Freudian Friday: Kate Daniels

It’s probably fair to have issues with your dad when your dad is the Big Bad.

image from

This week’s pick for Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy is Kate Daniels, the protagonist of Ilona Andrews’s urban fantasy series of the same name.

Kate’s a kick-ass bounty hunter who, when we meet her, works informally for the Order of Knights of Merciful Aid. It’s a gig that sounds more benevolent than it is, since the Order is just as likely to kill you as it is to help you. Kate’s job is to clean up magical messes by killing things, and she does it well.

As we learn about Kate, we realize that she’s in hiding. Her blood links her back to her father, Roland, a Very Bad Man who is the world’s oldest necromancer and may or may not want to take over the world.

Kate was raised by her foster-father, Greg, whose death she is investigating at the beginning of the series. Greg rescued her as a child from Roland, who would kill to keep her from destroying his plans and, well, to keep her from existing. Greg raised her to hide and to fight, knowing that eventually it would fall to her to take Roland down.

Okay, I’m a little fuzzy on the details at this stage, but it’s been something like two years since I’ve read the early books. Cut me some slack.

Because of her background—and the knowledge that any of her blood left unattended could bring assassins down on her in an instant—Kate does not let people into her life. When we meet her, she has no friends and terrible taste in men. Part of her journey is learning to trust others and to accept her own power. She eventually falls into a meaningful relationship with the were-lion head of the Pack in Atlanta, she makes friends, and she “adopts” a motherless young girl.

While she does have a bit of a Harry Potter-esque martyr streak, that comes from being the only one to have the power to stop the biggest evil. And the fact that she’s willing to sacrifice herself for those she comes to love indicates that her isolation and hard childhood have not corrupted her: she can still love, and she’s not always willing to say that the end justifies the means. Some things are worth throwing it all away for.

Kate is an example of how Freud isn’t always right, at least in urban fantasy. Yes, she wants to take her dad down, but it’s difficult to say she has penis envy when she already has her father’s powers. She’s just as powerful as he is, only younger, prettier, and with a cause she’s willing to die for.

What do you think, readers? Does taking the metaphor out of an Electa complex completely reshape the meaning of daddy issues? Or is it all still metaphor, just an indication that girls need to overcome a father’s influence in order to develop fully?

For the record, I don’t think that last one is true.

Freudian Fridays: Selene

Confession, readers: I love Underworld.

I’m talking about the first movie, not the others. They’re not the best. But the first one is seriously cool, and it has a nice romance in it to boot. Goth-punk urban fantasy + romance = the recipe to make Kristin like something.

Image from Wikipedia

Let’s look at the main character, Selene. She didn’t make my original Daddy Issues in Urban Fantasy list of ladies with issues, but only because I temporarily forgot her (oops).

Selene is a vampire Death Dealer hunting Lycans… In other words, she’s an assassin who finds and kills werewolves, who have been at war with the vampires for something like a thousand years.

She was turned into a vampire by the Big Bad Vampire Viktor after he told her that the Lycans killed her family, and she became a Death Dealer because she sought revenge.

It’s all lies, of course. Viktor, her pseudo-father figure, killed her family and turned her because she reminded him of the daughter he killed for becoming pregnant with a werewolf’s child. Cute, huh? The werewolves, while not exactly innocent, neither started the war nor killed her family, effectively making her whole life’s work pointless. That’s enough to mess a girl up pretty seriously.

So when Selene falls in love with a werewolf (soon werewolf-vampire hybrid), it looks like history will repeat itself. Viktor, the person she trusted above all others, wants to kill her and her lover. But instead of bowing down to male authority, Selene stands up for her newfound love and eventually kills Viktor.

The movie dances along the line between girl-power and anti-feminist. Selene and another female character spend a lot of time getting slapped around (literally) by male authority figures. Michael, Selene’s lover, is the one with the awesome hybrid powers. Women are punished for having sexual relationships outside the box, and the only female Elder dies without having much part in the movie.

In spite of that, though, Selene is the one who rescues Michael. When he’s about to die, she turns him into a vampire, which is pretty refreshing in a genre where men turn women into vampires or women save their male vamp-boyfriends by offering blood. Selene is also the one to kill Viktor, saving Michael and herself—and everyone, really.

She recovers from the trauma of losing a real family, losing a foster father, and learning that her quest was based on a lie. Her entire worldview is shaken, but she has the courage and the vision to fight for what is right.

In other words, she might puzzle Freud. She does kill her foster father, though, so I suppose that puts her pretty squarely in Electra territory.

So what do you think, readers? Is Selene a new feminist role model? Is she destined to attract violence and cause the deaths of the men who love her? Or is the the hope of strong women in urban fantasy?

Freudian Fridays: Buffy Summers

It’s Friday again! Time to look at the many issues messing with the heads of popular fantasy characters. If you remember from last week, we’re looking at the daddy issues of female characters in urban fantasy.

So let’s put the Slayer on the couch, shall we?

Buffy’s parents divorced when she was about fifteen. Her nightmares reveal that she’s afraid her father left because of her. She makes scattered comments throughout the show about her father not caring enough to make an effort to see or—after her mother dies—care for her. Because of this, Buffy takes on a parental role to her sister, Dawn.

