Sunday, August 17, 2008

Crossing the Divide Between Genres

I've mentioned fantasy writer Patricia Briggs multiple times on this blog. Briggs writes the Mercy Thompson urban fantasy series published by Ace about a coyote shapeshifter who lives in a small Pacific Northwest community populated by werewolves and vampires.

I resisted reading the first book in the series, Moon Called, which was released in January, 2006 because I was soooo burned out on werewolf stories. By the time I read it, Blood Bound, the second in the series was already out.

I read the first two novels very quickly and was enormously impressed by Briggs' skillful characterizations and terrific world-building. In my review of the first two books in the series almost exactly a year ago here, I said the following:
My only quibble is that Briggs seems a little too leery of romance--or maybe it's sex. She skirts around the subject with all the main male characters in love with Mercy, but with her running from them all. This will get tiresome really fast if Briggs doesn't commit soon. Mercy's over thirty, for heaven's sake. By now, she's living with one werewolf on a platonic basis (despite the fact that they were lovers when she was sixteen. And I am so not buying into their being "platonic" now). . .

About ten days before I posted that review, Berkley, sister imprint to Briggs' own publisher, Ace, released an anthology titled On the Prowl. The anthology contained a novella by Briggs titled "Alpha and Omega" (A&O) featuring characters from the Mercy Thompson series, but not Mercy herself.

I was intrigued by the fact that Briggs was crossing imprints. Additionally, there were other differences between A&O and the Mercy Thompson series.

First, the story is written in third person, rather than the more intimate first person style of the Mercy series. Third person permits the sharing of the hero's POV (point of view).

Second, A&O was not an urban fantasy as much as it was a paranormal romance.

Third, although the novella included characters from the Mercy Thompson series, it is set in Chicago, not in the Pacific Northwest.

"Alpha and Omega" tells the the story of Anna, a werewolf belonging to the Chicago pack. The alpha of her pack is out of control, allowing abuse of the more submissive wolves by the dominant. With her alpha's permission, Anna has been repeatedly raped by the pack. While she is unwilling to act on her own behalf, when she discovers another young werewolf has died, Anna phones Bran Cornick, the Marrok of all the North American werewolves, to report the abuse.

The Marrok sends his son Charles, his enforcer, to set things to rights. Anna meets Charles at the airport, and he immediately recognizes that she is not the submissive she thinks. Instead she is a rare Omega werewolf.

A&O is the story of Charles and Anna's romance. Or, more properly, the romance between Charles' wolf and Anna's wolf.

In Briggs' world, the human side of the werewolves generally selects a mate. The wolves go along for the ride. However, in Charles and Anna's case, the wolves immediately recognize each other as lifemates, and the humans are forced to cope with the aftermath of that decision.

I enjoyed the novella, which reminded me a lot of the Christine Feehan romances. Alpha male tamed by spunky woman. The main difference between the two was that Feehan writes vampire romances and Briggs is writing about werewolves. However, as I said earlier, A&O was NOT an urban fantasy. I figured Briggs was trying to tap into the enormous paranormal romance market.

That suspicion proved correct since Briggs has now announced that novella was the introduction to a new series called "Alpha and Omega." The first book in that series was released almost three weeks ago and titled Cry Wolf.

The new novel continues the romance of Charles and Anna as their human halves attempt to find their way as a couple. It picks up immediately after A&O. You have the feeling that A&O was actually the first few chapters of Cry Wolf.

I've read the comment stream on Amazon relating to Cry Wolf. Of the 45 reviews currently posted there, 20 or 44% are five-star. Fourteen or 31% are four-star. About a quarter of the reviews (24%) are three-star or lower. All of the three-star or lower reviews focussed on one of three themes as follows:

Liander gave it three stars saying:
It's basically a fun romance, nothing unique.
Kathleen complained about not knowing Cry Wolf was a continuation of a novella she had not yet read:
Since the book is billed as the first volume in its series, this was more than a little unfair to this reader who had yet to read what should be the first few chapters of this book.
Minsma summed it up this way:
I really loved the story from the On the Prowl anthology which was the basis of this novel, so I was eager to read this one. It's good, I liked it, but it didn't strike me as being as well-paced as most of Ms. Briggs' books--perhaps because the entire opening of the novel was sliced off and turned into a story for the anthology.
Meanwhile, Iron Kissed, the third book in the Mercy Thompson series, was released in January of this year. I gave it a rave review here. I think it is the best of the three Mercy Thompson novels.

Interestingly enough, the community of romance readers was hugely divided on Iron Kissed . Dear Author, one of the most well-known of the romance reader blogs, did two separate posts with Jane giving Iron Kissed an A- here and Jia giving it a C+ here (although Jia had so much distaste for the book I'm surprised she rated it that high). The comment stream of both reviews is well worth reading.

What I found so interesting was that, in both "Alpha and Omega" and in Iron Kissed, the heroine is raped. But the reactions of the mostly female readership were so different to the two rapes.

I suspect this is because in A&O and Cry Wolf the rape is referred to in the past tense as a part of the heroine's backstory while in Iron Kissed, the reader "sees" the rape in actual progress.

It probably says something about me that I preferred Iron Kissed. While I enjoyed "Alpha and Omega," I found reading about Anna in the full-length Cry Wolf annoying. She was a little too much of a victim for my taste. I still haven't finished Cry Wolf. Actually I began reading the new Kat Richardson instead of finishing it.

The whole thing makes me curious to see how the next Mercy Thompson book, Bone Crossed, will do when it comes out next February. I'm looking forward to it. By the way, the first chapter of Bone Crossed is at the back of Cry Wolf, and it makes clear that Mercy is no one's victim.

I'm also looking forward to seeing two series--one an urban fantasy and the other a paranormal romance--written by the same author using the same world and the same characters and published by the same imprint, Ace Fantasy.

By the way, I need to be gone for a week. Look for me to come back on Monday, August 25th.

No comments: