Random (but not really)

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Supernatural Fantasy, Female Protagonists

After mysteries, the second genre I read was fantasy, when my dad gave me a copy of The Hobbit. I would read it at least once a year when I was younger. As I got older, my interests shifted away from epic fantasy, and I’ve generally gravitated towards series where each book contains a completed story arc. That doesn’t mean there can’t be questions that are left unanswered for several book, just no cliffhangers. I’ve found that supernatural fantasy generally fits this bill, and as I have slight preference for female characters, this list is going to be longer than the next.

This group is also going to be a little more complicated. There have been a lot of series that I’ve liked initially and then dropped because I either lost interest or something irritated me. This list is series that I have re-read and/or also listened to on audio and would like to re-read again in the future.

You can feel free to mention an author you think should be here, and if I’ve read them, we can discuss why I don’t love them or why I stopped reading (if I should take a series back up, I’ll be glad to hear that).

Best of Index


Gunmetal Magic (2012) Ilona Andrews (World of Kate Daniels)

Years ago magic reappeared in the world and ravaged technology—dropping planes from the sky and buildings where they stood. Those who survived have learned to live in a world with where either magic or technology works (but not both at the same time).

Note that I didn’t put the Kate Daniels series here. The thing is, I like the series, and I always want to know what happens next, but I don’t always love the series. The books stick in my memory, which is one prerequisite for making this list, but they don’t necessarily blow me away, the way other books have.

Which is why Gunmetal Magic, a stand-alone that’s not about Kate, made this list instead of the main series. I really like Andrea, and I often find her both more sensible and more reasonable than Kate. It’s not that Kate isn’t an interesting character, I just sometimes find her a bit much. Andrea, in the meantime, is someone who has hidden her heritage as a bouda (were-hyena) from The Order—the group that keeps peace in a magic ravaged world when the police can’t—because of her childhood.

Andrea has a really awful past, which makes her relationships with Raphael extremely complicated, but it also makes her a fascinating character, prone to make the kinds of mistakes Kate doesn’t. Raphael and Andrea both have weaknesses that I sometimes find lacking in Kate and Curran.

She’s also far more human than Kate, whose powers often irritate me, because sometimes she can do things with ease, while other times they are a struggle. This is unrelated to her learning how to use her powers. It’s how during The Final Battle in a book Kate does less well with things than she did earlier in that book or in an earlier book. It’s not blatant, it’s just that you know that at some point Kate is going to get her ass kicked, and then she’ll come back and win. It’s not wrong, it’s just… bothersome?

That said, there are so many things I love about this series, primarily the dialog.

Ave, Andrea! Ianitori te salutant!

…Kate was forcing Ascanio and Julie, her ward, to learn Latin, because a lot of magic texts were written in it and apparently it was an essential part of their education.

I looked up and nodded at Ascanio. “Get your gear.”

He grabbed his knife. “Where are we going?”

“To the library.”
His enthusiasm visibly deflated and he emitted a tragic sigh. “But ‘library’ and ‘kick-ass’ are two concepts that don’t usually go together.”

“That’s the nature of the business. Five percent of the time you are killing monsters. The rest of the time, we’re digging through the dirt for a tiny piece of the perpetrator’s pubic hair.”

I also love the story-telling. So, I highly recommend the short stories. Ilona Andrews is good at short stories, which is something I highly appreciate—the ability to tell a tale in a limited space.

I tried listening to Gunmetal Magic as an audio book, but we had to turn it off. I’m not sure precisely what it was, but I hated the narration. So try Gunmetal Magic or one of the many shorter stories to see what you think. It is a riveting series.

They also have several other series out, but I found them a little more uneven than the Kate Daniels series. Also, with the exception of Gunmetal Magic, a lot of the books in this series have utterly awful covers.

This series currently has ten books, the tenth of which is scheduled to come out in May 2018. This book and the Kate Daniels series has boinking, but it takes Kate and Curran a ridiculously long time to work out their differences and misunderstandings, which is possibly something else that makes me rate the series a little lower than it might otherwise deserve.


