Random (but not really)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Supernatural Fantasy, Male Protagonist

This is list going to be much shorter, not because I dislike male protagonists, but because I slightly tend to prefer reading about female characters.

Interestingly, for the female characters, the term hero could easily have been used when describing those women, for these books, several of the characters are far more complicated. They aren’t bad guys, but they’re not always good guys either. These books with male leads are more likely to have a noir feel than my favorite books with female protagonists.

Which makes me wonder—who do I have so few ethically complicated female characters on my favorites list? Hmmm.

Best of Index


The-devil-you-knowThe Devil You Know (2006) Mike Carey (Felix Castor)

Felix Castor is an exorcist, a job that has been in demand since the dead starting coming back in the late 90s.

(T)he Bible is strangely coy on the subject of the were-kind, hedges its bets on demons, and draws a big fat blank on ghosts, so the Christians and the Jews didn’t really seem to be any better placed than the rest of us to call the toss.

But he’s refused all jobs after his last job–one he was doing for free, for a friend–went terribly horribly wrong.

This is a super-dark series that is not for everyone. It’s rather like The Nightside series, in that it is over-the-top awful, with things so ridiculous they become almost silly.

On the door frame there were a good half-dozen wards against the dead, ranging from a sprig of silver birch bound with white thread to a crudely drawn magic circle with the word ekpiptein written across it in Greek script. That translates as “bugger off until you’re wanted, you bodiless bastards.” Greek is a very concise language.

However, Felix really is quite a bastard, and when bad things happen to him, you pretty much feel like perhaps he deserves them.  This is a five book series that is completed. As I said, it is extremely dark, and not for everyone, but is one that I very much do like.


Night Watch (1998/2006) Sergei Lukyanenko translated by Andrew Bromfield (Night Watch)

There exists, just beyond the reach of most people, an impossible world, the Twilight, where seemingly normal people can do supernatural things using power from that world. This series is Russian and the primary location is Moscow, although the main character, Anton, frequently travels.

I’m not even sure how many times I’ve re-read this series anymore. But probably a dozen times (including listening to the audio books). Anton isn’t an anti-hero, but he is complex, and constantly involved in things beyond his understanding.

One of the reasons I love this series is that I find the Russian character fascinating, both in how it is similar and yet different to western European and American character.

One of the quirks of people who’ve managed to find their place in life is that they believe that’s the way things ought to be. Everything simply works out the way it ought to. And if someone feels shortchanged by life, then he has only himself to blame. He must be either lazy and stupid.

In a war the most dangerous thing is to understand the enemy. To understand is to forgive.

You know what they say? A Siberian isn’t someone who doesn’t feel the cold, he’s someone who’s warmly dressed!

It also contains one of my favorite scenes, a lovely bit that really didn’t have much of anything to do with the plot, but delights me every time I read it.

I followed the old woman into the “large room”… The walls were covered in black-and-white photographs… I realized that the blindingly beautiful young woman with the white teeth, wearing a flying helmet, was my elderly lady.

“I bombed the Fritzes,” the lady said modestly as she sat down at a round table covered with a maroon velvet tablecloth with tassels. “Look, Kalinin himself presented me with that medal…”

Absolutely dumbfounded, I took a seat facing the former flyer.

Each book is split into three sections, each a complete story arc, and all three relating to each other. The second book is about the Day Watch, and so there is little of Anton in the first to stories, but it is still very good and well-worth your time. There are six books in the series, and, strangely, I haven’t got around to reading the 6th, because it was only recently published, and I’m not sure I want the end of the series. Well, also because then I want to re-read the entire series from start to finish, and there are other books I do want to read.


Half-Resurrection-BluesHalf-Resurrection Blues (2015) Daniel José Older (Bone Street Rumba)

There is a world of the dead that very few are aware, and the Council of the Dead works very hard to keep things that way. But there are some people who can see the dead, and even converse with them. And then there are people like Carlos, who died and was somehow brought most (but not all) the way back.

