Selah March

October 27, 2006

The One Where The Long, Pointless Ramble About the Care and Feeding of My Conscience Leads Up To a Book Recommendation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Selah March @ 9:11 am

Once upon a time, not very long ago, I was a professional book reviewer for a local newspaper. (I can hear PBW gritting her teeth from here.)

Due to the type of paper it is, and the kind of community in which I reside, the books I was given to review by the Arts and Entertainment editor were largely “literary” in nature. Which is to say, not genre fiction.

I didn’t enjoy it much. While I’m perfectly willing to read “literary” fiction for entertainment when I’m in the mood for it, I found reviewing it tiresome. The same slight variations on a single theme kept cropping up: the meaninglessness of life, the hopeless, surrealistic absurdity of human existence, the inevitability of death after much suffering and strife…yada yada yada fishcakes.

It didn’t take long to figure out that, given my natural tendency toward melancholy, this type of fiction isn’t healthy for me. I left my position at the paper and have staunchly refused to formally criticize any writing since then, though I’ve had offers from a few online review sites to join their staffs.

This is largely due to my belief that you don’t shit where you eat. A lot of stuff my mother told me as I was growing up turned out to be just so much useless nonsense, but one thing she did impart that’s held me in good stead was this: “It’s nice to be smart, but it’s smarter to be nice.” Now, some may say that a parent would never give that sort of advice to a male child, and it’s only women who are expected to be nice in order to get along.

My response would be: tru dat. But how much more kind and compassionate a world would it be if everyone, male and female alike, were taught to consider others’ feelings before they speak or act? In this case, men may be getting the short end of the stick.

Which is not to say that anyone should roll over and play dead when true corruption or evil is afoot (see: every political post I’ve ever made, particularly the ones aimed at the past RWA management), because “nice” only goes so far in making the world a better place. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about book reviews.

And I’m not saying that good, honest literary criticism doesn’t have its place, either (sorry, PBW). I’m just saying that it neither has to be mean-spirited nor hurtful beyond what is naturally painful about having one’s work held up for public review and sometimes called “less-than-perfect.” Or even “really-REALLY-less-than-perfect.”

As a writer attempting to break into the romance genre, I believe it behooves me to cut my fellow authors a break. I make the assumption that they’re all doing the best they can — because that’s what I’m doing — and who am I to publicly call their work crap, however I may feel about it in private?

Having said that, I really don’t have a problem with the choice other authors have made to review within their chosen genre. That’s THEIR little red wagon, as Uncle Stevie would say. I only know what works for me and my conscience.
All of this is leading up to the fact that I never publicly pan another writer’s work, and very rarely do I praise books, either. But today is one of those days where I feel like I need to make a recommendation.

The “Dante Valentine” series by Lilith Saintcrow (so far two titles in release: WORKING FOR THE DEVIL, and DEAD MAN RISING, with a third, THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND, due out next summer) contain some of the best world-building I’ve seen in a long while. Detailed, logical and fascinating world-creation makes me turn a nasty shade of envy-emerald, but lemme tell ya: Saintcrow’s got the goods.

I will give one warning: these books are neither for the squeamish nor for the reader looking for a light-hearted “happily-ever-after” romance. They are dark and painful. The protagonist is tortured — sometimes literally — by horrific events, both past and present, and is left heartbroken and grief-stricken more than once. They are a series, which means each book may — and, in the case of the first one, does — end in what may be termed an “unsatisfying” manner as per the RWA’s definition of Romance-with-a-capital-R. But I was okay with it and I LIVE for those happy endings.

Also, I have to say that I find the central romantic relationship riveting. Seriously sexy and believable in a way that only the romance between a demon and a Necromance can be. 😉

Do I have any criticisms of the books — the storytelling, the characterization, the writing itself?

Well, of course I do. Nothing’s perfect. But I’ll be keeping them to myself, thankseversomuch. Nice to be smart, smarter to be nice.

Thanks, Mom. – Romance of Dubious Virtue

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