Constance February 1st, 2012
The Science Fiction and Fantasy publisher DAW has been publishing quite a few of the best writers with which the field currently is blessed, including, but not limited to, this year’s World Fantasy Award winner, Nnedi Okorafor, Tanya Huff and Patrick Rothfuss. Katharine Kerr, creator of the great Deverry Fantasy series, is another DAW writer giving us consistently highly entertaining, smart and very well written books.
Katharine Kerr’s latest series, the Nola O’Grady Novels, are, in order of publication — License to Enscorcell, Water to Burn, and the most recent, published 02/17/12, Apocalypse to Go. The series is urban fantasy, located in an alternate San Francisco. Among these novels’ strengths is the strong sense of real place, despite it being an alternate San Francisco, situated in a universe different from ours in many respects. This palpable sense of reality helps the reader to effortlessly suspend disbelief and submerge in the story.
One of the urban fantasy conventions is the protagonist generally is paired with an equal but different companion. This would be Israeli Interpol agent Ari Nathan, Irish Nola’s partner in the super-secret supernatural government agency that is secret even from the (many) other government secret agencies. The conflict of potential divided loyalties is equal to the conflict at times as to who is giving orders, who is in charge and who makes the decisions. This makes for an interesting relationship, which becomes even more interesting as Nola’s close-knit, if difficult, Irish family becomes a part of the mix of diverse worlds, supernatural creatures, murders, kidnappings and missions to save the world.
While Kerr’s Nola O’Grady novels do conform to the conventions of urban
fantasy, she puts a stamp of originality on each of them. The originality partly rises out of her fine grasp of how novels are plotted and structured, and partly through Kerr’s splendid command of language. You hear it in the way the characters talk to us the readers, talk to and about each other. The interchanges and observations are conventionally genre ‘smart,’ yet on Kerr’s pages they come through as naturally hip, not self-consciously wise-cracking attempts to talk the supernatural noir talk. But then the author lives in the state where noir and its language on the page and on the screen were invented to large degree.
Because of the unexpected actions of Nola’s family, and also because the language in this world of Kerr’s balances tension and lightness, this reader has often been put in mind of the first and best novels of Roger Zelazny’s wonderful Amber series. I vividly recall reading non-stop Nine Princes in Amber the first time, hardly able to stop and take a breath. This is high praise. Go Kerr! Go Nola!