I know I’m a little late to this, but…
Tyra Banks is “writing” a fantasy novel about a place “[w]here dreams come true and life can change in the blink of a smoky eye.” It’s supposed to follow a group of girls who are “really not supposed to be there.”*
The first of the trilogy** will be released on September 13, 2011. And I might have to read it with a glass of wine*** handy.
*Any of the girls named Ambreal?
** Yes a trilogy. Don’t laugh too hard.
*** Boxed wine of course. Seems the most appropriate.
The director of Boys Don’t Cry will adapt Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely.
I’m curious to see how this goes. I’ve since finished Ink Exchange, which managed to flesh out a bunch of supporting characters from the first book (including surprisingly a member of Aislinn’s girl posse). I think the third one goes back to Aislinn, Keenan and Seth, but I probably won’t find out for a little while as my TBR stack has grown geometrically.
The books are not classics of literature, but they are not meant to be. They are YA paranormal romances, written for an audience at least a decade younger than me. However, for what they were, they were well done. If these books were out when I was a teenager I could easily see myself running to the library to devour the entire series in a week, writing silly fanfiction for a LiveJournal community (or in my case, AOL’s I Was a Teenage Writer message board), and doing all the fantasy movie casting that inevitably comes with being a fan of a book (series).
The big appeal of these books for me is that the romances are not the be all end all. Yes, the driving force of the first two books involves two male love interests (human and fey) pursuing a troubled teenage girl, but it was clear that there was more going on than just the will they or won’t they tension and the Triang Relations. The intrigue of the fairy courts provided reasons for why the fey were so doggedly pursuing the girls in question. There were reasons why the girls either kept their distance from the suitors or ran into their arms. And each book had a supporting cast that was either fleshed out in its own right (I really hope that Donia comes back in the third book–being mentioned but constantly off page in Ink Exchange was not enough) or given enough sketchy details that future books could develop them.
Actual world-building was involved in creating the setting of Wicked Lovely and Marr took as much care in creating that world as she did in talking about the complicated relationships that formed between all her leads.* If anything, the vague details about some parts of the world made the story even richer–the reader got the sense that so much more was happening in the background waiting to be explored. For instance, there are four Fairy Courts in this world: Summer, Winter, Dark, and High. The Summer Court was the focus of the first book, particularly the conflict between the Summer Court and the evil queen of the Winter Court. The second book focused on the Dark Court, but we kept hearing rumblings about how things were going in the other two. And then there’s the oft alluded to High Court which, while not yet seen, has a personality of its own so when (if?) it’s finally introduced, it will feel like an organic part of the world rather than just something tacked on to create artificial conflict.
In short, if there had to be a paranormal teen romance that captured America’s imagination over the past few years, I would have rather it been this than Twilight.
* Marr built the world and web of relationships that crisscross it over the course of about 650 1.5 spaced pages, with size 12 font and generous margins. Marr keeps the story moving. If anything, I almost wish she took some time to slow down to show more of life in the Summer, Winter, or Dark Courts. But I suppose that’s what the sequels are for (and for finally showing us what the High Court is like).
Hardcover, 328 pages
Before I get started, let me get one thing out of the way: I know I’m not the intended audience of Wicked Lovely. It is published under the HarperTeen imprint, signalling that I am at least a decade past the intended audience. That being said, I did find a lot to like about Wicked Lovely. And the parts that I didn’t like as much I can probably chalk up to being “features of the genre” that would probably go over better with the intended audience.
I appreciate that Marr did the research into the folklore of the fey and did not just make up mythos to suit her story. I like that while focusing on the love triangle (because there always seems to be love triangles in these types of stories), she did enough to build up the intrigue of the Fairy Courts that the love story isn’t the only thing to drive the plot.
That being said, I tend to roll my eyes at stories where the plain ordinary girl suddenly has every suitor coming out of the woodwork to woo her, especially when she seemingly does nothing but be a thoroughly unpleasant person. Even in my beloved Southern Vampire Books I find the fact that pretty much every man within the 20-40 age range who meets Sookie is in love with her tiresome sometimes. (The overt focus on all the suitors was part of the reason Dead as a Doornail is my least favorite of the series so far). However, at least with those books a) I can see what all these people see in her to some extent and b) there are other factors at play that get explored in the later books.
