I read this book on my wife’s urging that I read some best-sellers in a related genre (aka paranormal
sex fantasies romance) and due to my own interest in reading works from perspective other than mine (in this case, by and for women). Being in a somewhat related genre (paranormal mixed with mystery) this was a good option.
I won’t make this in my full review format (a bit of a moot point, given Harris’ success with the series), but a more introspective review on how reading this affects my own views about reading and writing.
First, the book was an enjoyable read. I’m not sure when/if I’ll pick the next one, but this is a reflection of my own tastes. The main character has a good voice, the world-building is done well, the plot is what you’d expect in a slowly building mystery. If paranormal romance is your thing, you probably heard and read this series already, and if it isn’t – well, then this is just a good example of a genre you’re not interested in anyway.
So on to the introspective part. I’ve read this book while I was working on revisions from my editor for In Numina, so language was a key thing I noticed. There were quite a few aspects that I felt my editor would never let me get away with. To be fair, though, Felix is an educated professional from Rome, while Stackhouse is an uneducated waitress from rural Louisiana. One naturally expects a certain difference in linguistic patterns. Still, I thought that there were aspects that could have been tightened. I’ll blame my editor for being extra keen in educating me to notice these.
The other aspect that bothered me is the romance bit. I find that Dead Until Dark (published 2001) has the same element as Twilight (published 2005) or Fifty Shades (published 2011). I’ll admit that with the last two I only saw the movies, but there is a very clear commonality about all of them: The “porn” element has nothing to do with sex. All three prime examples represent the same pattern, namely, a powerful male (whether an unbelievably rich human or a supernaturally powerful creature) suddenly falls desperately in love with a rather plain female protagonist, claims her as his, and takes her on a wonderful journey of self-discovery (aided by his riches / powers, naturally).
And people say I write unrealistic fantasy because there’s magic and stuff…
As a human male with no secret bank accounts or paranormal abilities, but who still considers himself to have a romantic streak to an extent, I find that unsatisfying. I know I’m trying to read a work from the perspective of “the other” (i.e. not within my own realm of experience), but I still fail to see how the characterisation of the relationships in those books is anything but unrealistic fantasy.
There is no denying that this satisfies a market segment, but since I’m not the usual reader of the genre, there’s also no surprise that it doesn’t appeal to me. (I believe male paranormal romance authors are a minority – hence the comment about it being by and for women.)
So where does that leave me? In my quest to improve my writing, is there something I can learn here? My feeling is that this does not contribute much to the Felix novels. Felix has his dry, wry, cynical understatements while he faces supernatural mysteries with a visceral horror element. Will this help me in other writing projects, to better portray a woman’s perspective? Perhaps, though past experience indicates that readers place a more significant emphasis than warranted on the author’s sex/race/creed in their ability to portray other perspectives, rather than just focusing on the actual words on the page (more on that another time). i.e. There a vastly diminishing return here on improving a weakness, vs generally working to my strengths.
I think, in the respect that I read this to better understand view points other than mine, that I’ll stick to the general best advice: Write individuals, not stereotypes. Each character is their own amalgamation of background and issues and peeves and quirks and whatnot. Read extensively to understand other viewpoints and to help you construct said humans, but realise both that the shared human experience is the same, and that there will always be someone who’ll blame you for getting the specifics wrong.
So just keep on writing! That’s what we’re here for.