The Otherworld Series and the Trouble with Urban Fantasy, Part 2

I have decided that every time Trixie someone bitches about their deities leaving them alone to fend for themselves for more than two minutes, I will start a ranty post about something (not that I don’t already do that, this is just extra incentive).

Okay, I know I said I should really reread Witchling and review it for everyone, but TBH, it’s much easier to point out where these books completely fail than to go through each of them one by one (as of right now, there are 13 books in this series). Beware of SPOILERS for books one through nine, particularly Darkling and Bone Magic. This means you, Ken, I know you read these books and I know you read these posts.

Also, if it wasn’t clear, I’m talking about the Otherworld series by Yasmine Galenorn, not the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong.

The stars of the show are the D’Artigo sisters, who are half fae and half human.  Camille is the one who sleeps around a witch who draws her power from the moon, Delilah is the couch potato turns into an orange tabby cat when stressed, and Menolly is the badass is a vampire. Unfortunately, their pesky human blood makes their powers unpredictable (Camille’s magic short circuits, Delilah has her involuntary shifting, and Menolly’s acrobatic skills sometimes fail her–with disastrous results). The overarching plot of the series is a race to find MacGuffins known as Spirit Seals before the demon lord Shadow Wing and his minions, because if he finds them all first, he’ll be freed from his prison and then all the realms are fucked.

That’s not how they phrase it in the books, but that’s the gist of it. Does it sound familiar? It’s only the basic plot of too many fantasy novels to count. Oh, and the sisters’ professions? Camille owns a bookstore/occult shop, Delilah is a PI, and Menolly owns and operates a bar and grill. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a “typical UF professions” trifecta!

The saving grace of this series is that the world is huge. You have the fae (and their various subspecies, including elves), unicorns, dragons, demons, shapeshifters (various types), gods and goddesses, Elemental Lords (personifications of nature that you definitely don’t want to fuck with), the Hags of Fate (women you definitely, definitely don’t want to fuck with), vampires, you name it, it’s probably in this series, and I’m just naming broad categories, each with their own rules of engagement (which basically amounts to “do not insult any of them”). It goes without saying that this is a very “Pagan” world. Camille honours the Moon Mother, Delilah prays to Bast, but Menolly doesn’t really have anything to do with any deities (understandable, given all the crap she goes through). The series is also notable for how it handles sexuality. The fact that Camille has three lovers (later husbands) isn’t so unusual because the fae have a view of sexuality that is very….relaxed (to put it mildly). The sisters each have at least a “primary” and a “secondary” lover (Menolly’s primary is a woman (and, if you will allow me a moment to preen a bit, it’s nice to see a same-sex relationship take precedence over a heterosexual one, especially in UF).

However, the series as a whole suffers from, um, how do I say this nicely? Not-so-great writing. I definitely prefer Galenorn’s non-fiction to this series. It suffers from a major case of telling rather than showing. This is great for the type of occult non-fiction that she usually writes (where it is practically all telling) but less so for fiction. Pretty much every time a new species is introduced, readers are treated to an infodump about that species (hey, Camille! Take your own advice and don’t insult the dragon!) and on some level, when you’re working with so many different characters, I can understand the desire to inform the readers, but in my mind there are more effective ways to illustrate something about a character than just telling them all the time.

The other thing I’d like to mention is that the world-building seems very…..mish-mashed. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my pet peeves is when authors introduce non-human races for the sake of introducing them without providing the reader with some sort of context for why they’re in there to begin with (paranormal romance is VERY guilty of this). While she doesn’t do this with any of her creatures, there is an instance in Darkling (book 3)that I think is worth mentioning.

SPOILERS START HERE

Basically, a few times during that book, the characters make comments to the effect of “Gee, winter has been going on a long time. What’s with all the snow?” Close to the end of the book, they discover that Loki (in the form of a huge wolf) is basically causing an extended winter because he sired Menolly’s sire and have this weird parent-child bond thing and it’s giving her sire a shitload of power and….yeah…..

I remember reading this and thinking “Where the fuck did that come from?!” Seriously, there’s no lead up to it, just some random comments about how the snow is pissing everyone off. Then, BAM! LOKI! Why Loki, anyways? Surely Fenris would have made a better choice for badass snow wolf?

Oh wait, because Loki is teh Bad Guy of the Norse pantheon (on a completely unrelated note, Galenorn writes in Embracing the Moon that she tried to invoke Loki and had a bad experience).

