Ramblings from the Desert

The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. ~Benjamin Franklin

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Location: New Mexico

Author of the urban fantasy novel, The Music of Chaos, and the paranormal romance, The Canvas Thief.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Serial Fatigue



Series are a bit like marriage. After a while, all those adorable things your spouse does, the things that charmed in the beginning, get real annoying.

Perhaps that's an exaggeration. Marriage isn't that bad. But there is something that doesn't like a series that extends beyond six novels. Case in point, Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series and Charlaine Harris's Southern Vampire series. The latter just starting to show wear, and the former running like a king-sized SUV on petrol dregs.

I am a fan of both series. Otherwise, I wouldn't slog through each successive offering.

The Stephanie Plum series started strong with One for the Money and peaked around Four to Score. The fifth and sixth novels, however, started to fail via the weakness and strength of the series: the protagonist. Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter, her career a function of desperation and familial blackmail. She always gets her man, but largely though happy serendipity. The problem is, by Hot Six, one invariably finds her chronic ineptitude a little tiresome.

The premise is open-ended, with no strong overarching goal, and each book follows a predictable formula. Stephanie pursues bail-jumping wife beaters and car thieves, many of whom seem to end up naked, and hilarity ensues. At her best, Evanovich is great fun.

In Eleven on Top, Evanovich seems to give herself a new angle: Stephanie decides to give up bounty hunting and try a real job. The idea is promising, but unfortunately, Stephanie's heart just isn't in it. Instead of the fun interplay we might see if she really tried to hold down a job, Stephanie approaches the task with little enthusiasm. There's no doubt she's going to fail, but at least she could try a little harder.

It's obvious that Stephanie is in no real danger, so this novel's maniac poses no sense of menace. And maniac's other victims are never onstage, just names on the page. In comparison to books seven through ten, Eleven on Top is an improvement, but it still hasn't recaptured the honeymoon feel of the earlier books.

Dead to the World is only the fourth in the Southern Vampire Series. Like the above series, the strength is the protagonist. Instead of the tired, ass-kicking, embittered vampire slayer, Sookie Stackhouse is all-human, albeit gifted with telepathy. Until Bill the vampire comes along, her love life has been nonexistence. See, she can't read Bill's mind. With a human boyfriend, she would be privy to his thoughts. Imagine asking, "Does this make my ass look big?" and hearing your guy think, "Yes. As the moon."

Sookie is real, compassionate and accessible. Harris doesn't bother with the gothic and over-bloody versions of vampires seen in other series. And so far she hasn't descended into the "fuck every male on set" pseudo-plots typical of the sub-genre.

In Dead to the World, Sookie and Bill's relationship is on the rocks. Unfortunately, not much happens in this book, which exposes the protagonist's weakness. Sookie is nice, but not terribly dynamic and without a fast-moving plot, she is rather dull. Like the pleasant co-worker who talks and talks as your eyes glaze over and you write grocery list in your head.

Sookie's brother has disappeared. Meanwhile, Bill's vampire boss, Eric turns up naked on a country road where Sookie just happens along to save him. A coven of Eeeevil witches has erased his memory (a point never really explained) and Sookie gets to take care of his blond-blood-loving hunk-ness. Yeah. You know where that's going.

Harris's cozy mystery roots are showing in Dead to the World; there is a lot of wandering around and chatting, but not much action.

One of the biggest failings of this book is the author's decision to bring on every character from previous books. The problem is especially problematic with a first person POV book; this scatters the focus. I suspect this is a temptation driven by the desire to please fans of all the characters. She also seems a bit enamored with her world-building, introducing an "elf" for no reason whatsoever, except because elves are "purty."

Probably most disconcerting element in this book is the sudden Mary Sue trend. With the exception of Bill, Sookie hasn't had much sexual experience, so I'm glad she gets some side action in Dead to the World. But every other male that Sookie meets has the hots for her. Along with Kelley Armstrong, Harris is one of my favorite writers of things supernatural, but only if she doesn't go for the supernatural fuck-fests of "another writer."

The problem with any series, especially for an author, is keeping the stories fresh, letting the protagonist(s) evolve, all without losing the original charm of the series.

Ultimately, both series are a success in that I will be reading the next book in both. Glutton for punishment, I 'spose.

 

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