fooled the ghost in a way the previous heart-stops couldn’t.
  • We very briefly meet a guy from a previous book, just so we can see him dead later.
  • After she wins, it’s mentioned in passing that the main group of genie-keepers were all murdered elsewhere. Why? She already won, so it’s not part of the plot. Maybe it’s to avoid fan fiction using them?
  • Also after winning, we go back in time (she’s literally taken back in time) to see her boyfriend get killed by the mob (remember the one she briefly talked to in chapter 1? That guy). I feel like she could have watched a video, or maybe since the story was over, done that at the start of the next book?
  • Immediately after winning, a good genie, who had been calmly watching them fight the evil one, pops up and brings her werewolf friend back to life (he died one page ago, which inspired her to fight harder.) Those wacky genies and their rules.

The book respects the rule where we have to learn more about the world. We get professional magic-using hitmen. We learn demons can appear without being summoned if they time it exactly when a ghost dies, since that makes a tunnel from here to the otherworld. Genies are new to the series, and we learn genie-keeper powers come from being part genie. If you use mental telepathy in an airport, we learn the TSA has magic to spy on it. Then we get a nice teaser: her mom is not just a siren, but a siren queen, and she’s been summoned for important sea-princess business in book 8.

Fixed series, Linda Grimes

So here’s the plot of the one book in this series I read: the main character has a pregnancy scare, but it could be due to her magical powers, so she puts off taking a test. Afer the funeral of a murdered relative, she has to make all these excuses for why she can’t drink anymore, then more to her mom at home for why she isn’t guzzling coffee.

After beating up a guy trying to kidnap her, her boyfriend finally helps her take a test. It’s positive and he freaks out and runs. Then she stays with her mom after bad guys kill another relative and burn down her apartment, and there are all these cats from a third murdered relative.

Later she gets blood all over herself from killing a bad-guy, so the other man who might be the father of her baby takes her home and lets her wear his clothes. She tells him about the baby, and he’s excited about being a dad, and they bang.

But then she finds out her boyfriend only freaked because of a dark secret about his own mom. He asks to marry her, even after they find out she’s not really pregnant, and they almost have a courtroom marriage with their new bodyguards as witnesses (the first bodyguard was lost in another bad guy attack.)

Then they both get kidnapped by a different guy who’s kids are being held by the Mob, so they use their magical powers to rescue the kids and catch those badguys. Back at home, Mom has even more cats from murdered aunts. Then her boyfriend proves she can count on him, by helping capture the main bad guy. Finally, she and the other guy who wanted to marry her agree to stay friends. The End.

As you may have figured out, this is just a straight Romance novel. What should have given it away for me was the traditional romance cover: woman in front, two male models flanking, both a little too close to her. The publisher is TOR, which doesn’t have a specific romance division.

What’s interesting is how a Romance author decided to borrow from Urban Fantasy Detective. The secret world part is that some people can shape change, but only into people they’ve met. But, the ability to copy a particular person is an Aura, and you can show an Aura you know to another shape-changer. Even that tiny amount of detail is still more than Romances need. I think it’s touching.

Dresden series, Jim Butcher

The Harry Dresden series is a neat counter-example of why it’s the urban fantasy female detective romance genre. He starts out the same as the women: a broke wizard/detective who protects humans from monsters. Along with werewolves and necromancers we get three crazed sub-types of vampires (blood, sex, and, uh, torture?). The whole fairy world thing has plenty of detail, plus demons and so on.

Then onto the story. He’s a junior member of the Wizards’ Council and resents it. Hmmm…a female character would have fought for that bit of recognition and ability to contribute. The stories focus much more on the main baddie: Harry doesn’t visit his mom, check out his sister’s possibly seedy new boyfriend (he has no family), or find a clue while searching for a spaghetti recipe in an ill-fated attempt to cook for a new love interest. In fact, he doesn’t worry about maintaining his friendships and normal life since he has neither. He’s more of a traditional burnt-out gumshoe. Back to the friends, he doesn’t even get out much to talk to contacts for info. There’s a magic skull in his basement for that.

His main problem solving skill is blasting things with magic. He has both kinds — fire bolts and force bolts. That’s his defining character trait (Harry Dresden — as in the city that was famously firebombed at the end of WWII — and he’s a fire mage. Tasteless, but makes its point) Otherwise he rushes towards the most obvious clue and is easily distracted by anything shape-changed into a curvy body (of which there are lots). Like all true men, his magic is powered by rage. Sure, female detectives experience rage but it makes them do something unlady-like — not merely punch harder.

All-in-all it’s a huge difference. The Dresden series is about a stereotypical schluby male. It’s mostly an action series. Nothing wrong with that. The author sure goes all-out to develop the secret world and to follow up in future books. But it makes you realize how much the “real” UFDR genre is about how women can fight monsters as well as men while being true to 3rd wave feminism.

Agent of Hel series, Jacqueline Carey

The backstory for the Agent of Hel series is that Niflheim, home of Helheim and the underworld ice-goddess Hel and her dog Fenrir, also popular in 1980’s Marvel comics, is now in Wisconsin. A big chunk of the North country is Hel’s territory as far as secret magical things go. Newly chosen to represent Hel is a sweet, charming 20-something woman who doesn’t really understand her job. She’s supposed to resolve disputes and in general make sure nothing supernatural bothers Hel. Despite this all being Norse myth, we get the usual hodge-podge of non-Norse monsters.