SPOILERS END HERE

There’s also the case of Rozurial (“Roz”) who is an incubus. The story goes that Zeus fell in lust with Roz’s wife (who has a name that is definitely not Greek) and Hera, jealous as ever, decides to take revenge by turning the wife into a succubus. Roz begs Zeus to fix it, Zeus turns Roz into an incubus. The couple basically break up.

Now, I suppose you could say that this is a multiverse sort of thing so Greek deities turning people into Medieval sex demons probably isn’t that far-fetched, but the whole scenario just seemed odd to me (especially since lamiae  are a rough equivalent to incubi and succubi), but perhaps you could argue that Roz simply uses incubus because it’s a common term for sex demon nowadays and I’m completely overthinking this. Actually, no, because there is an actual lamia in later books who really isn’t like Roz at all.

Lest you think I am finished with this series, I’d also like to point out that, despite it’s diverse cast, at one point this series fails HARD when it comes to race.

Let me be clear, up until Bone Magic (book 7) the cast wasn’t that diverse, though it must be said that it’s an improvement over the typical UF series. There’s Morio (who is a Japanese kitsune, er, I suppose that’s redundant) and Trillian, who is a svartalfar and thus doesn’t count (note to my Norse Pagan friends, svartalfar aren’t dwarves in this universe, they are hawt mans with dark skin and white hair).

I suppose you could say the fail is that it’s not diverse enough, but you could say that of almost any UF series, that’s not the real fail I’m talking about.

The real fail in this case is Kim.

[trigger warning: racism]

Kim is a “half Chinese and half demon” woman who was rescued from a life of slavery by a demon (or is he a half demon?) named Carter. We are informed that Kim is mute, and her function in the books is too….basically bring Carter things, and be innocent and  mute and stuff.

SPOILERS ARE ALSO HERE

To make a long story short, Kim ends up betraying the main characters, and Carter kills her.

I wish I had a checklist so I could tick off boxes here, but let’s just say that Kim fits the “subservient Chinese woman” stereotype to a T, with the added bonus that she’s not just expected to be quiet, she’s MUTE! Am I the only one who sees how incredibly racist this is? Did I miss something, because I distinctly remember how she betrays them and Carter’s all like “Oh dear, now I must kill her.” Why does it seem like no one else noticed this?

SPOILERS END HERE

Why, Yasmine Galenorn? Why did you have to fail so epicly? I mean, your writing isn’t going to win the Nobel Prize for literature, but seriously, you were at least a cut above your average bad UF series.

I kind of just stopped reading the series after Harvest Hunting. It’s so disappointing when someone’s created such an interesting world and I can’t play in it because the writing pisses me off so much.

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4 thoughts on “The Otherworld Series and the Trouble with Urban Fantasy, Part 2

    1. And I quote from the wiki: “Trillian is Svartan, one of the Dark Fae. An offshoot of the elves from thousands of years ago, the Svartans are dark in nature, more wild and feral. They are less inclined to help others, more focused on their own needs, and exert a powerful sexual pull with their abilities to charm and entrance others. One kiss can suck an FBH under their spell. One night can hold a Fae in thrall.”

      *looks up Drow in wiki, looks at this, looks at wiki again*

      Seems pretty drow-like to me (although I should note that they have a king, most of the other races have queens).

      FBH is a Full Blooded Human, btw. I forgot to mention the use of acronyms in this series. FBH this, FBH that….

  1. Thank you. I’m hungry for well-written, pagan-oriented or pagan-based fiction. Galenorn was my guilty pleasure for a while, but I can no longer get past the writing. And yeah. Kim is a racist sterotype.

    1. I always try to support Pagan authors/look for books with Pagan themes, but it seems nowadays that everything I recommend have some issues with it. Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters, er….trilogy that became a series, is very Pagany, but there’s that random gratuitous rape scene in the first book that is completely at odds with the tone of the rest of the book. and if you really aren’t a romance person the books are kind of slow. The Black Jewels trilogy is also very Pagan-y, but the sexual aspects of the book are….definitely not for everyone (not just rape, sexual slavery, but also a subplot dealing with pedophiles). Pretty much everyone is a polytheist in Kushiel’s Legacy, but between the kinky sex and the fact that every person of colour seems to be in need of rescuing, it’s…not for everyone. I suppose it all comes down to whether the Pagan-y themes are worth tolerating the way each work falls on it’s face. I think yes, but YMMV.

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