She’s deeply attached to her Watcher, Rupert Giles, and looks on him as a father figure. After her mother dies, Giles becomes a pseudo-parental figure, one Buffy expects to deal with Dawn’s thieving ways. Giles eventually leaves in order to make Buffy stand on her own.

She dates much (much!) older men. Angel, the love of Buffy’s life, is 200ish years older than her. Spike is 100ish years older than her. Both are powerful, violent men, and that violence tends to bleed into the physical aspects of her relationships. Part of why Riley, her human boyfriend, flees is because he feels inadequate next to her strength.

All in all, what do these things tell us? Buffy’s a badass gal, we know that, and physically stronger than any normal guy. I don’t think we can say, though, that she’s hunting for a strong man who can protect her. No—I think she’s looking for an equal, not a superior. And that’s tough for the Slayer to find, if not impossible.

Daddy issues? Sure. She has issues with her father and issues with her father-figure. But those issues don’t define her: they’re just one shade of her character. She’s not looking for a new father. She’s looking for a partner… and, being the Slayer, she may never find one.

What do you think? Are Buffy’s relationships inevitably doomed because of her past history with men? Is Angel the only man for her? Is she destined to stand alone? What do these issues tell you about Buffy’s character?

Fictional Smarty-Pants Are Annoying, Too

If you’ve seen my GoodReads widget, you know I’m engaged on the long slog epic journey through the Wheel of Time mess series.

I poke fun, but actually I’m kind of enjoying it. Book-by-book, they’re addictive once you’ve settled in, and the story is the immersive, sink-your-teeth-into-it type that we fantasy readers love.

But Jordan uses a plot trick that really irks me.

Thirty or forty pages into every book, an exciting event occurs, and some smarty-pants character has to explain that this is one way the High Muckety-Muck’s Prophecy of Doom and Glory will be fulfilled. Smarty-Pants then tells Questing Character that he or she must go to Some Random Place, seek the Mystical Golden Eggbeater of Power, and then kill a lot of people.

A shrubbery!

It’s much akin to the Knights Who Say Ni sending King Arthur to fetch a shrubbery. Do it if you want to advance the plot!

There has to be a better way to do this. I realize that you can’t plant every plot device in the first book (Man, I wish you could!), and that subplots—or even the plots of individual books in a larger series—often revolve around a MacGuffin simply because an author needs characters to get a certain piece of the puzzle before they can carry on.

I can’t just blame Jordan for this. Loads of fantasy novels (especially epic fantasy) do it. You could even argue that the treasure-quest in The Hobbit is just a drawn-out way to get the One Ring to Bilbo and then to Frodo. I don’t completely object to this type of plotting: after all, we read stories as much for the journey as for the ending.

I can object, though, to authors making one particular character into the sole source of information. (Moiraine, Hermione, I’m looking at you.) It irks the characters in the book to be bossed around by a single person, and it irks me to read it.

Let characters learn information on their own! Let them seek and discover! That’s way more interesting than a lecture from Ms. Smarty-Pants. I think urban fantasy novels tend to do a better job with this, perhaps because they’re often formulated as mysteries, perhaps because they’re shorter. Think about how often Harry Dresden falls into one horrible situation after another, just because he doesn’t (always) have a character who can give him all the information he needs—and that’s a compelling read, because we get to put the pieces together with him. Plus, it’s fun to see how he’ll get out of his next scrape.

My tactic (and it’s a cheap ploy) is to scatter the info-dumps among many characters. This character moves in high society, so he would know about this. That character is a fairy, so she probably knows about that.

When providing information, how do you avoid writing smarty-pants characters?



Between This World and the Next

How much time do you spend worldbuilding?

I’ve found that I have such a vivid mental image of my world when I’m writing that I don’t include enough worldbuilding detail in the book itself. When writing Shaken, I knew I’d have to do a rewrite for scene-setting detail.

I started doing this deliberately. New writers tend to overreach and spend way too much time describing. They give detail about the world around the characters, the characters’ appearances, sunsets, food… It’s especially bad in fantasy. Call it the Tolkien or the GRRM effect: new writers describe everything at great length.

Ultimately, the world is in the details. You don’t need five pages describing the landscape of your Hoth-inspired ice planet populated with woolly-mammoth people. Your woolly-mammoth girl main character might not spend hours reflecting on the landscape around her; neither would she explain to the reader the oligarchical structure of their woolly-mammoth society. She would take those things for granted. But you can give the reader a sense of the world with the little details, like how she dresses her long coat-hair or what she feeds her pet sabertooth tiger.

Long descriptions have their place, but they need to actually add something to the book instead of just indulging your poetic leanings.

Let’s talk about urban fantasy, though, because worldbuilding can get tricky there.

How much do you blend your personal world with our shared world?

Kim Harrison, I think, does an excellent job with this. The Hollows United States is recognizably the world we live in, but it’s also distinctly different from ours and has its on unique interior culture. Small references to things like “Bite Me Betty” dolls and Hollows-world musicians make it separate from our world and more fantastic.

A problem I had with Zoo City was that it was way too steeped in our world. When I’m reading, I want to feel like I’m escaping our world, not seeing all its ugliness in combination with all the flaws of an alternate world as well. I suspect the book won’t age well, because it’s too dependent on current pop culture to add context for readers.

Is this a personal preference? How much worldbuilding do you like to read? How distinct do you like fantasy worlds to be from our own?