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This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, by Phillipa Bornikova - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, by Phillipa Bornikova [Aug. 29th, 2012|09:54 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Review copy provided by Tor.

This cover basically says, "GO AWAY NO MRISSAS WANTED." It's got a random blonde starlet in a business suit staring vacantly at the viewer in front of a cityscape (although I do like cities), and then there's the title. Then. There's. The. Title. It's all cutesy. It's. It's. It's, like--it would be worse if it was a headless woman and her tattoos and her butt. But it's pretty much, "Here's an urban fantasy! Not the kind like War for the Oaks, mind you! The other kind!" And that thing people say about not judging books by their covers, that's errant nonsense, because despite the occasional despairing cries of authors with crappy covers, mostly books do not have random crappy covers. The art department is trying to convey something important with a cover. They are telling you who they think will want this book. Answer: not me.

And yet: when I get a review book, I open it and read at least the first bit. I don't review books I don't find good enough to read, but I do actually see whether the book is good enough to read, not just the cover art or my theories about the author's previous work or etc. And also: the marketing copy claimed it was a debut, and I like to give debut writers a chance. (This was not true. Phillipa Bornikova is a pen name for an author who is accomplished in other sub-genres. Which is not a strike against the book, and it's how the industry goes these days.) But at the time I picked the book up, okay, new author, fair shot, let's go.

And despite my reaction to the cover, despite my conviction that this would be Not My Thing...I kept reading. And I read the whole thing. And I would probably read a sequel.

Sure, there were blips. And sure, the premise is gimmicky and right smack in the middle of urban fantasy as it's currently defined, not really treading much new ground. A vampire law firm. It really is about a vampire law firm. There's not something that makes it...not about a vampire law firm, so if you see those words and run away, I can't make you turn around and run back. Their private investigator is an elf. There are evil werewolves on the attack. And it's a vampire law firm.

And if you look at that and say, "Well, if the writer knows her way around a sentence, that might be fun," bingo, you're on for a book, because with the exception of the aforementioned blips, she does know her way around a sentence. And I went from thinking "this is going to be terrible, I'm just going to glance at the first page before I put it in the basket to give away" to thinking "this could have been really quite good instead of pretty good, I wish it had gone that extra mile." That surprised me quite pleasantly.

I think the thing that prevented me from feeling it had gone the extra mile was the worldbuilding around the taboo about who can become vampires or werewolves in this world. It was hard to tell whether this was going to be background worldbuilding or central to the plot, from the way the characters treated it, and it ended up feeling like it was kind of stuck in a middle ground of importance. As a result, the ending felt abrupt, an installment-ending rather than a stand-alone ending. And that was a shame, because everything else was pretty minor, but..."how important is this to the story you're trying to get at here?" is a critique-group question that, if I feel like I have to ask it a lot when reading a finished book, is a problem. It's not a problem that has to prevent you from having fun with a vampire lawyer book if you have a mind to, though.
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Comments:
From: swan_tower
2012-08-30 04:38 am (UTC)
You know, after the initial "oh god no not a vampire law firm" reaction . . . I realized that I would actually read the hell out of that, IF -- and this is important -- the author was a legal wonk who knew her way around not only a sentence but also the workings of real law firms. (Kind of like Cassie Alexander knows her way around the workings of a hospital, which is why Nightshifted was engaging to me.)

Which really hammers home to me the extent to which I'm not so much bored with tropes as I am bored with people doing them shallowly.

On the topic of pen names: you know, it makes me randomly happy that whoever this author is to their mother, they chose the name "Phillipa Bornikova" to relaunch under. Given the discussions I've had with you and other people about authors choosing blandly English names, it's reassuring to see somebody choose something not Generic Anglo.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-08-30 11:49 am (UTC)
That made me happy about the pen name choice also.
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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2012-08-30 10:13 pm (UTC)
I could almost wish Sarah Caudwell might come back for something like this.
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From: nenya_kanadka
2012-08-30 09:22 am (UTC)
I would have your EXACT SAME reaction to a cover like that, so it is delightful to hear that, perhaps, not all books with such covers are hopeless. Increases the number of non-sucky books in the world. Yay. And yes, hearing that the PI is an elf would make me interested, if the author could write. Hmm!
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2012-08-30 01:32 pm (UTC)
Hey, I'd read that!
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[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2012-08-30 04:56 pm (UTC)
There were parts of this book I really liked. I thought the setting was really good and I liked the scene where she called out that one vampire for his bad behavior (not being more specific because spoiler).

