Archive for Books


Escapist Reads

I know I’ve mentioned my search for “cozy” fantasy before, but I’ve been thinking about it again recently, and then there was some discussion on Twitter yesterday, so I thought I’d bring it up again in a form that’s a lot easier for me than Twitter (I don’t write well in short bursts).

A lot of the fan mail I’ve received about the Enchanted, Inc. series is about how these books helped people get through difficult and stressful situations. I’ve heard from moms who read them while on bed rest during difficult pregnancies, people who read them while sitting through chemo infusions, people who read them while in ICU waiting rooms, even people who read them out loud to stroke patients. These readers thanked me for writing something fun and optimistic that wasn’t too stressful to read but that was still engaging enough to hook them and take them away from their surroundings.

Lately, I’ve had the chance to see just how important that can be. I’ve been dealing with some medical stuff that’s involved a lot of tests, scans, and the like, and then waiting for results that could have been scary (they weren’t). One of the issues I’ve been dealing with is possibly high adrenaline levels that are spiking my blood pressure and pulse rate, which means that for a while, until medication got that under control, it was literally bad for me to get too tense. I was reading a book I was enjoying, but I had to put it aside near the climax because I just couldn’t deal with the stress of worrying about the characters. I could feel my blood pressure rising while reading it and could only finish it once the medication started working.

What I needed was what I guess you’d call escapist fantasy. But that’s tricky to find. For one thing, it’s hard to write because it’s a challenge to have enough tension for the book to be engaging without it being super stressful. If you do manage to write that, it’s a very tough sell because editors are looking for intense books. A lot of readers love it when a book rips their hearts out. Angst sells. “Grimdark” is a big thing.

But it’s not just about having a happy ending because the process of getting to a happy ending can be stressful. The romance genre is built around a guaranteed happy ending, but there are romance books that are difficult for me to read because they put the characters through the wringer first. What I’m looking for is really hard to define, and I’m sure it varies by individual because everyone has their own triggers. For instance, I just can’t deal with gambling in books. It stresses me out, big-time, especially in the kind of story where the person has to stake all they own at very high risk. I also have a very hard time with institutional injustice, like a frame job where the authorities are in on it, so the person has nowhere to turn.

Some things I tend to look for:

  • Nothing really dire happening to or threatening the viewpoint character — you may notice that in my books, most of the real suffering happens to other characters while the viewpoint character is the one coming to the rescue without actually going through more than worrying about those other characters. The tension is about whether the protagonist will save the others, not whether she’ll survive or be okay.
  • Moments of hope or joy even during the tough parts.
  • Friendships or relationships that provide support during the tough parts.
  • At least someone with some kind of power (magical, legal, financial, etc.) on the side of the good guys so that there’s a power balance with the villains.
  • More focus on the heroes than on the villains.
  • The stakes focus more on the world than on the characters — the story question is whether they can make the world a better place, not whether they’re going to survive

Even if books like these exist, finding them and identifying them is tricky, and you may not know until you’re midway through whether or not a book will be “safe” for you at this time. Mostly, it seems to be word of mouth. Apparently, word really spread about the Enchanted, Inc. books in some mothers of multiples forums, and that’s why so many moms were reading them during bed rest. So, I thought I might start a list of books that work for me in these circumstances and why. That may also give an idea of what I’m looking for.

  • My Enchanted, Inc. series does seem to work for other people, though for me it’s stressful reading because I want to edit it. I would like more of something like that, but written by someone else.
  • Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are generally what I re-read when I need a comfort read. I suppose bad stuff does happen sometimes to his main characters, but there’s still a reassuring sense that it will all work out, so I trust him to get me where I need to be. The humor and sense of hope help a lot. I just wouldn’t re-read the last book if I’m not up to strong emotions.
  • It’s science fiction rather than fantasy, but To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis, is a big comfort read for me. The stakes are high — history itself — but there’s zero worry that the main characters are going to suffer horribly.
  • Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, is a lovely gem of a book that leaves me with a satisfied sigh.

I’ll have to go back through my reading logs to see what else I’ve found, but these are the ones that come to mind and that I reread often when I’m too stressed out by the real world to handle stress in my fiction. And I’m open to suggestions. I’ll have to put the list somewhere on my web site so people can find good recommendations when they need a low-stress, escapist read.


My Problem with Epic Fantasy Series

As I come to the end of a trilogy I’ve been reading, I started thinking about what to read next, and that got me started thinking about my reading patterns, and I realized that I have a weird problem with a lot of epic fantasy: I tend not to finish series. There are very few of those big, fat fantasy series that I’ve actually finished.

I know the Anne McCaffrey Pern books are technically science fiction, but they read a lot like fantasy and at various times have been published as fantasy. When I was a teenager, I got an omnibus edition of the first few books from the library, plowed through the first book, read the second, and bogged down somewhere during the third book, never finishing it and never reading any other books in the series.