Moon Called (2006) Patricia Briggs (Mercy Thompson)

The fae outed themselves to the world years earlier, so now vampires and werewolves are all but an open secret, hiding from the public for fear of social and political reactions.

And so the lesser fae, the weak and attractive, revealed themselves at the command of the Gray Lords. The great and terrible, the powerful or powerfully ugly, stayed hidden, awaiting the reaction of the world to the more palatable among them. Here, said the Gray Lord’s spin doctors who had been McBride’s lawyers, here are a hidden people: the gentle brownie who taught kindergarten because she loved children; the young man, a selkie, who risked his life to save the victims of a boating accident.

Mercy Thompson, however, is a shifter—unlike werewolves she changes easily into her coyote self, but she also doesn’t have the magic healing ability that comes with being a were. Having been raised by Bran, the head of all the werewolves in the US, she is familiar with both her own weakness, and how to deal with werewolves. Which is good, because Bran has the Alpha of the tri-cities pack watching over her.

The Marrok, the leader of the North American werewolves, insists that all of the wolves wear a collar when they run in the cities, with tags that identify them as someone’s pet. He also insists the names on the tags be something innocuous like Fred or Spot, no Killers or Fangs.

There is so much I adore about Mercy. First, she’s a VW mechanic. Which is not a typical job for a heroine. Second, she has worked hard for the skills she has.

I’m in good shape, and I have a purple belt from the dojo just over the railroad track from my garage, but I’m no match for a werewolf.

There are several male characters in this series. Adam, the head of the local pack. Samuel, Bran’s son, and then various members of the local pack, fae Mercy knows, and the average citizens whose cars she fixes. It is these secondary characters that, for me, have kept the series so strong. I adore Warren, one of Mercy’s best friends, and his story alone was enough to keep me reading, but I do very much like Mercy’s discovery of her heritage and the skills she does have as the series progresses.

The veil of civilization fell away from me rather easily, I thought, taking the empty cup and twisting it back on the thermos. All it had taken was the sight of that bruise, and I was ready to do murder.

In general, this series is not dark, but in a couple of books it does go into some very dark, very hard to read places. It’s well-worth reading, but it is hard.

Another thing I especially like is that when Mercy does something stupid and gets herself hurt, she is actually hurt, and requires time and hospitalization to heal. I think that makes the sacrifices she chooses to make all the more important, since she knows she’ll suffer for each injury in a way the werewolves around her will not.

There is boinking in this book, but not a lot. Also, once Mercy finally settles down, the relationship becomes a strength, which is important, because at times Mercy needs that extra strength.

There is also a short-story anthology of stories set in Mercy Thompson’s world, Shifting Shadows, which has a lot of stories of secondary characters. Also, if you click on the Patricia Briggs link above, there is a listing of all the stories in chronological order, so you can see where the various books and stories fit into the timeline.

I don’t adore the narrator of this series, but I found her fine to listen to. This series currently has ten books and is ongoing. I also highly recommend reading the parallel series, Alpha & Omega, which features Bran’s younger son, Charles, and his mate, but there are also appearances by Asil, who is possibly my favorite secondary character in that series.


Halfway to the Grave (2007) Jeaniene Frost (Night Huntress)

Vampires and ghouls exist, but the public doesn’t know this. Cat, however, does, being as she is a half-vampire who has made it her life goal to kill every vampires she comes across.

Couple things—this is very much a boinking series. All her books are boinking books. But her characters are so well done and fascinating I don’t even mind all the boinking. And with this series, Cat and Bones are very quickly a devoted couple, and once they eventually get past their misunderstandings, their relationship becomes a strength to them, rather than an ongoing problem in each book.

She has also had spin-off series that take characters she has introduced here and give them their own stories, because those characters grew beyond the limitations of Cat’s story. And there are series set in the same world, several of which I’ve read.

I haven’t re-read this series in a while. I keep meaning to, but then think, “Am I in the mood for all this boinking?” and the answer is generally no. Even if it is well-done boinking. Also, I don’t yet have all these as ebooks (since I originally bought the series as mass market paperbacks.

