Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Chigaco Land Vampires: Some Girls Bite

Over the last week, our beloved Sparky subjected me to the Connor Grey series, by Mark Del Franco.  After reading the first book, Unshapely Things, I determined that series read like Law and Order meets X-Files.  He was so enthused by the series, I assumed that there must be something I was missing, instead of trusting the adage that Sparky is always wrong.  Yes, wrong, wrong, wrong. Even after his most grievous recommendation of Mark del Franco, I decided to give him another chance.  This week he selected The Chicago Land Vampires series by Chloe Neil.

Spoilers Ahead

I stayed up quite late last night reading Some Girls Bite.  I can safely tell you that it is as cheesy as the title suggests.  If it were a pizza it would be triple cheese but as we all know, good cheese can make a pizza.  Merit, the female protagonist is the victim of a violent crime walking across the campus of a university.  Ethan, the master vampire of the Cadogan House, interrupts the attempt to murder and decides to turn her into a vampire to save her life.  Merit must reconcile the fact that she is now a vampire, with the fact that she was not given a choice in the matter. 

We quickly learn that Neil has created a world in which every super natural creature that we have always thought to be false, is actually in existence; however, the only supernatural that the public is aware of are vampires.  Does this sound familiar to anyone yet?  Instead of drinking a form of synthetic blood, the vampires drink human blood from bags, or with permission, from a human donor. Just like another vampire series that we are all familiar with, there is a very distinct vampire hierarchy and laws that must be obeyed.

Neil avoids using the term "come out of the coffin", but does repeatedly inform the reader that the vampires have "come out" to the public repeatedly.   This of course very neatly appropriates the experience of LGBT people.  Though vampires express fear of humans, because of repeatedly being cleansed from human society,  this in no way mirrors the homophobia and violence that the LGBT community must live with and I find the choice of words to be at the very least thoughtless. It is further problematic that a real life struggle is being appropriated to claim victim status for mythical creatures.

So, I promised to tell you about the cheese, and now I am going to lay it on thick.  Merit is the daughter of a very well connected real estate developer, who has connections with the mayor. Her immediate family, namely her father, is more concerned with wealth and prestige than the happiness of his family.  When Merit is turned, he is not concerned with any pain she may have experienced, but how this will effect the family. Her grandfather is the ombudsman i.e. the human link between local politics and all of the sups residing in Chicago.  Her roommate, discovers early in the book that she is not a normal human, but is instead a level four sorceress.  This btw is the highest level that you can be.  Merit is connected from up on high, but it is all supposedly coincidental.  That's some luck isn't it?

Then there is the issue of Merit's maturity level.  This woman was apparently a graduate student before she got changed, is 28 years old, and still refers to men that she is interested in as boys.  Yes, boys, and this includes the almost 400 year old vampire that she has the hots for. I don't see the need to try and squeeze high school angst onto a grown woman.  It not only out of place, but extremely odd.  It feels like Neil could not decide whether or not she wanted to write for a YA audience, and so tried to hedge her bets to ensure the largest readership possible.

The other issue with this series, is that the cast of characters are all White, and straight.  Heaven forbid there be a vampire of colour in freaking Chicago, one of the most multi-cultural cities on the planet. Also, the mandatory heterosexuality given the continual use of the phrase "coming out" is extremely problematic.  One of the things I will never understand about this genre, is the intense effort to create rich worlds i.e. many different kinds of supes and yet fill these worlds with completely dominant bodies, that in no way match the world we currently we live in.  This erasure is pretty wide spread, and often when urban fantasy writers do include marginalized bodies, the tropes are so amazingly horrendous, that they simply shouldn't.  I'm looking at you Charlaine Harris. 

This exclusion also limits who will read these books.  There are always going to be margianlized people like myself, Sparky, Dan and Tami, who just need to get our fang fix, and will read through the erasure and the terrible tropes; however, there are a large group of people who simply will not tolerate this and have refused to participate in any way shape or form in this genre.  Whether we like it or not, urban fantasy is the mythology of our time, and it is absolutely significant that once again, only a narrow group of people are being represented.  It is simply unacceptable to ignore the repeated erasure because it is happening in the urban fantasy genre, because it is a symptom of our collective desire to marginalize specific bodies.

I can honestly say that despite the layers, and I do mean layers of cheese in the Chicago Land Vampire series, that I love it.  I love it despite all of its fails and maybe that something about what I am willing to tolerate in the genre itself.  I think that it could be better but I fully recognize that it is a product of our imperfect and highly unbalanced system.  I have been asked several times why I am so fascinated with the genre and the answer is quite simple really, while it is filled with many of the isms that we face in everyday life, the very fact that quite often the good/bad binary that we have come to normalize, is so often destabilized keeps me reading and wondering.  Life is often lived in the grey, and these books are a good example of this.  If nothing is purely good then nothing can be purely evil.