I read the first two Shannara books when I was a teen, but they were self-contained, with the second book picking up a generation after the first. Not long after I was out of college, I discovered that the series has been continued, picking up some time after the second book. I read the third book, which had a cliffhanger-ish ending, read the fourth book, which picked up the story. And I think that was where I stopped. Part of it was because the party was split in the fourth book, with one group going off and the story sticking with the other group, ending with a cliffhanger involving them. But then the next book picked up the story of the group that split off. There was a time gap between books, as I’d caught up with those that had been published, and I couldn’t remember what had been happening with the group that was split off, so I seem to have lost interest entirely and stopped reading.

I got started on the Wheel of Time series when I was on a trip, finished the book I’d brought, and went to a bookstore to buy something to read on my flight home (in the days before e-books). They threw a freebie book into my bag, and that was what I started reading on the plane. It turned out to be just the first third or so of the first Wheel of Time book (so it was about the size of an average mass market paperback). Since it was a freebie sampler, of course it ended on a cliffhanger, and when I got home, I got the whole book from the library and plowed through it. I then immediately went to the library for the next book, and plowed through it. I grabbed the next one, and fizzled out midway through it when I realized I didn’t care what happened. Part of it was that the main character was changing, which is to be expected, but I didn’t like the person he’d changed into. Part of it was that they split the party, and all the characters I liked were with one group, but that wasn’t the group the book focused on. And I think part of it was burnout. I never did go back and read the rest of the series.

On the recommendation of a friend, I bought all the books in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series by Tad Williams. It’s a trilogy, but in mass market the final book is split into two volumes. There’s still a bookmark stuck midway through the last volume. If I were to try to finish the series, I’d have to start over again because I don’t remember anything at all about those books.

Of course, there are series I’ve finished, or at least have managed to read all of the books the author has written. So, what’s the difference?

I’ve learned that I do have a problem with burnout. While there is that urge to read all the books, right now, I’ve found that I do better to space them out, even if they’re all available. If I read something else in between volumes of a series, I’m more likely to finish the series.

To some extent, for me shorter is better. I can generally finish a trilogy, but when I see an unending series of doorstopper books, I feel overwhelmed. I find it helps if a longer series of connected books is broken up in smaller trilogies. That allows some sense of completion rather than feeling strung along forever without a resolution. Somewhat self-contained books are also good, with each book having a beginning, middle, and end rather than just being the amount of pages out of one long story that could fit into the binding.

Don’t split the party! That seems to be the kiss of death for me. I’ll be happy with the first book and the group of characters, and then they always seem to split up in book 2 (Tolkien did this, too). Even if I like characters in both groups, it changes the group chemistry when they’re split. If I don’t like characters in both groups, this is when I tend to skip ahead to find out what’s going on with the characters I like, and then I lose the thread of the overall story. I’m more likely to finish a series that sticks with one main character or group of characters.

Obviously, I’m not the norm for this because all of these series were very successful. Thinking about this has mostly been a way for me to recognize my own reading patterns. As a result, although I want to read the next book in the series I’ve been reading, I think I’m going to take a break and read something else, even though the next book starts a new trilogy in that universe. I like these books and would like to get to the end of the series, so I’m not going to let myself bog down and burn out.


Wallowing in a Fictional World

One of the reasons I like reading fantasy novels is that it allows me to visit new worlds. I like fantasy series because once I find a world I like, I want to linger there, making repeat visits. I want to know more about that world, to see more aspects of it than are shown in the books.

That’s why I’ve become such a fangirl of the Maradaine books by Marshall Ryan Maresca. Marshall’s a friend, but even if I’d never met him, I’d be all over these books. That’s because there are multiple series set in this world, and each one covers a different aspect of the world. You can absolutely wallow in this fictional place.

One series could be thought of as “Harry Potter meets the Scarlet Pimpernel.” These books, starting with The Thorn of Dentonhill, are about a magic student at the city university who spends his free time as a vigilante trying to stop the drug trade run by a local crime boss. He combines his magical talent with his acrobatic skills from a childhood as a circus performer to carry out his daring nighttime deeds, and then he levels up (and becomes more of a target) when he obtains some valuable magical items.

Then there’s the Maradaine Constabulary series set in this same city that works like a police procedural mystery. Our main characters are a couple of mismatched, misfit police detectives. One is a woman who bluffed her way into the job when her police officer husband was injured in the line of duty and could no longer work. The other is an untrained mage whose magical talent is a bit of a mystery. Together, they fight crime, particularly odd cases with magical connections.

And then there’s the Streets of Maradaine series that’s kind of a fantasy version of Leverage, with a group of people with various criminal talents who team up to find out who’s behind a fire that burned out their street and then track back to the powerful people who seem to be up to something.

We’ve already had an intersection of the first two series, when the cops are investigating the vigilante, and I understand that the third one will also get woven in. There’s another series set in this same world on the way.

I just read the second book in the Streets of Maradaine series, Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe, and it was such a fun caper, with our gang trying to infiltrate a nobleman’s manor during a big party.

I think people who like my books would probably enjoy any of these series. They’re not quite steampunk, more like clockpunk, but if you like the Rebels books, these are worth a try. I love the characters, and it’s so much fun seeing various aspects of this magical city.


