Friday, 16 April 2010

weekend adventures in YA urban fantasy, plus rachel caine - glass houses

Spent the weekend hunting through bookshops in Weymouth for YA urban fantasies with strong heroines. I barely escaped with my sanity, because every single YA urban fantasy seems to have the exact same cover. Black. Pale cover model. Gothic text in vivid colour. Examples: Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series; PC and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series; Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series. It was like browsing a shelf of identical octuplets. Maybe it’s done with mirrors, and there’s only one real book cover -- the iconic apple cover of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight -- and its millions of reflections.

Anyway, once I fought off the identical octuplets, I looked at two books, Aprilynne Pike’s Wings and Rachel Caine’s Glass Houses. One I put down, one I bought.

I gave Aprilynne Pike’s Wings ten pages to hook me. Like every YA urban fantasy ever written, it opens with the protagonist meeting a hot guy in biology class. What is it about biology class? I assume this and the identical scene in Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush are deliberate homages to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, but even so, it’s such an unimaginative way to introduce a character. Nobody ever seems to meet during a burglary, or whitewater rafting, or anything outside a classroom.

But the biology class wasn’t a deal-breaker. The deal-breaker was that I learned plenty about the protagonist’s physical appearance (so supermodel-stunning that everybody is jealous) and nothing about the protagonist’s personality (um ... she’s a vegan). Classic blank page heroine. No thank you.

Then I flicked through Rachel Caine’s Glass Houses, the first in her Morganville Vampires series, and 16-year-old heroine Claire Danvers won my heart instantly. She’s smart, brave and vulnerable, describing herself as “small” and “average”, struggling to deal with the scary new world of college. Unlike Stephenie Meyer’s Bella Swan, whose only ambition is to marry Edward and have his little vampiric babies, Claire dreams of Yale, Caltech, MIT. Her textbooks love her when nobody in her cut-throat dorm does. She values studying so much she’s willing to brave vampires and murderous cheerleaders just to get to class. Heck yes, I bought that.

Glass Houses is a fast-paced and fun read. The real strength of this book is the characterisation. The four inhabitants of the titular Glass House are so close they’re practically a Nakama, and each of them is beautifully drawn. (For bonus points, Claire’s friendship with kickass goth Eve aces the Bechdel test). I want to move in there, but since I can’t, I’ll be picking up the next.

Verdict = 4 out of 5 stars. Glass Houses is enjoyable with an adorable heroine and an unexpectedly shocking ending.


  1. Yes, the Biology Class Hook-Up needs to go already! I'll add Alyson Noel's EVERMORE to the list of books who does that, also to those which I've given the 10-page treatment and cover-once-over before putting it back on the shelf with much muttering about blank page heroines and contrived story lines.

    Heard a lot of good things about Rachel Caine's MORGANVILLE VAMPIRE series and will probably have to pick it up; I quite enjoyed the first book of her WEATHERWARDEN series too.

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  3. Aw, I preferred the original cover.

    You just provided the lightening to bring my frankenplot to life. Biology class + bad boy + a particular narrator of mine => hospitalized bad boy.

    I didn't find Wings so bad. Weird and blah, but at least it didn't include alcoholism without consequences and so forth.

    EDIT: link repaired