Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Problem with Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is one of my favorite genres. It's like crack candy, and I keep getting sucked into 10 book series when my reading list is already out of control and I have plenty of other stuff to read. The reason I enjoy it is that, unlike most high/epic fantasy novels (especially from earlier than about 10-15 years ago), the women are the main characters in urban fantasy, they're part of the action and driving the story.
However, the main problems I have with urban fantasy are two-fold. The first is that the main character is often a special snowflake--she's some kind of Chosen One, the one with some amazing or unique ability and there's no one like her in the world. Which would be ok on occasion, but when you see it over and over in just about every series, it's a little eye-rolling. These women are often kickbutt warriors (and can take out 20 men on their own, but yet they're 5'2" and 90 pounds), but going along with that, they're often the only women in a man's world. They very rarely have any female friends, any women they do come across, there's usually jealousy or antagonism, or "thank god I'm not like them." Which is internalized misogyny and obnoxious.
The other issue I have is an even bigger one. It's the men, the love interests. For some infallible reason, urban fantasy is absolutely rife with controlling, jealous, domineering, abusive, homicidal raging, stalking "heroes." Inevitably, the heroine hates or is terrified of the hero at first, but then they're falling into bed together and we're supposed to be charmed and swooning over it. No thank you.
Although there are far worse offenders out there, one of the ones that really upsets me is the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews. The thing is, I absolutely love Kate as a character, I enjoy the world-building, enjoy that she has more than one female friend, and I like many of the secondary characters. But Curran, the hero has ruined it for me. I've just finished the 4th book, and I have absolutely no desire to go on. He's got worse as the series goes on. He breaks into her apartment several times before they ever start dating; he flies into a jealous rage if a man stands too close to Kate, whether or not they are interested in her at all, and when a man does actually take Kate on a date, again, this is before she even starts dating Curran, Curran goes and destroys a garage full of expensive cars that the other man owns. Kate spends the first two books intimidated and frightened of Curran; he manipulates her repeatedly and tries to force her into doing whatever he wants if that doesn't work; flies into rages if Kate gets into a dangerous situation (never mind that her freaking job for much much longer than she has known Curran is working as a knight, solving dangerous crimes, and has been training for these situations since she was all of 5 years old, and that she is has incredibly powerful magic); has resorted to physically picking her up and locking her in a room to "keep her safe." He's constantly telling her what to do, wants her to quit her job, stop working, and stay put in his house. It's disgusting and I feel like I've fallen into a 1950s wormhole. And the absolute worst part is, as I say, there are far worse heroes out there. How and why did this become sexy?

So then, are there urban fantasy series that aren't quit that bad? Yes--the first is the Jane Yellowrock series by Faith Hunter. Jane is a Cherokee shapeshifter. 6' tall, and an enforcer, that is, she kills vampires for a living, so is an awesome fighter (and I love that she's not a tiny waif). Although there is some occasional alpha maleness, and occasional annoyance in that her animal likes that (long story); Jane refuses to put up with any stalking/controlling/abusiveness in the shape of romance. And continues on, awesomely often saving the lives of the men around her. Also awesome, she has a female best friend who is often important to the plot, Jane is a godmother to her friend's children, and she rarely sees herself in competition with other women, just because they're women.
The other series is the world of the Lupi series by Eileen Wilks. There is also the occasional alpha male thing here, and frustratingly, the whole trope about how women have never been werewolves and the whole pack dominance thing, which is not remotely how a real wolf pack works--which could be a whole other post about how sexist just the werewolves tropes are in urban fantasy. However, despite the werewolves often being rather patronizing to the women (who are part of their packs in that they are sisters, daughters, etc, but still not werewolves); they do not abuse, intimidate, or try to control them. And the main character, Lily, who can sense and negate the magic around her, is a FBI agent. Her boyfriend is a werewolf alpha, but again, no attempts on his part to dominate her or force her into submission like most of the other werewolf books. And Lily often horrifies other werewolves by merrily going about her FBI, no-nonsense, taking charge way, including towards her boyfriend. As in the Jane Yellowrock series, Lily has a female friend, although they don't necessarily start out that way at the beginning of the series; and there are other important women characters. Also, the werewolves' mythology is that they have a patron goddess who created them, and through the series, they fight for her against a dark goddess. So having the two most powerful beings in this universe as female is pretty cool.

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