As you’d guess, she’s bad with boyfriends and extremely insecure, especially that she’s just faking her new adulthood. She doesn’t really have any powers except for her “Agent of Hel” badge, but is secretly a half-demon (Norse mythology doesn’t have demons, but whatever.) The town is pretty much Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls. Lots of friendly people, many of whom know magic and are glad to help; or brew tea; or just talk since everyone knows everyone else.

We get a lovely minor plot involving a misunderstood “Monsters Inc” type creature which is supposed to be harmlessly frightening kids. We get another which takes lots of careful listening to witnesses, help from her friends, and having to trust a guy with whom her relationship may be going too fast. The main plot gets violent near the end — big rockets, mercenaries, and an exploding giant monster — but it’s really the result of an argument between the bad guy (the bad woman, it turns out) and her husband, which our heroine helps smooth out.

Something that snuck up on me: Hel has given her a unique magical relic dagger. She just tucks it away. Much later, she realizes it’s meant to be flashed like a badge. It never occurs to her that she could, you know, stab people with it, since violence never solved anything.

Devious Dr. Jekyll, Viola Carr

This is another steampunk mashup in a “League of Extraordinary Gentleman” vein. The heroine is a free-lance police investigator who sometimes changes into her alternate aggressive form because her father is “Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and she inherited it. Changing shape instantly heals her, but her “Miss Hyde” form is extremely impulsive and constantly second-guesses herself.

Besides Dr. Jekyll, this swings for the fences in mash-ups. Jack the Ripper is in love with her; real-life computer pioneer Ada Lovelace is a robot who runs the secrete police along with an immortal Sir Isaac Newton. Her boyfriend is merely a werewolf secret policeman. Bad guy #1 is “A Picture of Dorian Grey”, while future bad guy#2 is an evil version of reclusive government mastermind Mycroft Holmes.

The plot follows the rules pretty well: lots of personal problems, some are clues; stupidly impulsive behavior which sometimes advances the plot; romance which also advances the plot; worries about money. She even gets to attempt to reconcile with her partly estranged father.

Clockwork Wolf, Lynn Viehl

This one is a little too Romancey – two men are fighting over her the entire book – but otherwise it hits the bizarre secret world mash-up elements extra hard, including a SteamPunk setting.

The heroine is a female detective in Victorian London trying to make a name for herself, but insecure about being a commoner. And, of course, far too impulsive. She’s human but somehow immune to magic, and heals very quickly. Later it’s teased she may be part fairy creature. She can get advice from an all-powerful ghost wizard who haunts her, or have devices made by her (non-ghost) genius SteamPunk engineer friend.

Romance-wise, a powerful (also non-ghost) wizard is in love with her, along with her childhood friend who is now a police chief (in other words, her beaus are a rich noble and a brawny working man). She sleeps with the policeman to try to cure him of robotic were-wolfism (an old folk remedy?), but seems to prefer the sexy wizard.

The bad guy is a masterpiece of crazy mash-up: an (1)Ancient Evil banished by (2)Celtic shamen, who is trying to (3)impregnate women with demon babies using (4)robot (5)werewolfs recruited from a (6)secret nobility sex club. Take a moment to think how this begins. You’re correct if you said “she’s called in to investigate women being molested by robot werewolves”.

SteamPunk tends to handle female characters in 2 ways. One is having them smarter and stronger than any man. Yawn. The other is what this book does: she’s told what women can’t do at every turn, is treated like a fragile flower, but does all she can within those confines, including a few things a Victorian man couldn’t get away with. If you like clever oppressed women, this has got it.

Seanan McGuire, Cryptid series

I saw Seanan McGuire at a convention. She was in full “act like a fabulous author GoH” mode, and could not stop giggling about exploding hawiian rats and the tapeworm she ate on purpose. So, she doesn’t take herself all that seriously, which is the right attitude for her books.

The world starts as the standard “every mythical creature you’ve even heard of is real”. The twist is that the secret society keeping humans safe succeeded hundreds of years ago and are now killing harmless, even useful beasties (cyptids). Our heroine is from a break-away family devoted to the study and preservation of supernatural ecology, and hunted by the now-evil monster-killing group.

The rest of the twist is inventing crazy creatures – talking mice (that’s all they do) and dragon princesses which look human, breed asexually, live in groups and single-mindedly collect gold by working regular jobs, then buying the gold.

Personality-wise, our heroine fails to be insecure or mousy — rather the opposite — but she’s got money problems and has trouble meeting guys since she works so much: protecting the harmless monsters of New York; a waitress in a non-human topless club; and a contestant on “So you think you can dance.” That feels sufficiently weird to make up for her being 100% human with no special powers. But she’s trained in ninja skills since birth to where she spider-mans (parkours) everywhere over rooftops, and her famous renegade family name is like a magic spell to make monsters cooperate.

The plot is a fine sprawl of mostly personal problems mixed in with the adventure: she has to help her telepathic non-human sister; the guy from the evil monster hunters is in town, and he is smoking hot; and humans mutated into lizard-men are using monster blood to power a world-blasting magic spell. What really puts this over as an urban fantasy female detective book is the big baddie: he turns out to be friendly. The evil lizards were worshiping him, but also keeping him sedated. A little friendly conversation, which no man would have considered, solves the crisis.

The rest of the series gives us more books with this character, but then we get more family members. There’s her roller-derby younger sister, and then her brother. He’s a non-violent researcher, clumsy around women, with strong female role models — but he’s still written as a guy, blundering through his book as a big, dumb ape, occasionally listening to his girlfriend who’s the brains of the operation.