In Wicked Lovely, you have Aislinn who is your typical meek high school girl, being pursued by the two “dreamiest” men in the book–her longtime friend/reformed rake Seth and Keenan the Summer King. However, the pursuit of Aislinn is part of a far bigger story. Beira, the Winter Queen and Keenan’s mother (a role that was meant for a Hollywood Grande Dame who feels like chewing scenery–paging Susan Sarandon/Narissa) does not want to lose her power, even if means plunging the world (aside from the Western PA city of Huntsdale) into eternal winter. Narissa/Beira long ago set up rules and rituals that Keenan must follow to fully realize his powers as the Summer King. As for Seth, the book established early on that he and Aislinn have been friends for a long time and that the increased fairy threat is relatively new. So I can buy that over time he could start to see her as something more and be in love with her, even if she’s drippy and whiny through the major chunk of the book.
The other main player in all this is Donia, the Winter Girl who Keenan thought should be his queen and the one he is still truly loves. However, Donia was not the Chosen One and when she tried to become the Summer Queen, she turned from human to Winter Girl instead. Now she has to play a complicated game where she needs Keenan to find the Summer Queen to break the spell, but at the same time wants Keenan for herself, but at the same time is threatened by Beira to make sure Aislinn never goes through the ritual.
The middle section dragged a bit, focusing on how much Aislinn did not want to be Summer Queen and how she’s still running scared from everything. As realistic as it would be considering the circumstances, it was tiresome to read. But thankfully Aislinn finds her strength. More than finally facing her fate, she manages to negotiate it on her own terms once she realizes what’s at stake.
What makes Wicked Lovely work is that it the human scale (Aislinn trying to come to terms with her fate) and the larger scale (the fate of the fairy world) intermingle nicely. With the exception of Aislinn’s “girlfriend speaking”* high school friends,** the characters are either fully realized, or have hints of depth that will likely be explored in later books. You care what happens to them because they are people, not plot devices. At the same time, the love triangle does not become a Romantic Plot Tumor, threatening to overshadow all else in the story. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of a courtship and a chase before it just becomes tiresome. Thankfully, that point is resolved in this book in a satisfying way, leaving the next books in the series open for other stories that could exist in this decently built world. Hence the reason Ink Exchange has been added to be TBR list.
* By “girlfriend speak” I mean that painful slang that writers use to allegedly make women sound more realistic but rather makes them sound like parodies. Reliance on terms such as “girl” and “hottie” are indicators that we are in girlfriend speak land, but much like porn, you know it when you see it. Err…read it.
** Who basically are indistinguishable, except for Rianne who has a disconcerting tendency to refer to men as “tasty morsels” and other food related bits of objectification.
Now that the palette is cleansed regarding vampires (thank you Dead to the World), it’s time to start exploring other fantasy creatures. One one hand, the next Sookie Stackhouse book on deck for me appears to be more about weres and shifters than about vampires. On the other hand, here’s a portion of the inside jacket cover blurb:
“But her concern for XXXX becomes cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population[…]Now Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who’s behind the attacks…”
Any time I see that the antagonist is just a generic “hunter” I get a little wary. However, this is the fifth book of the series and I trust Harris enough that this hunter isn’t some cheap antagonist or villain MacGuffin stuck in there to weakly justify the plot.
Like I said before, I decided to try the young adult series, Wicked Lovely which focuses on fairies. I’ll readily admit that I’m not as familiar with fairie mythology as I am with vampires.* I know they are more than just sweet, occasionally impulsive Tinkerbells and that there are stories that show how dangerous they can be. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is also my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, so I do have a passing familiarity with how they are portrayed in literature. However, I couldn’t tell you the different strengths and weaknesses they have the way I can with vampires. And fairies do not have the one or two famous stories that establish a foundational modern mythos the way vampires do.**
So, Wicked Lovely then…
So far I’ve read the first three chapters (about 36 pages 1.5 spaced with a size 12 font and generous margins) and I’m impressed with how quickly Melissa Marr established the setting, the main characters, and the rules of her story. Fairies are old. They are repelled by iron and steel the way vampires are repelled by crosses or silver depending on the mythos used. The heroine, Aislinn (nicknamed Ash), chose to live in the decaying city of Huntsdale because it mostly iron and she can hide from fairies. She can seem them, but wishes she couldn’t. And she was raised by her grandmother to be terrified of ever attracting the fairies’ notice.
One of the things a writer must be wary of when establishing a mythos is the exposition dump. You need to tell the audience what’s going on, but not in such a way that the scene appears exclusively for that reason and doesn’t contribute to the story. Marr manages to avoid the pitfall and sprinkle enough exposition through the first three chapters in a way that it doesn’t only explain the mythology, but it helps establish the character of Aislinn, her best friend Seth, and the relationship between the two.
