In my recent blog here, I promised some short reviews of recent reads that have two things in common: they’re part of a larger series, and they’re genre mashups. So before we start, it seems like a good time to revisit an earlier blog piece on related genres and see just what that might mean. With the assistance of the ever-helpful plot generator, I’ve created a little story blurb with some genre notes that should cover most of the genres listed.
The Enchanted Hereditary Seal Of The Cozy Mysteries Society
by Barb Taub
Lower Cows Wallop, the
diabetic coma-inducingsweet little village that time forgot, holds a secret.
Justa Minute-You has the perfect life working as a Royal Wedding Bunting Supplier in the city and baking cupcakes with her equally hyphenated boyfriend, Darngood Abs-Definition. However, when she finds the hereditary seal of the Cozy Mysteries Society in her cellar, she begins to realise that things are not quite as they seem in the Minute-You family.
At first the people of Lower Cows Wallop seem to demonstrate excellent command of diction and syntax, and meticulously clean fingernails. But a hotly contested Spring Fete Bakeoff leaves Justa with some startling questions about her past, and she logs onto Lower Cows-Wallop’s surprisingly good internet connection to find some answers.
Justa is intrigued by the curiously melodic voice of hedgehog herder, Bea Serious. However, after Bea gets an innocent Justa hooked on the compulsive attraction of peeling the labels off beer bottles, Justa slowly finds herself drawn into an addictive web of talking on her phone in theaters, playing the accordion in public, and perhaps, even incorrect use of their/there/they’re.
Can Justa resist the charms of Bea Serious, avoid antisocial crimes, correct her grammar, and uncover the secret of the enchanted hereditary seal of the Cozy Mysteries Society before it’s too late? Or will her demise become yet another Lower Cows Wallop legend?
- If this is a hard-boiled detective story, Justa may start out with a partner. If so, said partner will probably be older, perhaps dishonest, but certainly not long for this world. (Especially if Justa starts delivering a running monologue, at which point the only thing left for her partner to do is make sure the life insurance is paid up and the whiskey polished off.) The high mortality rates must make Detective Partnering one of the most hazardous lines of work ever, second only to those guys who wear the red shirts on Star Trek and get killed between the first and second commercial breaks.
- If the detective is a member of the police force who has an idiosyncratic reputation for ignoring direct orders from his/her superiors, it is a police procedural and the writer will have to drop the “idiosyncratic” bit because that’s way too long a word for police dramas.
- If Justa is a little old lady, speaks with a southern accent, bakes cupcakes, or has a cat, it is a cozy mystery. (Sex and violence are strictly scheduled to occur behind decorously closed doors.)
- If the cat answers back, it is magical realism.
- If Justa is actually an intergalactic were-badger, this might be Science Fantasy.
- If Justa the intergalactic were-badger speaks in iambic pentameter, occasionally eats bits of Darngood, and now and then is inexplicably back on Earth-That-Was, it’s New Weird Fantasy.
- If everything happens too fast for you to keep up with clues but there’s blood everywhere and probably several explosions and chase scenes and Justa has a knife to her throat at least once, it’s a thriller.
FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION:
- If the cover has a half-naked woman and the two (or many) main characters die leaving only one alive, and that one’s got issues and (possibly) a talking cat belonging to a wizard detective, it’s urban fantasy.
- If the cover has a half-naked man and the two (or three) main characters end up mated or in love AND live happily ever after, it’s a paranormal romance.
- If Justa wears goggles and a corset, carries a spyglass, and rides on anything powered by steam, it is steampunk. (Darngood might be a sky pirate if he’s lucky, but either way she will probably shoot him at least once.) If Darngood is just the dragon-shifter to magically float Justa’s airship, then it’s a gaslamp world full of magically useful technology which, somehow, still requires corsets.
- If Justa and Darngood join the crew of a lovable bunch of misfit space smugglers and often have to shoot their way out of trouble, it’s a Space Opera. If there are horses (even genetically modified talking android horses), it’s a Space Opera Western.
- If Justa is a teenager and Darngood is the new, stunningly brooding and gorgeous student with a devastating secret (hint: he’s a vampire), and Bea is her best friend, a generally sunny (except when she goes bat-shit crazy during full moons or her period) were-badger called Honey, and there’s ANOTHER boy with a devastating secret that Justa’s kinda sorta also attracted to, then this is… well, frankly it’s totalcrap that will probably become a bestseller and spawn a movie franchise and a hit TV Show.
- If Justa and Darngood have a meet cute, followed by a misunderstanding about Darnwood’s true relationship with Bea, followed by a Happy Ever After, it’s a romance. (If not, the reader is obligated to demand a refund and troll-post one-star reviews all over the web. Duh.)
- If Justa wears a bustle, crinoline, or shift and talks to actual historical figures, it’s a historical novel. If she goes to bed with them and neither of them gets beheaded and/or castrated, it’s a historical romance. (If the beheading and/or castration does occur, it’s a History Channel documentary which will involve sketchy historical details and an emotional re-enactment.)
- If Justa is a wacky, sexy professional woman with extremely high stilettos who is fighting for her big break in the City, Darngood is a smoking hot iBanker, and one of them has a gay friend with a small dog who gives good advice on clothes and relationships while the other one has a sister who just wants them to find The One and move to Brooklyn and make babies, but there are multiple triangles involving Bea the Heartless Bitch and the Deceptively Perfect Potential Love Interest (whew!), then it’s Chick Lit. (If one or both have chucked their meaningless City life, gay friend, and stilettos for post-recession life in the country because they’ve discovered What Really Matters, it’s Farm Lit. Brace yourself: there will be overalls.)
