I mentioned in a write-up a little back about the books sitting in my to-be-read pile that I’d gotten burned out on urban fantasy. There’s a lot of the same characters put in the protagonist roles: men who are (or become) crazy powerful while still being snarky; snarky badass women who shoot first, ask questions later, and still love an alpha male; everyone’s a private detective or other investigator, even if that’s not their job description; etc.
(I want to note before I continue that I fully accept that a lot of this experience with urban fantasy may simply be because I’m not widely read enough.)
Despite this self-proclaimed burnout, I decided to pick Dead Heat to read next, by Patricia Briggs. (Links: AMZ, BN, GR, Kobo, IB.) It’s the fourth book in the Alpha and Omega series. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stick with it, but it had been on my shelf for probably two years at this point and I wanted to at least give it a try.
Within twenty pages I was reminded of everything I love about Patricia Briggs.
The protagonists of this series, Charles and Anna, are werewolves. None of us are surprised. Charles is interesting in his own right, but he’s not who I’m here to gush about. I’m here to gush about Anna. She feels so different from other urban fantasy protagonists I’ve read. She’s warm, she’s kind, and she still doesn’t take any shit from anyone. Briggs allows Anna (and also Mercy, in the main series) to interact with werewolf packs without tying them into the traditional pack structure. (Anna’s a special kind of werewolf, Mercy’s a shifter who was adopted into the pack.) This neatly sidesteps the tired alpha-beta mechanics of a lot of urban fantasy stories with any sort of magical hierarchy. Instead we get outsiders who are willing to call the hierarchy on its shit when necessary, which it turns out is kind of a lot of the time.
The other thing I love about these books is the warmth with which they’re written. Anna feels like a real person, who has a sweet, loving relationship with Charles. You actually understand why these two like each other. Even better, it doesn’t follow the standard “oooh, you drive me crazy! Clearly we should hook up instead of realizing there are FAR better people out there for the both of us!” These books are romance-heavy, and feel like a 60% supernatural romance 40% urban fantasy split. I think this works in their favor, as we get a deep understanding of just why these two work together, and we get invested in their relationship instead of it being bolted awkwardly onto the side of a mystery plot.
I’m looking forward to finishing the book, and it has me thinking about other urban fantasy I should check out that I’ve heard is less stuck in the standard mold. Right now all I’ve got on-deck is A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark by Harry Connolly. (Links: AMZ, BN, GR, Kobo, IB.) I’ve heard very enthusiastic things about it, and the main character’s both an old lady and a pacifist, which sounds like an awesome combination that will lead to a very different book. I’m looking for other suggestions, though, so please lay them on me!