This series is completed, although Kat and Bones appear occasional in other stories.


Skinwalker (2009) Faith Hunter (Jane Yellowrock)

This is currently one of my favorite series. I haven’t re-read the books in several years, but I recently got caught up on listening to all the audio books (I very much like the narrator for this series).

Vampires were outed to the world when Marilyn Monroe tried to turn President Kennedy. Since they vamps have tried to integrate into the modern world, and people like Jane Yellowrock have come to take care of vamps that don’t follow the rules.

But Jane has her own secrets—she has the ability to shift to any animal of a similar mass whose DNA she has access too, such as a tooth or bone. And inside her she has the soul of another creature: Beast.

First off, Beast is often my favorite character in the book, although it is a close thing, because I find all the characters well done.

I looked at woman. She looked at me. At necklace on my neck. Jane’s necklace.

“Jane?” she whispered. “Oh my God. Jane.”

I hacked. Not God. Not Jane. Beast.

Beast perked up at the description of the food. Gator. Human killed gator? Human man is good hunter! Hungry for gator. And the picture she sent me was a whole gator, snout, teeth, feet, claws, tail, skin, and all, crusty with batter. I chuckled and sent her a more likely mental picture. Inside she huffed with disappointment.

There are currently 11 books in this series, and it is on-going with the 12th book scheduled to be published in May of 2018. Although some books are weaker than others, I’ve enjoyed them and always look forward to the next book, generally reading it as soon as its published.

One of the things I particularly like about this series is how Jane slowly develops friendships. She was raised in an orphanage of sorts, and so doesn’t always have the best people skills, so it’s a joy when she finally develops close friendships and the love that goes with them (I don’t mean boinking love, I mean the love you have for good friends who have stood by you).

I’m about to say something that sounds like a contradiction, but it’s really not. Some of the problems that Jane gets into are not the kind of problems that could be resolved quickly. I like that the resolution of these things takes several books. That does not mean these issues are cliff-hangers; I mean that some issues aren’t easily resolved, and it might take a weeks or even years and a lot of work to fix them. Although it’s hard to see Jane deal with these problems for so long, it’s nice to see characters actually working out their issues.

Faith Hunter is also very good with short stories, so I highly recommend looking for one of the collections, since that will give you an idea of the writing and characters, but except for the stories, you don’t want to start this series in the middle. You do need to start at the beginning and work forward.

Two last notes—I do very much enjoy the narrator, and I love the amount of effort that was put into these covers. The initial covers were trying very hard, and although they didn’t always get things right, they put in the effort. Jane is always in an active pose, submissive to no one, and when they do use a Native American model when they can find one. (They can’t always, but I’m willing to forgive that, since I know authors get little say in their covers.)


bloodoftheearthBlood of the Earth (2016) Faith Hunter (Soulwood)

This is a spin-off of the Jane Yellowrock series, featuring a young Southern woman raised in a religious commune who is attempting to both make her way in the world while figuring out who she is.

Initially I was unsure about this spin-off, but quickly fell in love with it.

I set the shotgun on the table and got out three pottery mugs. I wasn’t using John’s maw-maw’s good china for outsiders whom I might have to shoot later. That seemed deceitful.

She also has powers that might have gotten her killed as a child—an ability to commune with the nature, specifically the land upon which she lives, but also with trees and such.

(O)ne tree, a dogwood, had taken root and another had tried to and died. The ground was covered in pine needles, and when I pushed a hand through to the soil, it was to discover that the lone tree was afraid, fearfearfear leaking through every rootlet and stem and reddening leaf. It had been afraid since its partner tree had died, thinking it the last tree on the face of the Earth.

This book has a character from Jane’s books, Rick le Fleur, who is complicated in his own right. It’s interesting that although he was never a favorite, I do find him rather fascinating in this series.

The same narrator reads this series as Jane’s series, and I very much like her. I also like the covers. Nell is not a fighter, and the covers reflect that. But she is also neither passive nor a victim, something that is difficult to get across.

