Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On Lynn Viehl's Darkyn Series

Recently I read If Angels Burn, the first in a new series of novels by Lynn Viehl (of Paperback Writer fame). Billed by publisher Signet Eclipse as "paranormal romance", If Angels Burn is described by its author as also containing "strong elements of horror, suspense, fantasy and science fiction." The fact is that the novel works better within any of those other genres than as a romance.

That is my main problem with this novel: expectations created and left unfulfilled.

Not only is If Angels Burn marketed as "paranormal romance" but a prominent blurb on the cover proclaims this novel "[e]rotic, darker than sin, and better than good chocolate." It is none of those things. Of course I know blurbs exaggerate, but still, as a reader I'm annoyed (angry, really) at being deliberately misled.

I have read a lot of romance, and a fair amount of paranormal romance (including all of Christine Feehan's Carpathian romances, which are a favorite of mine), and trust me, If Angels Burn is NOT romance. In a good romance there are two basic genre rules that cannot be bent: 1) the narrative has to focus on the relationship between the hero and the heroine; and 2) there has to be a happy ending, which includes the promise of the hero and heroine together and happy. If Angels Burn skirts both these rules -- the story contains too many secondary characters and subplots; the supposed hero and heroine occupy but a small part of the narrative; there is very little sex, and what there is of it cannot really be called erotic; the end of the novel is merely a setup for the continuing Darkyn saga, not a satisfying resolution of the relationship between hero and heroine (who really seem like an afterthought).

I'm not a slave to genre -- I like Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, which is not strictly horror or romance, but then, I don't expect Hamilton's books to follow a particular formula. Even then, the Anita Blake books have a strong heroine and devote a lot of narrative time to developing her (admittedly problematic and genre-bending) relationship to her several heroes.

Still, even though I was disappointed, I liked If Angels Burn (great title, even if it doesn't directly relate to anything in the novel) enough that I will give the second book in the series a try. I just hope there's more romance in it next time. Or that the publisher reclassifies the books. Or that the blurbs are more truthful...

For more information:

  • The Darkyn website, which explains what the first three books are about.

  • Sheila Kelly's blog: Paperback Writer

  • Interview with Sheila Kelly (Lynn Viehl's given name)
    SK: My day starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at midnight. I write new material in the mornings and early afternoons for six to eight hours, and edit for another four to six hours in the evening. I have no time/genre preferences.
    RK: Do you write more than one book at once?

    SK: I usually write three books at the same time. This month I’m writing four so I can take off two weeks at Christmas.

    RK: Do you outline or write from the hip?

    SK: I outline the novel with a fairly detailed synopsis and about forty or fifty pages of notes that only make sense to me. The book is completely planned out in my head before I write the first word. I rarely deviate from the plan, but when I do, I rework the outline before I continue to write.
    RK: What are you offering readers with the Darkyn novels?

    SK: I avoid genre labels, but I guess dark fantasy seems most appropriate to me. The series is being marketed by the publisher as paranormal romance. There are strong elements of horror, suspense, fantasy and science fiction in the books as well. Take your pick.
  • Sheila Kelly on the search for the perfect suit:

  • I was facing my first crisis as a professional writer. It wasn't a plot problem. It wasn't writer's block (I never get writer's block. There are many moments, usually around 2 am, that I fervently wish I did). I liked my editor, loved my agent, and was busily whizzing through the revisions on my manuscript. Problems with them I could handle.

    I had been invited by a local writer's group to attend their monthly meeting. At the Airport Hilton. To meet 65 published or aspiring writers. I wasn't nervous about attending. Sixteen years of public school conferences had enabled me to be pleasant and sit and listen to almost anyone politely insult me. Then there was all the hand-to-hand combat training I'd gotten in the military. I figured meeting a bunch of writers would be a breeze.

    No, the problem was my closet. Or more specifically, what was not in my closet.
    [Isn't it nice? She never gets writer's block. She writes and publishes 4 books a year. She works from 5:30 am to midnight. She always outlines. She never deviates from her schedule. She plans her writing 2 years in advance; she doesn't sign her books because it makes her "feel ridiculous".. And she lives with her husband and two children in South Florida. Now, am I being cynical, or is there something wrong with this picture?... Which prompts me to wonder: how reliable (truthful?) are writers when they talk about how they write?]

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