- if Justa is an orphan and Bea is her wicked stepmother whose evil plan is to steal Justa’s inheritance, the solid gold family heirloom bridle (which, face it, is pretty useless otherwise because the gold is pretty soft), if her house in Lower Cows Wallop is huge and reasonably spooky, and if the butler is a vampire, it’s a gothic novel.
- If the butler speaks with a southern accent and bites Justa when she’s dying in order to turn her into his eternal mate, it’s Gothic Paranormal
- If she’s into the biting and it’s consensual, and they live Happily (for)Ever After, it’s Gothic Paranormal Romance.
- If she’s into the biting, but kinda misses Darngood too, so she bites him and the three of them live Happily Ever After with lots more biting and maybe some tying-up stuff…it’s Gothic Paranormal Romance Erotica.Congratulations to the writer! You’ll probably make more than the rest of the genre writers put together.
- If Bea Serious—or anyone at any point—is wearing a clown costume, this is horror. And I SO don’t review horror, so this would be the end of my genre overview if it didn’t show up in a couple of fabulous genre mashups. You’re welcome.
Got all that? We’ll see how you do on the final…
Meanwhile, for a wonderful example of a historical-detective-slightly-horror-paranormal-and-just-a-bit-romantic-police-procedural genre mashup, please see my review below of Moon Over London, Book 2 of Shawna Reppert’s Werewolves and Gaslight series.
Moon Over London (Werewolves and Gaslight Book 2) by Shawna Reppert
- Genre: Victorian Detective/Paranormal Police Procedural
- Author: Shawna Reppert
Werewolves are disappearing from the gaslit streets of London. Are they being murdered? Kidnapped?
Few beyond the ’wolves’ own families notice they’re missing, and fewer still care. With the aid of a clandestine toff werewolf and a lady alchemist with attitude, Inspector Royston Jones is determined to protect all those who dwell in his city. But his superiors are indifferent, the werewolf community suspicious, and he has too few leads and too many suspects—including his estranged uncle. Only one thing is certain—unless he can solve the mystery, more ’wolves will be taken every time the full moon rises.
Another gripping novel by the award-winning author of A Hunt by Moonlight!
Moon Over London is a gaslight fantasy—a Victorian/paranormal/just a bit romantic/police procedural/genre mashup that might result if Queen Victoria and H.P. Lovecraft’s love child was raised by Arthur Conan Doyle. As a genre, gaslight is steampunk’s younger cousin who fiddles with microscopes and steam engines, but overall prefers fairy tales.
After his victory over the infamous Dr. Death in the first book of the series, Inspector Royston Jones is the victim of his own success. He finds himself in demand for every case, no matter how trivial, involving high level members of society. Now when we meet the Inspector, instead of tracking criminals and murderers in Victorian London, to his disgust he’s working late on paperwork for The Case of the Missing Mutts, a minor baronet’s “missing” hunting dogs who’ve wandered off.
He’s interrupted by a woman demanding to know what Scotland Yard is doing to find her husband. Royston is surprised when his upper-class colleague brushes off her concerns, until he realizes the missing man is a werewolf. In this gaslight world, the ‘wolves are the lowest members of society, shunned and legally discriminated against.
Royston Jones, himself an illegitimate son abandoned by his aristocratic father, understands his society’s ingrained prejudice against the other. But added to this is his friendship with an aristocratic couple who are both living a dangerous deception.
Although at first glance this series seems to be a gaslight version of Sherlock Holmes with the earnestly idealistic Inspector as the Watson, it’s really a thinly disguised use of values dissonance. The framework of a rigid Victorian society is challenged and subverted as the prejudices of every level of society are channelled against the ‘wolves, the new lowest of the low. When accused, perpetrators’ defense is to challenge the humanity of their victims, a thinly-disguised reference to almost every hate group ever.
Even as Inspector Jones and his posse follow clues to capture both diabolical mastermind and garden-variety hatemongers, they find themselves drawn to the very groups that define their otherness. Meeting the aristocratic uncle who holds the title and riches that would have been his if his parents had married, Royston finds himself unwillingly sympathetic to the man, risking his own life—and his chance to marry into the upper classes—to save uncle’s son.
Meanwhile, his aristocratic friend Bandon, a secret werewolf who hides his nature with the help of his wife’s potions, finds himself unwillingly drawn to his fellow ‘wolves. Reluctantly, he risks his life and secret identity to come to their aid.
The world-building in this series is a brilliant blend of the familiar Sherlock Holmes London layered under a matter-of-fact veneer where magic actually makes its victims into the lowest level of society, while serving as a lens to focus a variety of evils. I enjoyed the character development, especially of Royston, who really comes into his own in this book.
There were a few things that didn’t work for me. The mastermind’s actual evil plot brilliantly pulled together the various threads and mysteries, but what it didn’t do was make much sense. And the gory, bizarre automaton of the final confrontation was both gratuitously incongruous and inexplicably well… inexplicable.
But the overall writing contained absolutely brilliant elements. One problem facing writers using a historical setting is whether to force characters to behave according to contemporary values that today’s readers would find objectionable, or to somehow allow them to behave outside their own cultural reality. So I was particularly impressed by author Shawna Reppert’s solution to the problem of presenting the structured Victorian milieu, while still allowing some characters to demonstrate behavior and values separate from those norms. Placing Royston and his two aristocratic, secretive friends outside the accepted boundaries of their society—an illegitimate son of an aristocrat, a secret werewolf, and a brilliant woman inventor masquerading as a man—was an inspired solution to the ever-present values dissonance issue.
For those new to the series, I strongly recommend starting with Book 1 so you’ll get all of the background and references. But this is an entertaining, must-buy series for me, so I’m looking forward to finding what the future holds for Scotland Yard’s Inspector Royston Jones and his friends.