Preternatura Books Club: Urban Fantasy Gets Religion (& W*n Some Books)

Welcome back to the Preternatura Book Club! We’ll be talking about topics that are related to the book we’re reading but are general enough for you to pipe up and voice an opinion.
Each book read will last four weeks, which is a much faster schedule than we’ve done on previous books. Today, we tackle chapters 24-36 of GUILTY PLEASURES, book one in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton.
Today’s giveaway will be a trio of new books: Shannon Delany’s RIVALS AND RETRIBUTION, a YA urban fantasy; Tracey O’Hara’s SIN’S DARK CARESS, an adult urban fantasy; and Karina Cooper’s TARNISHED, a sexy steampunk. So go for it!
These chapters of GUILTY PLEASURES offered a few answers, but mostly more questions, and the chapters ended with Anita heading for the big climactic scenes of the final chapters. A few thoughts:
Do you feel any differently about Phillip since reading these chapters? He’s such a jerk in the earlier parts of the book, but I think his character displays more dimensions here, and maybe you see why I think he’s such a tragic figure. Phillip makes me sad.
RELIGION! Where does speculative fiction come down on religion? I think it was an issue authors in these early urban fantasy books had to come to terms with, and is a subject I find really interesting.
In epic fantasy, stories are set in entirely different worlds, so faith as we know it isn’t an issue. In science fiction, it’s often futuristic, so faith as we know it also isn’t such an issue, or else it has been perverted or distorted in response to social changes.
But most urban fantasy is set in our world, or a in a near-future version of our world. So urban fantasy pioneers like Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, and Simon R. Green have had to figure out how they want to treat religion in their series.
Anita, we learn in these chapters, draws heavily on her faith. She’s an animator, someone who can raise the dead, and we learn that the Catholic church has denounced her kind. Rather than abandon her faith, she becomes Episcopalian, and her faith shapes who she is in the early books of this series. In the Dresden series, Harry Dresden has an uneasy relationship with his faith, often explored through his relationship with Michael, a knight of the cross. In Green’s Nightside series, John Taylor has a similar uneasy relationship with the beings of heaven.
Other series that you think have done a good job of exploring faith and paranormal?
A funny thing to me in these chapters that really dates them is that Anita has to stop and use a pay phone to call and check the messages on her tape-recording answering machine. I did laugh out loud at that! As Stephen King would say, “the world has moved on.”
We finally, in these chapters, got to see what Anita does—how she raises the dead, although it’s a skewed ritual because of Zachary. Thoughts on Zachary? I think he’s kind of gross and disgusting.
And speaking of gross and scary, Nicolaus has always been one of the scariest vampire characters to me. I think because she’s a child. She’s not the only child vampire in this series, and they’re always pretty warped and scary.
We get a glimpse of Jean Claude in these chapters, and a hint of what’s going on with Anita and her appetite. But I’ll hold that discussion until next week to avoid spoilers.
Leave a comment, start a discussion, and let’s see where it takes us! Anyone who leaves a comment gets entered in the giveaway, which is international, of course. I’ve highlighted some possible talking points above. What do you think?

29 thoughts on “Preternatura Books Club: Urban Fantasy Gets Religion (& W*n Some Books)

  1. I always found Phillip to be a sad figure, too. Anita is such a strong character that you can see why she would appeal to him.

    The answering machine/beeper aspects of the story are really funny to read now, although they do date the story. At least she’s not starting an internet cafe or something equally useless, lol.

    The story is definitely strong enough, though, that I think the dated elements don’t detract from the story. I do wonder if UF series like this one will be read in a few decades the way we read Noir crime novels now. When we read the Maltese Falcon, it’s clear that the novel has dated elements, but we read that as part of the setting.

    • I think that’s an interesting question, whether a book like this will prove as enduring as something like Maltese Falcon. I’d like to think so–that it will be considered a seminal work in a lasting genre and not a novelty genre.

      I think Phillip’s attraction to Anita is genuine–he wants her approval because he respects her, and yet he’s fighting the “orders” to try and seduce her. Anita’s attraction to him–is it pity or real attraction or just the urge to save him? Maybe a little bit of all of those.

  2. Anita and her appetite – She even dreams of blackberries & Jean-Claude, who we haven’t seen in awhile. And says again she hates them! The end is close, will find out about that soon. Nicolaus, GROSS & SCARY to say the least, all the master vampires are gross & scary.

    • LOL–They really are gross and scary, aren’t they? I think Laurell K. Hamilton, especially in this first book, borrowed a lot from the Anne Rice school of vampires. In the second book, and especially the third, Anita starts getting more insight into the vamps and learns they aren’t so black and white. But Nikolaus and her masters? Yikes!

