How to Miss Out On Great Books

I said in a recent review that I would come back and tell the story of how I came so late to the Retrievers novels and Laura Anne Gilman‘s Cosa Nostradamus world.

Retrievers #1

It’s really quite simple and easy, but if you’re curious, here is Kiara’s Guide to Missing Out On Really Great Books™ .

  1. Hold tight to your tropes.
    • When I first picked up Staying Dead back in 2004 or 2005, I was really big into Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. (We’re all youthful and naive at one point or another.) The genre was just getting big on vampires and werewolves and kick ass chicks in leather pants. Staying Dead had none of these things. Here was a book with a nervous heroine whose “super power” was being ignored. What kind of kick ass chick was THAT?
  2. Scoff at anything outside the “norm”.
    • Electricity as a magic power? That was just too… normal… to be fantasy. Fairies that weren’t tall and coolly elfin and romantically aloof? A heroine who not only had never killed anyone – or even beaten anyone up, from the look of it – but who was afraid of guns?
  3. Dis the romance. Overlook the other relationships.
    • One of the major elements, I think, in the Cosa Nostradamus series is the relationships. Sure, Wren and Sergei have “a thing” blossoming, and that’s the only place I looked at first. “Romance,” I thought to myself, disgustedly. “Who has any use for a heroine who can’t even figure out her love life? Or one who even NEEDS a love life?” But the beauty of this series is that it looks at the ways different people interact with one another. I mean – I’m sure the author didn’t give her main character the ability to be overlooked because she thought it would be FUNNY, you know? Sure, it’s useful for a thief, but what does it do to the person inside – the one who’s being ignored? That’s just one of the incredibly subtle ways that Gilman makes a statement in this series.
  4. Dismiss anything unique as “silly”.
    • A demon who looks like a polar bear? I admit it, I scoffed. Sure, it was cutesy. But he was supposed to be a “fucking demon” (to quote Jason Lee in Dogma). Never mind that this gives a character who could very easily become one dimensional a depth and richness that moves his story from trite to significant. No one takes a monster who looks like a cuddly stuffed animal seriously, after all. So neither did I; I didn’t look any deeper.
  5. Don’t give a decent book a second chance. Or even a first chance, if you can help it.
    • I’m ashamed to admit that I only read Staying Dead a second time because I won a signed copy in a contest and – after months of seeing it still sitting on my shelf – I guiltily decided that I’d better at least READ the damned thing before I found another home for it*. That, and because I agreed with so much of what the author was saying on her website. SURELY, if I liked her non-fiction blogging so much, there must be SOMETHING to like in her fiction too, right? So I decided to read it again.

This was in fall of 2010 and I was in a much different place than I had been. When I first read these books, I was single and bitter about it. I was lost, lonely, and was just starting to gain back some of the confidence and self-esteem that had been destroyed by a bad relationship. Now, I have been happily married for a handful of years and have learned to say things like “No” and “I don’t need you in my life”. Back then, I was happy with a two-dimensional heroine who had what I thought I wanted in life (ruthless ambition, a pair of leather pants, and the power to make sure no one ever hurt her again). The more mature me of now has decided she’d like a little real life (a little moderation, a bit more than a wee taste of fun, and most definitely no chafing from leather pants) in her fantasy, please, kthxbai.

Moreover, now that I have grown a bit older (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) and have begun to take myself more seriously as a writer, I can look deeper into the story and see the grace and finesse. Now, I can appreciate Gilman’s obvious experience as an author and what she’s trying to do as an artist. I had previously (idiotically) been dismissing the very things that make this series so interesting and unique. I’m now three books into the series and I’m waiting to get my hands on the fourth. The only reason I took a break is because my TBR shelf was giving me sullen stares when it thought I wasn’t looking.

So, kiddies, don’t be like me. Just because you’re not in English Lit anymore and just because genre novels aren’t the usual college fare doesn’t mean that you have to turn your brain off when you’re reading a novel. (Although that’s fun sometimes, too!) So pay attention, be on the lookout, and don’t forget to eat your Wheaties. Oh, and give the Retrievers a look. You might be as surprised as I was on your first (or second) time through.

*And in case you’re wondering: no, you can’t have my copy. I’ve changed my mind. It’s not going anywhere.

 

3 responses to “How to Miss Out On Great Books

  1. Ah hah! Yes, it’s a switch from LKH (yeah, I was there, too, from the mid 90s and, powers that be forgive me, in HARDBACKS — although I do please omnibus editions for the first mass). The Retrievers caught my attention because the series was so antithetical to AB and her harem of interchangeables (or Merry Gentry and her even LARGER harem).

    I could think of some more pearls of triteness, but it’s not even 7 am yet and I need more cold med. Thanks for the review (and the second try) of one of my fave series.

    • You’re absolutely right, Sherri. I try to think of the time I spent on those OTHER series as a “learning experience”. It makes me feel a BIT less foolish about how long I stayed in that game, anyway. Thanks for stopping by!

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