Is Our Writers Learning (Part II)

Back in January, I reviewed Alif the Unseen to kick off my plan to read at least one current fantasy book a month and see what I can learn. This month (yeah, I missed February, but I’ll make it up eventually): Midnight Blue-Light Special: An Incryptid Novel by Seanan McGuire (I have, by the way, no idea what the hell the title means). Cover by G-Force Design and Aly Fell, all rights belonging to current rights holders (as do all the images I post. No infringement intended)
The series premise: Cryptids (intelligent monsters) live among us, including bogeymen, gorgons, shapeshifters, telepaths, sirens and so on. The Price family formerly belonged to the Covenant of St. George, a league of monster-hunters, but now they study, work with and protect the cryptids (or at least the good ones).
The story: Verity Price is a dancer and cryptozoologist who learns that the Covenant is sending monster hunters to purge New York of its cryptids. She has to protect her friends while negotiating the shoals of her relationship with Covenant agent Dominic, who’s likewise torn which side to be on.
What I learned:
•Humor never hurts. I’m not an urban fantasy fan, particularly, but the humor makes this series much preferable to McGuire’s October Daye series. From throwaway lines about the three species of Gorgon to the mouse tribe that worships Verity there are some really funny notes in here. If McGuire ever writes a straight fantasy rom-com, I’d read it.
•A good story needs a good villain—and unfortunately, this one doesn’t have any. The Covenant are just monster hunters with guns—and while I accept that modern weapons can do a shit-ton of damage (and if McGuire says an AK15 can take down a dragon in her world, that’s fine by me), that makes them bland and unremarkable compared to the monsters of the world (this does not seem to be an intentional contrast). Given the first half of the novel is building up to their appearance, they really need to make a spectacular entrance to prove themselves and justify the terror they trigger. Instead they’re just … bad people with guns. Oh, and attitudes recycled from 90 percent of the mutie-hater villains in X-Men comics (“You’re going to tell me where to find every other stinking rat in your hole.”). Admittedly the focus is on Verity’s personal arc rather than the action, but the Covenant tanked this book for me.
•People love world-building—and having writers talk about the world. What really jumped out at me is how much McGuire talks about it—backstories on characters, details about the cryptid races, family histories, whether or not its essential for us to know to follow things. She does it well—never info-dumps, and the first-person voice helps (it’s like Verity’s just bringing this up in conversation)—but it was more detail than I really wanted.
While I usually think of this kind of show-the-world writing style as an epic fantasy thing, I think I’ve seen it in other contemporary fantasies too; the Dresden Files, for instance, have quite a bit of it. Whereas my preferred style—in Impossible Takes a Little Longer, for instance—is to give enough information that nobody’s confused, but rarely more than that. Nobody reading Impossible learns a lot about the alt.history of WW II or how the Great Mouse cult came to take over Central Florida because it’s not that relevant to the story.
So is that a mistake on my part? Will people looking at my stuff think it’s less interesting because I don’t flesh out the world more? Or is it just a matter of taste, and enough people share mine that I’ll be fine?
Time will tell, I guess.


Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Is Our Writers Learning?, Reading, Writing

4 responses to “Is Our Writers Learning (Part II)

  1. Pingback: Worldbuilding and other writer/reader links | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Introducing … | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Is Our Writers Learning? Gideon’s Angel | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  4. Pingback: Is Our Writers Learning: The Condensed View | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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