The Grendel Affair - A lovely bit of pulpy escapism

The Grendel Affair - Lisa Shearin

Brainycat's 5 "B"s:
blood: 4
boobs: 2
bombs: 4
bondage: 1
blasphemy: 2
Stars: 3.5
Bechdel Test: PASS
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL

Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.

This is fun, quick, straight-up no frills monster hunting starring a protagonist who is one of the best female leads I've seen in urban fantasy - she's actually someone I'd like to hang out with. She has her strengths (though they're far from "godlike", she has her weaknesses (and they're not about chocolate or bad boys) and she's made from a core of steel wrapped in some normal human foibles. Her co-star / work partner is a bit stiff and one dimensional, but there's plenty of room for him to develop in subsequent books. Unlike so much of the UF genre, this story is gloriously free of romance. Which is not to say there's no sexuality, but it's just normal on-the-job tension between coworkers who like each other. There was not an iota of "instalove", nor did anyone make TSTL decisons because "Twoo Wuv". Thank you, dear author, for respecting the characters enough to let these people focus on the job at hand and not forcing them into situations for which they have neither the time nor inclination.

The pace of the story is "frenetic", but that's framed in the first chapter and adds to the tension. It doesn't feel forced, and the story takes advantage of different excitement levels to give the main characters time to breathe and develop. I think the development of our main protagonist is exemplary, actually, and is the strongest component of the book. The weakest part of the story is the "epic" scale of the conflict while our plucky heroine isn't nearly so developed. This creates a sense of her getting dragged along to play along with the big boys, and while she has total agency over herself and within her limited sphere of influence she doesn't really get to drive the plot. This is brought up often and helps drive some plot points - it's a deliberate decision from the author and is a major component of the inter-character relationships, and my ambivalence about this reflects my own tastes rather than a failure to write well.

There's a strong Men In Black feeling to the story - it's about an elite secret organization that hides in plain sight, keeping the sheeple safe from the things that go bump in the night. Like the MIB movies, supernatural critters hide in plain sight all over New York City and most play nice with each other most of the time. It's a solid, if not spectacularly original premise for the world building and affords the opportunity for any number of sequels. The supporting cast comes right out of the genre mold: The organization is run by a Dame Judi Dench lookalike, the science crew are all socially inept, the computer whiz is a anime and scifi fanboy, the Tall Dark and Handsome partner has a Tragic Past, etc. The supporting cast really aren't developed, though they are voiced well enough to tell them apart.

I've mentioned "sequels" a couple of times, and I hope the author continues this series for many episodes. There's a lot of potential in this series, and a lot of room to explore any number of tropes, settings and characters. The second installment "The Dragon Conspiracy" is out and I've bought it already. It's not groundbreaking or especially thought provoking, and that's ok. I read for entertainment, and the fact is this book is more entertaining than nearly all the swill coming out of Hollywood these days. It takes about as long to read as it does to watch a long thriller, but it's way more entertaining.