As for how much this book deviates from “traditional” fairy mythos, I couldn’t tell you.*** I can tell you that the first three chapters did an admirable job getting me interested in the story and the characters.
* I am aware that fairies start to figure prominently in the later Sookie Stackhouse books. However, I’m not up to them yet.
** I’m thinking of course, of Dracula and Carmilla. Though I’ve also read that the modern foundation goes all the way back to the The Vampyr, a story that’s meant to make fun of Lord Byron.
*** Judging by the epigrams Marr uses to begin every chapter, she has a good sense of what’s been written.
…and while I’m in the minority in that I’m not a big Eric/Sookie shipper, I’m truly enjoying the story. It’s a perfect antidote to the bad taste left in my mouth by Real Vampires Have Curves. The story actually remembers that vampires are more than just eternally young nocturnal people, and it integrates all sorts of other supernatural creatures.
Speaking of other creatures, while I do have a soft spot for the Vampire stories, it’s time to start branching out. After I finish the palette-cleansing Dead to the World, it’ll be time to explore a new kind of supernatural creature in greater depth (and give other authors besides the wonderful Charlaine Harris a read).
Next up: Wicked Lovely.
I suppose all genres have issues with these. Here’s urban fantasy’s.
Again, another reason to appreciate the quirky covers on Charlaine Harris’s books (both Southern Vampire and Harper Connelly).
I saw this book randomly on the shelf at the local library and had to see what it was about. I guess it was inevitable. Chick Lit is popular. Vampires are hot right now. Someone was going to combine the two. And hence we have this:
Tell me that this doesn’t look like your standard issue chick lit novel cover as imagined by Hot Topic. Cute blonde girl, but in a black corset. Pinkish doors and an adorable green dress, but with BATS. And of course, there’s the title that plays on one of the more problematic tropes of female “empowerment.”
The background I’ve gleaned thus far: Glory St. Clair is a 400 year old vampire, a former actress at the Globe because even though all the actors in Shakespeare’s time were boys, they made a special exception for her after her husband died. Ok, I’ll roll with the anachronism–at least the book acknowledges that all the roles were played by males and that she was an “exception.” Modern sensibilities and all that.
Two pages in Glory laments that she was “bloating the day [she] got the big V.” Then the defensive “I have curves, okay?” Maybe someone with a better knowledge of Elizabethan female body issues can correct me, but this does not sound like the lament of a woman of that era.
But maybe in the midst of Glory’s adaptations (she’s an avid fan of Sex and the City), she picked up modern-day body insecurities. She can now blend and in no one would know she was a vampire.
And I think that’s my problem so far with the first chapter–the vampire conceit seems so obviously tacked on. I understand that different vampire stories have different mythologies (some vampires get the bleeds, some get the sparkles, some get pesky lisps). But if you’re going to have a character that’s a 400 year old ex-Globe Theatre actress cum Las Vegas showgirl, don’t make her sound like she is a transplant from Sex and the City. The novel is told in the first person and from the way Glory sounds, she could be Carrie and Company’s token nocturnal “plus-sized” Texas friend. In this universe vampires feed on blood, but they not only have the True Blood ability to glamour a victim (called a “mind meld” or the “whammy” here), but can make the bite marks disappear. “No harm, no foul” as Glory says. And when Glory talks to her ex named (I’m not making this up) Jeremy Blade, you don’t get the sense of ex-lovers with centuries of history (he was the one who turned her). You get the sense of a that one friend of yours who’s spent the better part of a decade breaking up and making up with her high school sweetheart. In other words, being a vampire does not appear to add any dimensions to the character or the story.
Granted, I’m only at the beginning of the book and there are signs that it will actually explore how being a “single fabulous gal in the city” is different for a vampire. There is reference to the fact the she succumbs to the standard vampire weaknesses of stakes and sunlight–how does she explain to her human friends why she can’t meet them for brunch? More intriguingly, she talks about how ever ten years or so she has to move because people get suspicious that she never ages. I would love to know how that would affect a 400 year old character who cannot tell her human friends what she is and has to leave them behind every so often and start fresh. Even in a light frothy book like this one appears to be, there is room to explore something like this.*
Anyway, I’m one chapter in. I hope that more is made of the fact that the main character (and first person narrator) is a 400 year old vampire and that she isn’t just a western Carrie Bradshaw with curves and fangs.
*The book alludes to how she feels when each incarnation of her telepathic dog Valdez dies. Yes, a telepathic dog. This one speaks like “Travolta in Get Shorty” and has a weakness for processed junk food.