Gilman, Laura Anne: (01) Staying Dead

Another cruise book, Laura Anne Gilman’s Staying Dead. This was the first book from Harlequin’s new fantasy imprint, Luna [*], that I was really interested in reading. It’s set in a present-day New York City where magic works; it’s called current, and it runs along with other kinds of energy—most easily, electricity. Thus, our protagonist Wren Valere has to have her computer and phone warded six ways to Sunday so she can use them, and she’s “useless in a really powerful thunderstorm, stoned like kitty on catnip from the overload of power.” But she has a talent for not being noticed, and for reading magic, which makes her very good at her job: she works as a retriever, getting back things that people have lost and would rather not trouble the police or insurance companies about. Her partner of ten years, Sergei Didier, deals with the clients and helps with the research; the case he’s signed them up for, as the book starts, is the retrieval of a office tower’s cornerstone, which contains a protection spell for the building. There are, of course, complications.

[*] I was under the impression that this was a paranormal romance line, but after reading this and another, I think that’s not accurate—and indeed an old version of its webpage described its focus as “female-focused fantasy with vivid characters, rich worlds, strong, sympathetic women and romantic subplots.” Just in case you were worried about, you know, girl cooties.

This is nice crunchy stuff, and genuinely urban fantasy (as opposed to romance with some woo-woo mysticism tacked on). Both the world and the relationships have a pleasing amount of depth, which is interesting in its own right but leaves plenty to be explored in future books (at least two). I like Wren and Sergei very much, and I have a particular fondness for partnership-style relationships, especially when they evolve under plausible pressures.

I am curious about one thing that I couldn’t quite figure out, which is how widely-known the existence of magic is. It seemed commonly known at first—people are hiring mages (some of whom are in a union), there are enough demons and fatae wandering the streets of New York City for bigots to beat them up and form organizations to drive them out, and so forth. Then I came across a reference to the U.S. Government’s official position on magic, which is that it doesn’t exist, and Wren talked about learning to keep a low profile, and Sergei mentioned that he didn’t know about the existence of the Council (the mages’ union) until he partnered with Wren, despite his being in a position to know unusual things. Now I wonder if maybe only elites of one sort or another are aware of magic. The historical references I spotted weren’t helpful, as they were parallel to ours (9/11, the breakup of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage). Perhaps this will be clarified in a later book, or perhaps someone can point out to me something I overlooked.

Anyway, that quibble aside, I enjoyed this a lot. Don’t let the corporate umbrella put you off.

(A note on book design: for some reason, the font of this (and the other early Luna books I looked at) use a sans-serif font, which I found initially distracting. A more recent Luna book, Gail Dayton’s The Compass Rose (coming soon to a booklog near you!) uses a serifed font, so perhaps they’re moving away from that choice.)

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  1. I couldn’t read Staying Dead because the font drove me crazy, so I emailed Luna about it and they said that although the intial response to the sans face was good, subsequent complaints convinced them to switch (http://batwrangler.livejournal.com/57707.html).

  2. Thanks for the information–I’m pleased to hear it was a line-wide decision. (And to get a non-spam comment, hooray!) I’m surprised that they aren’t doing a mass-market of _Staying Dead_ in time for the release of the sequel in trade, though; 2006 seems a long way away for a mmpb. But then, publishing is still a mystery to me in many ways . . .

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