Apr. 25th, 2011

naomi_jay: (dragon girl)

I shall be perfectly honest: I was sent this book by someone who's opinion I trust as an example of a really bad urban fantasy. I was expecting it to be poorly written, poorly plotted, and generally just ... poor.

So I was kinda surprised to find I loved it. Not just enjoyed it, or found it passable or okay, but actively loved it - thought about it when I wasn't reading it, looked up the author's other works, and started following her on Twitter. That kind of "loved it." I'm not sure why there's such a massive gap between what my friend experienced in reading this and what I experienced, except that art is subjective, but there we go. Not that this is a flawless book. There is, in fact, one big (potential) problem with it.
Jude Magdalyn, the protagonist, is a massive Mary Sue. Tragic past? Check. Chequered love life? Check. Super powers, recently discovered and easily mastered? Check? Great Destiny? Check. It's all there. She gets away with bad behaviour, has all the wittiest lines, a great guy falls madly in love with her within hours of meeting her, and she inherits massive, massive wealth early on in the book.
I call her Mary Sue-ness a potential problem, as opposed to an actual problem, for a couple of reasons. The first is that, actually, I don't have a problem with Mary Sues in real-written books. Good writing trumps most things, and I think Pruitt is a very good writer. The second is that the phrase "Mary Sue" seems to have become a shorthand for "urban fantasy heroine," rather than being a genuinely useful term. Look, urban fantasy is about people taking on monsters, magic, mythological beings, and general mayhem. Unless you're seriously tooled up with resources - be they magical or physical or whatever - you're probably not going to last very long. Therefore, characters in UF need to have said resources. It's a logical part of the genre for me. But it currently seems to be an excuse for appellating every heroine who knows how to wield a magic wand and/or a Glock efficiently a Mary Sue. Not useful to me. I know for some readers, the presence of a Mary Sue is an instant Do Not Want, but for me it's not such a deal breaker.
Anyway, back to Shades of Grey. So yes, Jude is Mary Sue. I don't care. She's also funny, sharp, and engaging. Pruitt's voice and sense of place are strong. The secondary characters are interesting, as is the plot. Jude, an orphan raised by nuns and now working as a con woman in New Orleans, discovers she's the destined leader of a magical organisation called the Covenant. Cue sexy vampires, politics, back-stabbing, shock revelations, et al. Yeah, it's not the most original thing ever, but Pruitt makes it her own. And if you can look past one or two oddities in the text (such as Jude's seeming indifference to the murder of her best friend, and a kind of "was it, wasn't it?" rape scene that left me scratching my head), I think what you've got is a strong first novel from a writer who is going to grow and grow.
I ate up this book despite the flaws. The pacing and tension worked for me, and I just plain like Jude. I can see it won't be a book for everyone, but it's not badly written, nor is it a bad example of the genre. In fact, it's a damn good one as far as I'm concerned, and I'll be buying the sequel and her other works in very short order. This was just a compelling read - I'm loathe to use the term "guilty pleasure" because I don't feel guilty about enjoying it, but that's probably the best term for it. So you know, screw you guys. 

8 / 24 words. 33% done!


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