This series currently has three published books and another book scheduled for publication in December 2017. So far, there has not been any boinking in this series.


The Rook (2012) Daniel O’Malley

Apparently, Daniel O’Malley is the token male on this list of books with female protagonists.

This is an extremely difficulty book to describe, so I’ll just give you a quote from the start of the book.

Dear You,

The body you are wearing used to be mine. The scar on the inner left thigh is there because I fell out of a tree and impaled my leg at the age of nine. The filling in the far left tooth on the top is a result of my avoiding the dentist for four years. But you probably care little about this body’s past. After all, I’m writing this letter for you to read in the future. Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing. The answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is because I knew it would be necessary.

The complicated answer could take a little more time.

Do you know the name of the body you are in? It’s Myfanwy. Myfanwy Alice Thomas. I would say that it’s my name, but you’ve got the body now, so I suppose you’ll be using it.

I think you can best describe this is a fantasy spy thriller. Except that the spy is a forensic accountant. And there are humans with special abilities, who are snagged by the government as soon as those abilities appear.

(T)he most effective psychics are the ones who never realize they’re psychic and instead manage to live excellent lives by consistently making the right decisions. Their powers effectively guide them through the shoals of life without their knowing.

I really liked this book and its sequel, and am sorry there doesn’t seem to be another book forthcoming. The writing is sharp and the dialog is snarky and the story is just plain fun.


Tempest Rising (2009) Nicole Peeler (Jane True)

Jane True lives in a small New England town with her father, and is an outcast for something that happened years previously. At the start of the story, supernatural creatures are unknown to Jane because they carefully hide themselves from the world. Obviously, she soon leans of the supernatural.

There are several things I particularly like about this series. First, is the use of the varied creatures of folk lore and fairy tales. There is so much material out there, it was a delight to read about more than vampires and werewolves.

Second, Jane True feels like an actual, normal, human woman. Take this passage, that still amuses me.

…I wiped my nose on his shirt. I was snotty from crying and he was already filthy. It wasn’t ideal but he was holding me so tight I couldn’t move my arms.

“Did you just wipe your nose on me?” he asked, finally. His voice was tight with various emotions, but “oh no you didn’t” had clawed its way to the top of the list.

“Maybe,” I mumbled, peering up at him.

That still cracks me up, because it’s so something that happens in real life but never gets mentioned in books.

This is a boinking book, but the series also has a HEA story arc. There are six books in this completed series, so although there is a cliffhanger in the next-to-last book, that’s not an issue anymore.


Kitty’s Greatest Hits (2011) Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville)

Kitty was attacked and savaged by a werewolf and her life hasn’t been the same since. She belongs to a pack that rules her life as much as her parents had, so her one escape is her radio show: Kitty and the Midnight Hour.

On her radio talk show she discusses weres and vampires and other things with callers. Outsiders think it’s tongue-in-cheek, but really it’s Kitty’s way of saving herself.

If vampires ever spend less time playing theatrics and living down to their stereotypes, they might actually take over the world someday.

This series is more complex than you might expect, and like other supernatural series I like so well, takes a good look at just how the mundane world would deal with supernatural creatures, and the rights of supernatural creatures.

This series also has my favorite vampire ever.

“All the jokes about blood and the Eucharist aside— I can’t walk into a church anymore. I can’t go to Mass. And I can’t kill myself because that’s wrong. Catholic doctrine teaches that my soul is lost, that I’m a blot on God’s creation. But Kitty— that’s not what I feel. Just because my heart has stopped beating doesn’t mean I’ve lost my soul, does it?”

She wrote a short story about Rick the vampire, “Conquistador de la Noche” and it is one of my favorite short stories. You can find it in her short story collection, along with another favorite vampire short story, “Defining Shadows”, which appeared in Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (2013) edited by Paula Guran.

There is boinking in this series, but once Kitty falls in love, her relationship and marriage are a stability and a strength to her, which is something I really like.

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