  3. I loved to see how in the bloodhound files series by Dd Barant, each group ( vampires, werewolves, golem) had his own beliefs and i appreciated how the author showed the risks and consequences of thoses when one group was predominant

    for me it was a good way to put things in perspectives in this urban fantasy series and it did gave me things to ponder ( not like a moral not at all but how to better understand when we aren’t part of the dominant group)

    • i love it! i’ve done one review on the first book if that interest you and i will review all the others in october( month for all kind of urban fantasy for me^^) but i’ve done a pre read of book 2 and 3 and my! i love it the quality stays the same, the investigation is always centered on a new aspect of teh world so we are learning more and more about the universe as long as the heroine^^ ( i love criminal minds and les experts so since it’s a bit of a mix i should have loved it and i’m not disappointed)

  4. I always loved how Jim Butcher deals with religion in The Dresden Files. Even though Harry has an uneasy relationship with the divine, like you said, Butcher writes about Michael, Father Forthill and other people of faith with great respect.

    I also agree with Miki about DD Barant’s The Bloodhound Files. Great series.

    • Totally agree about Jim Butcher–he explores the issues through Harry’s doubts, but both Father Forthill and Michael (and Michael’s family) are treated with great respect.

  5. I find that reading a book which contains outdated technology feels more dataed when it is set in the recent past. Using a pay phone stands out in Guilty Pleasures but if I’m reading a books set in the sixties or seventies I wouldn’t notice it as much.

    So I think that eventually Guilty Pleasures may be set far enough in the past that new readers picking up the book for the first time won’t even be familiar with pay phones and will just accept them as part of the era that the book is set in.

    • Ah, good point, Sandy. I think one of the reasons the outdated tech in Guilty Pleasures jumps out so much is that the rest of the story could have been written this year. It’s a well-crafted and pretty timeless urban fantasy plot.

  6. Though this doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the contents of the book itself I noticed the striking similarity between the cover of Guilty Pleasures and a part of True Blood’s season one opening sequence. Coincidence?

    • Hm…interesting. Yes, a definite resemblance. This wasn’t the original Guilty Pleasures cover–not sure when it dates from. Seems like some of the later Charlaine Harris books had redone covers (or maybe it was the UK covers) similar to this as well.

  7. I don’t think I’ve read any books that contain both religion and paranormal. If it’s about faith and paranormal, it’s usually that someone things things are going to work out or that someone will rescue them.

    • Most do skirt the issue, which is probably good from a reader standpoint. I do think some authors (Jim Butcher being a notable example, and Simon R. Green another) do it will. They touch on it without it overpowering the story.

  8. “The world has moved on.” Never quite sure how to put Stephen King’s books in a particular category. He wrote several books with religion as a significant part. ‘Salem’s Lot & The Stand come to mind. Although Urban Fantasy was not even a term when they were written.

    • Interesting you should say that. I know those books are technically considered horror, because as you say, UF hadn’t been invented way back then. But I think modern urban fantasy came at least partially out of a horror background and so were ‘Salem’s Lot released today, for example, it would be considered UF, I think. And The Stand would probably be dystopian science fiction.

  9. I love books (and movies) that incorporate religion in some way. I agree with Roger about Stephen King. The Stand is my fave book.

    • Yay, another fan of The Stand. I usually list that as my all-time favorite book, and I’d really like to re-read it. It is a great blend of faith, mysticism, and science.

  10. It seems to me that many authors just sidestep the whole religion issue. It’s like it’s okay to include necromancy, ghosts, and grim reapers because death itself is universal, but I think current authors try to appeal to as wide an audience as possible by not tying death to religion.

    I have to admit, I consciously stay away from UF that has any kind of religious undertones. Just a hint of it is enough to keep me away. For example, I don’t mind the occasional angels or demons as side characters, but I prefer to avoid them if it’s the main storyline.

    • I don’t think I’d want to read an overtly religious UF or one whose plot revolved around faith or religion (I think there are authors of “inspirational” fantasy, but I do like when it’s acknowledged as part of a character’s life–if it figures, as in Anita Blake’s case, into how she approaches her job.

  11. anita blake’s the first PNR book i’ve read who mixed religion in the story, and it’s a good job too. (we’ll see more of the mix when the story reach the church of eternal life)

    i still have mixed feeling with religion in PNR story.. i don’t know why, but it just doesn’t feel right.

  12. Religion has always been a tricky issue over the years and has evolved as such to fit with the times in most cases. I think it mostly depends on the character’s point of view. Most people in today’s world are not very religious to begin with so most characters in books aren’t either. But paranormal writing hits on magic and if you are say a Catholic, you have to believe in magic out there what with Jesus rising from the dead, the Holy Spirit, and what not. They may not call it magic but that’s what it is so I definitely think religion fits in with paranormal and fantasy books.
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  13. I don’t know how much religion it contains because I haven’t read it but I recently saw a post for Interview With A Jewish Vampire by Erica Manfred on another blog.

  14. I’ve got to admit I’m one to avoid a any books that tend to have a religious undertone. That the character has a faith or a moral compass, that’s okay, but I’ll stop reading a book that I feel is too preachy in a heartbeat. If I want religion I’ll go to church on Sunday.
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  15. I do think that addressing religion is an hard thing to do. Personally, I understand it must be done but I don’t like it when it’s too heavy. Anita series is a good mix, although Anita’s vision on religion are a bit too twisted

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