Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reading Books 2 : Urban Paranormal

    Again, the reading is endless. I start school next week and I’ll be complaining about my lack of time to read or write, but until then, I read. Currently, I’ve been reading the urban paranormal genre, which is popular, and being published in droves. The central women characters are mostly cut from the same mold: Young, unaware of their potential, in love with the wrong man, chased by bad guys, and best of all, able to, at least eventually, kick butt of same bad guys with newly discovered strength, skill, and/or super powers.

    I adore super powers. It’s so freeing to read and identify with those not very perfect women who discover strength within themselves. I suppose the popularity of these books is because we all secretly feel inadequate and powerless, but I don’t really care. When a heroine finally reaches out and slaps the idiot villain around and saves the world, there’s a certain escapist thrill in that. If she also gets the best sex of her life along the way, all power to her, and the reader, for just tagging along.

    There is a point, however, when boredom sets in. I can almost predict the next three moves of a character in a paranormal story after the first few pages. Sometimes, I find myself skipping whole parts that I’ve already predicted ahead, just to get to the plot points.

    It’s an internal conversation with me, “Yada yada yada yada,” I’ll murmur, “don’t be so stupid, Girlfriend, and have more confidence, for heaven’s sake!” All while I skip over all that internal angst and obstacles that the heroine invariably sets before herself. It’s always her own weaknesses that hold her back, therefore bulking up the storyline with more pages. Obstructing the heroine with her own insecurity and lack of personal insight seems to be the plot pattern followed by most of the paranormal writers. I’d like to point out that they are almost all women writers for that matter.

    I’ve read so many of these books that even I realize it’d be boring to list them. Many of the most popular heroines such as Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake, or Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse were wonderful for the first five or ten books, but please! Quit already. There is so much dithering and indecision a reader can take. At some point, the heroine has to have a final win. Anita Blake is especially irritating because Hamilton thinks that adding lovers to Anita’s roster is the way to add books to her list. By the 15th book Blake has gone from kickass necromancer to the ever ready succubus and NOT in a good way.

    And don’t get me started on the young adult market! They’re worse, by far. I wanted to suck Twilight’s heroine to death myself if she didn’t quit with the emotional indecision. That the series ended the way it did by throwing the baby/werewolf bonding in to round out the romantic triangle neatly was, in a word, bizarre.

   Over the last year, I have finished the most popular of the series: Fallen, the Immortals (Shadowland), the Shadow Hunters (City of Glass), the Blue Bloods, and the Wicked Lovely series to name very few on the long list of young adult urban paranormals out there. My students read them, so I do. Mostly, without exception, the heroines are the same: weakened emotionally by a lack of confidence or personal tragedy, indecisive overall, and given to letting the boys smash it out whilst they stand by and watch. In short, they are clueless until finally, after much angst, they wake up and take control of their lives. The young adult market seems to want to both empower young women and funnel them into age old stereotypes of powerlessness. I haven't decided if I should encourage my students to read them or not yet.  Not that I have any say in the matter.

   I believe of all the heroines of the popular paranormal genre, either young adult or adult, the one character that I haven’t quite tired of yet is Rachel Morgan. I think, and this is me analyzing the genre here, she hasn’t become boring because she changes so much through the books. Kim Harrison, the author, is brave enough to kill off characters, even important lovers, and she has changed Rachel with each book to the point that you realize that she is growing as a character. In fact, all the characters change in this series. The villains in the early books become allies in the later ones, and it’s all done in a way that surprises the reader. Much of what happens to Rachel is a logical progression. (I’m laughing here because it’s an urban paranormal fantasy set in a post apocryphal world peopled with demons, witches and faerie folk.) My point is that a reader couldn’t possibly pick up the sixth book of Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan series and figure out what is going on. That’s why it isn’t predictable.


   So, how to analyze the genre and what is the basic formula to urban paranormal/romance/female heroines with superpowers genre?

    1. She must be young, the age of change for women: 16 to 30
    2. The obstacles she faces are outside villains who make her feel powerless, and/or she is powerless because the villains seem to be more aware of her potential than she is.
    3. She longs for the love of the wrong boy/man according to society standards but in truth, he is the only one for her i.e. true love. (Does TL really exist BTW?)
    4. She has a superpower, which is eventually discovered by her (usually she’s the last to know) and she saves the world, too.
    After that the stories DO vary but not by much. In the young adult books, she is soundly kissed and the reader can safely assume that there is a happily ever after. In the adult versions, the paranormal heroine enjoys the best sex of her life, but doesn’t necessarily get the happily ever after. That would mean the end of the book series,  and heaven forbid it, we can’t have that!

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