There are many many things I love about Daniel José Older’s books. First, he writes kick-ass female characters. This isn’t something a lot of male authors always do especially well, so I like to star it when I come across it. It’s not just that the female characters are complex and interesting, it’s that he’s actually listened to women, and these characters reflect that.

Secondly, as a white woman from West (by God) Virginia, I love characters who are different from me. I am well-familiar with rural poverty, and being a woman, and being white, so it’s a joy to read characters who are so very different from me. And I don’t mean people that can do magic, or elves or vampires. I mean characters whose life experience is utterly different from mine.

It’s still the wrong century for two brown men to be driving a pickup truck with mysteriously tarped cargo towards lower Manhattan.

(A)nother little guy is definitely Indian/ Pakistani or maybe Puerto Rican. Or half-black. Whatever he is, he gets randomly searched every time he’s within twenty feet of an airport.

But I especially love the bits that remind me that we’re not so very different.

The eight-year-old giggles every time her abuelo picks up a card. Her laughter rises to a joyous cackle and she crows, “Uno!” The old man fusses with his mustache, furrows his brow, and then picks a card. And then another. “Chingada madre,” he mutters as the laughter continues unabated across the table. “Mierda.” Finally, he puts down one with a sigh and the girl gets real serious, scrunches up her face, and draws a card, then slams it down, yells, “Uno!” again, and resumes laughing.

That is, truly, one of my favorite scenes. It makes me giddy with delight every time I read it.

I am having a very difficult time deciding which book to recommend you to read first.  Half-Resurrection Blues (2015) is Carlo’s book, and the start of the series and is fabulous. Salsa Nocturna (2012) is an anthology with Carlos stories, but also stories about other characters, including Gordo, who I absolutely adore.

If I walk onto a playground, and I swear to you I’m never the instigator, it’s like some memo goes out: Drop whatever game you’re playing and come chase the fat guy. Family events and holidays? Forget it. I don’t really mind because I hate small talk, and if there’s one thing about kids, they give it to you straight: “Tío Gordo, why you so big?”

And I get real serious looking. “Because I eat so many children,” I say.

Then they run off screaming and, usually, I give chase until I start wheezing.

So which should you read first? I suppose it depends upon whether you prefer short stories or novels. You definitely need to read both, since there are events and characters in Salsa Nocturna that appear in the third book. There are currently three books in this series, plus the anthology. The story arc started in the third book is complete, so I don’t know if there is going to be another book. Though I hope so, because I do love these books and characters.

[NOTE: The Shadowshaper series will be mentioned in another post. Don’t worry, I didn’t skip it.]


Nightlife (2006) Rob Thurman (Cal Leandros)

Cal Leandros is part monster. He’s known this forever. Luckily, his brother Niko knows he is also part human, and does his best to remind Cal of that.

I utterly adore this series. I’ve said before that it’s a love story between two brothers, as they save each other time and again.

I started into the depths of the carnival, not bothering to check to see if he was following. He was. It wasn’t something I had to see or hear to know. Niko watched my back. Always. The mountains would fall and the oceans dry to dust before that ever changed.

But never the less, they are brothers.

“I’m a man? Yeah? Do I get a bar mitzvah?”

“The bris comes first. Do you want to borrow my tanto? I sharpened it this past weekend.”

“You should try literature that contains words of more than two syllables, little brother. You might just learn something.”

“‘Voluptuous’ has more than two syllables.” Turning the book right side up, I scanned the page. “So does ‘nymphomaniac,’” I added.

To be clear, this is a very dark series. The first book opens with Cal being stabbed by Niko. And the monsters who sired Cal are truly horrible, although much of the horror is left to your imagination.

There are ten books in this series and I’ll be honest, I still haven’t finished the last book. I’m pretty sure it’s the final book and, well, I just haven’t been able to.  One last thing—I think the covers for these books are absolutely perfect. They are well-done and completely fit the tone and feeling of the books.

Also, I like her Trixa series, and was sorry there weren’t more books.

Apparently do NOT read the last book in the Cal Leandros series. It looks like the final book was canceled, and thar the last book published contains a GIANT cliffhanger. So, I guess I shan’t read that last book.

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