Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Nora Roberts!

Because how can you blog about romance without mentioning the genre's current powerhouse?

NR is one of those authors that most people either love or hate. For some, she exemplifies everything that's wrong with the genre. Her stories are formulaic. They are predictable.

However. She's a great writer and a great storyteller. She plays the English language like a virtuouso; it never intrudes on you with, um, say, awkwardity, or anything like that. The pacing moves you through the book even if it's 1 in the morning and you have an early meeting at work the next day and you know better. And if you like TEH CREEPY, she does well enough to have you checking the locks on the doors and maybe laying down some salt across the threshhold, too.

But what about characters? The Nicola O. #1 requirement for a good romance read?

Well, generally I give her an A- to B+ on characters. I have read the criticism that she's formulaic here too, and I can't completely disagree. But I am a fair-weather friend of romance characters. I love them and I leave them when the book ends. In some ways I don't mind meeting slightly different versions of the same women multiple times, if they are women I like in the first place. I tend to connect with Roberts' characters; they crackle with believability even when they're casting spells or manifesting demons or slaying vampires or whatever.

The Morrigan's Cross trilogy last year was something of a problem for me.... because I had managed to resist the whole vampire trend in its entirety until then. Heck, I never even watched Buffy. Not once. (Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be the young Kendall Hart to me). NOW, I can't get enough of JR Ward and Christine Warren and Marjorie Liu. (see earlier post). I haven't really gotten into Feehan or LK Hamilton, but I haven't ruled them out.... and I guess turnabout is fair play and Lynn Viehl is next on my vampire booklist. I loved that one of the main characters in last year's NR trilogy was a vampire, and struggled with his nature. I know, I know, classic vampire story, but it was cool to see it in a romance setting. And his romance did not resolve in the way I thought it would </coy non-spoilerish reference> . More generally, being the bookish scholarly type myself, I like that that the bookish, scholarly characters get just as much respect--and hot monkey sex-- as the jocks.

I just finished Blood Brothers and I have to say, Roberts has done better. It's still a good story and I will still be reading the rest of the trilogy when it comes out (months and months from now, dammit). But the secondary characters fall pretty short of the mark; their personalities and their relationships with the main protagonists are only superficially developed. Of course, we'll get that in the next two books, but usually things click a little better in the first book.

What I don't like about these trilogies, particularly the recent paranormals, is that they aren't complete books. Each trilogy really should be a single book. I don't know if the industry is to blame for this or if it's just the best way to maximize revenues, but the paranormal story arcs don't even pretend to be complete or standalone any more. Book One is a an unapologetic prelude. Book Three will be the Apocolyptic Conflict of Good Vs. Evil, and Book Two will build up to it with increasingly dire skirmishes. The most disappointing thing to me about Blood Brothers was a scene near the end that really could've been pulled straight out of Morrigan's Cross with nothing but the names changed.

If you already know you don't like Nora Roberts, then nothing about her recent offerings will change your mind. If you're on the fence, I think the Chesapeake Bay trilogy+1 is about the best of her work. As for Blood Brothers, my best advice would be to wait until the 3rd one is out and read them all together.

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