Then there was the stuff I didn't like. At all. Like the way the main character was mean in her head to people who weren't thin and pretty--and sometimes the people she was mean about weren't even people she was interacting with, just people she happened to see as she was going about her business. It just left a bad taste in my mouth and undermined a character that was otherwise pretty interesting.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-08-30 05:00 pm (UTC)
I felt it was consistent with how mean she was to herself about those issues. She was deeply insecure about a lot of things. Like having a piece of cake and feeling her hips spread two inches, and I went, "Really? We have to have the ritual insecurity for a book aimed at women?" This is one reason I just don't much like urban fantasy as a genre--I feel like there's a lot of what I experience as Ritual Grooming Behavior packaged in, the sort of thing that goes, "Oh, this skirt makes my butt look huge!" "Oh, no it doesn't, you look great! I could never wear that, though!" "Oh, you look great in everything you wear!" And...despite being a femme of fairly small size, I am deeply unsatisfying as a friend to other femmes of fairly small size who want that, because I just don't do that kind of Grooming Behavior. I will do the "That necklace looks awesome on you!" "Oh, thanks, here, I think I saw one in your colors" kind very occasionally. But not the negging kind. No.
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[User Picture]From: apis_mellifera
2012-08-30 05:12 pm (UTC)
I'm definitely including her negative self-talk in with what I didn't like. I get that we don't want a character of awesome perfection because that's also annoying, I would just like the character's flaws to not be so...stereotypical? Like I think that if those flaws were really something you wanted to explore that there would be a way to write them so that they didn't come off as shallow and mean-spirited. I suspect a big part of the problem is that this book was just not a book for me--I tend to react very badly this sort of internal monologue, especially when the text doesn't make it clear that this stuff is damaging and not okay and is actually a problem that the character needs to deal with. I never got the sense that this was something that was ever going to change for Linnet.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-08-30 05:17 pm (UTC)
Oh, for sure. And I did not feel like it was something that arose naturally from whatever particular Linnetness. It just felt like a ritual thing that we "had" to have to keep her from being too perfect, and...I did not actually feel like she was in danger of being too perfect otherwise. I pretty much never do when characters are like that.

And honestly just once I would like for the character's flaw to be the opposite, to be that she puts other women off because she has no patience for their ass-related whining. Or entirely un-ass-related.
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From: swan_tower
2012-08-30 05:38 pm (UTC)
Not quite the same thing, but: after I saw somebody call out Twilight for how Bella never eats anything, I became hyper-aware of having female protagonists off their feed. Which has led to things like the YA heroine of the story I was working on yesterday picking at her lunch . . . and then thinking about how the heat and stress were killing her appetite and she'd have to watch out or her blood sugar would be too low for her to be able to run fast later.

She's still not eating much in that scene, but at least it's for concrete reasons and framed as a potential problem that will undermine her badassery, rather than a shortcut to her being "virtuous" and thin.

Edited at 2012-08-30 05:39 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-08-30 07:32 pm (UTC)
I have to be careful on that one because I'm often nauseated and food is unappealing with vertigo and vertigo meds...so if I let authorial viewpoint slip into character viewpoint, I run the risk of going into that sort of thing unintentionally. And letting authorial viewpoint slip into character viewpoint is not good anyway, but particularly when it does something like this.
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From: swan_tower
2012-08-30 08:08 pm (UTC)
Hmmm -- I hadn't thought about the authorial viewpoint thing in my own case. But it is true that I kind of forget to eat sometimes, and now I'm wondering if the same is true of my characters . . . .
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