This is a sort-of pre-review, I suppose.
One of my preferred authors for urban fantasy is Charlaine Harris. If she heard me say so, she would probably shudder.
Harris has two series that I consider to be great UF — Sookie Stackhouse (which was made into the True Blood TV series that eventually came apart at the seams), and the series that I’m currently reading, Gunnie Rose.
I’ve also read the Midnight, Texas trilogy and while I finished all three books (which doesn’t happen as frequently as I’d like, with other authors), it wasn’t great. It actually felt like she was painting by numbers to fulfill some contractual obligation connected to the TV series of the same name.
I saw part of the first episode of the TV series. It was awful.
The reason that Charlaine Harris shudders if she’s called either a romance writer or an urban fantasy writer is that she thinks of herself as a mystery & suspense writer.
Most of the series that she wrote before Sookie Stackhouse changed both her life and her career were mostly murder mysteries with some paranormal elements. Usually the amateur sleuth featured in the series had some sort of supernatural power that helped her solve crimes, while also completely messing up her personal life.
I’ve read interviews Harris has given around the time True Blood first reached TV, and they left me with an impression that not only did Harris not want to be called a fantasy writer, she actively disliked the genre. Ditto romance (despite romance readers adopting her as one of their favourite authors, and Sookie and Eric as their favourite romantic couple).
Harris is still writing damn good suspense with paranormal elements that looks a lot like good urban fantasy. I don’t know if her attitude has changed since then (as Trule Blood first aired in September 2008).
I actually didn’t know about the Gunnie Rose series until I tripped over the first book in 2020, two years after it was released.
Primarily, I had avoided Harris ever since the dismal ending of the Stackhouse book series.
I haven’t read the last book in the series, because a lot of romance readers warned me not to, and that it doesn’t end the way the entire series appears to be leading toward.
The skewed and dismembered ending (as blog posts and spoiler-filled analyses have informed me) is awful. Sookie doesn’t find a way to stay with Eric, but instead settles for a secondary character that has been anything but romantic interest throughout the series.
It almost felt like, to me, as though Harris was so determined to not be considered a romance writer, that she slapped romance readers in the face to avoid the tag.
She did that very well indeed.
I stopped looking for new books from her–not because I’m a romance reader (I’ve read them, but they’re not my favourite genre or close to it), but because the Stackhouse series arc was fractured at the end. It was bad plotting and it broke the promise to the readers that she had implied throughout the series.
It was, in my opinion as an author, unprofessional.
But in 2020, I came across the cover of An Easy Death somewhere, and was intrigued enough to dig deeper, because the original cover was super evocative.
The Gunnie Rose series is a brilliant mix of urban fantasy and alternative history. It’s set in what was once the United States, but was fractured into little kingdoms and territories, shortly after the First World War. What was left of the deposed Russian royal family escaped the newly formed Soviet Union and made it’s way to the west coast of America.
The book is set around twenty years after that, in what would have been the Depression in the history we know, but by that time, Harris’ history has wildly diverted from the 1930’s we know.
The writing in An Easy Death is just as evocative and atmospheric as the original cover. Gunnie Rose, the central character, is fascinating. She’s a gun for hire, a sharpshooter, and takes contracts to ride with people who are travelling to different polities, to guard them and their belongings.
Having a hired gun is essential in Harris’ world.
Some of the Russian survivors in this world have the gift/curse of magic, and during one of her contracts, Gunnie Rose meets a brother and sister who are powerful mages…and they’re also being hunted.
Things get very complicated after that.
The second book of the series, A Longer Fall, is just as good as the first, but the third book, The Russian Cage, dips a little in story-telling power. I skimmed through the last half of the book just to find out what happened.
Book 4 in the series, The Serpent in Heaven, came out very late last year, and has been sitting in my reading app since then.
That’s why this is a pre-review.
I haven’t read it yet. I keep putting it off, and tapping on a different book cover, because a) Harris let me down with Sookie Stackhouse. b) She let me down again with Midnight, Texas. 3) Book three of the series didn’t hold me the way the first two did.
On the other hand, Book1 and Book 2 were so good, I bought book 4 despite all of the above.
I hope Harris doesn’t let me down again. I hope she goes back to the haunting atmosphere of the first two books.
Man, she can write, especially when she stops trying to write mystery suspense and goes full-on gritty fantasy.
Have you ever put off reading a book because you didn’t want to be disappointed?
And were you happily delighted or let down when you did finally read it?
Tell me in comments.