As we all know, movies follow this sequence: excellent foreign film, not-as-good American remake, completely unwatchable franchise that rakes in the cash. I wasn’t seeing quite this with UFDR books. I think the ’70’s “Interview with the Vampire” led us to “hey! Supernatural erotica can sell”. Urban Fantasy developed on its own. But then I read 1987’s “War for the Oaks”. It’s the Excellent Foreign Film of urban female detective romance.
One of the first things you notice is how gradually, through actions, we find out who’s who. It takes a few chapters to figure out which bandmate is her best friend. In fact, it takes those chapters for them to realize it themselves. We’re not quite sure about her loser boyfriend, then he becomes a bad-guy, then we realize we had the clues all along to know why, and that he wasn’t really the bad guy. That’s 1000% of the character development you get in the dumbed-down successors.
The secret world is the Fairie court and nothing else — good elves vs. evil fairies for the fate of Minneapolis. We get short scenes where the 2 queens size her up — this is what later authors realized they could stretch into long, predictable hissing contests. But most of the book deals with forming a new band, writing songs, getting naked with the new cute lead guitarist, and practicing. I’ve heard the author, Emma Bull, play “Girl needs a knife” with her one-night-only partly reformed real-life band. It’s quite good. She’s writing what she knows.
It turns out the main character leading a band is the actual point. A faction of fairies is ready for a new way and they picked a human as a cat’s paw. At least one fairy joins her band since he’s curious what life is like not as a knight in fairy court.
Her eventual love interest is the cruel fairy who scouted her as a semi-disposable symbol. He trusts her with secrets, but only as part of his plan. But then he comes to admire her more and more as a unique person, while she begins to understand the personal risks he’s taken to find a “new elf way”. An even cuter but less complicated fairy knight is starting to see her as a legitimate leader before he bravely dies. Several extended sex scenes ensue.
It ends in a set-piece — a battle of the bands between good and evil. Seems silly but it only happens because she proved her resolve to the Queen, knew enough to manipulate the evil queen into accepting, gained the trust of the “good” elves in her band, figured out a winner-takes-all challenge could be done at all, and gained the courage to actually do it.
All of the parts to exploit are there: romance and courtship with two guys, being thrust into the secret world, and solving problems by making friends. Any potential author who reads it would think two perfect halves of a thought: I can’t write that well; but people probably want more action, more critters, and more flirty banter, which I can do.