Recent Reading: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

In spite of having discovered the wealth of video programming on Amazon Prime, with so many wonderful documentaries, I’ve been in a heavy reading mode lately, which is wonderful.

I think one of my recent reads is something fans of Rebel Mechanics would enjoy: The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss. It’s not actually “steampunk” but is set in the Victorian era and does get into retrofuturistic science, and it does involve brainy and plucky young women trying to find their place in the world and dealing with a secret society, so there’s a lot of thematic crossover.

Basically, it’s about the daughter of Dr. Jekyll, who ends up working on a case with Sherlock Holmes, and the case brings her in contact with some of the female “monsters” created by the various 19th century literary mad scientists. We’ve got the Bride of Frankenstein and one of Dr. Moreau’s beast people, for instance. All these women team up to track down a mysterious society of alchemists. I get the sense that this is an origin story and that there will be further adventures of our intrepid band of heroines. (Yep, a quick Amazon search reveals that book 2 will be out in July.)

This is such a fun book. There’s some deeper stuff delving into the idea of what a monster is and the role of men in turning women into monsters (as well as their choices in using women as their experimental subjects), but it’s mostly a romp of an adventure story, as our heroines get in and out of a lot of scrapes and use their various “monstrous” abilities to deal with the danger. There’s a bit of a metafictional aspect to it, as the book is written as though it’s a work in progress being written by one of the characters, with interjections by the other characters along the way when they disagree with the way the narrator is portraying things. (That’s a fairly accurate look inside the brain of a writer, when the characters start talking back.)

I’d read most of the books being referenced, but now I need to go back and read some of the others, just so I can be certain of getting all the references and jokes.

So, if you like things like Rebel Mechanics or Victorian adventure fiction, in general, or smart women with superpowers, this is one to look for.


Seeking Escapism

A while ago, I mentioned something about wanting the cozy mystery equivalent of fantasy — some adventure, but without anything really bad happening to people I cared about. I know that editors and agents are always looking for books with really high stakes and lots of conflict and tension, but there are times when all that is too much and I just want something pleasant and escapist.

Right now, I’m reading a book that I’m really enjoying, but it’s the middle book in a trilogy, and it’s definitely got that Empire Strikes Back thing going on, where things are getting serious for Our Hero. Bad things are happening all around him, and he’s doing what he can, but he’s powerless to deal with a lot of it, and the people who can do something aren’t listening to him. You can see the train wreck coming.

And it’s almost too much for me to take. I ended up flipping to the end to see how it all came out, and, yep, Empire Strikes Back, where the “happy” ending is that the characters I like managed to live to fight again, but things aren’t good at all. That wasn’t quite reassuring enough, so I went to the Amazon page for the next book in the series to see if that description made it better. And then I found that there’s another trilogy involving these characters, so I checked those descriptions. I now finally feel reassured enough to forge ahead.

I don’t think I could ever sell low-stress reads to a major publisher, but I think I might try to put together some books — probably those fairytale-related romantic fantasies — that I could publish myself and market as what to read when you really don’t want to follow the heroes into hell. There still would be action and suspense, but with stakes that are more personal and less that the whole world is going to be devastated because the people around the incompetent ruler refuse to do anything about it because they have their own agendas.

Though “low-stress reading” probably isn’t the best label. Maybe “Escapist Fantasy.” I know sometimes “escapist” is used about fantasy and “light” reading as an insult, but sometimes, escapist is exactly what I want. I think in general that’s what I write, but it’s very, very hard to sell right now.


Belatedly Discovering Robin Hobb

I think doing a convention in one day was a really smart move. I got a bit of exposure, sold a few books, and got to see people, then got a day to recover before facing the week, so it ended up being almost energizing instead of draining. Normally, the Monday after a convention is a waste for me, but I might get some work done, and I’m motivated to get work done. It’s supposed to be a rainy week, so that bodes well — unless I don’t want to do anything but read, which is what cold, rainy days do to me.

My most recent reading was Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb. I keep seeing her name on lists of fantasy you should read, and somehow I missed reading her, which is a shame because this book was right up my alley. It’s a “traditional” fantasy, but very character-focused, so it’s intimate rather than epic. I imagine the scope will grow through the rest of the series, as the character gets caught up in greater events, but we’ll still mostly see how it affects him. It’s primarily about this person, not about masses of faceless armies or about a dozen people spread around the globe (one of my issues with a lot of epic fantasy — I’m here for the characters, not for the pieces being moved around the chessboard). This first book is largely a set-up book, introducing the character of Fitz as a child, taking him through his various kinds of training, and eventually bringing him into the big-picture affairs of his kingdom. He’s a bastard born to the heir to the throne who gets taken in by the king and trained into service as an assassin for the king. But there are those within the court who see him as a threat to their own ambitions, so his position is rather precarious.

You really feel for the guy. He’s a great viewpoint character/narrator. He fits into that category of good people who aren’t boring. He’s got an affinity for animals, a lot of compassion and empathy, some smarts, and great courage to stand up and do the right thing, no matter the cost. We see his struggles to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is on the level.

I also enjoy the worldbuilding. I don’t know how intentional it is, but I get a sense of a Nordic tone in this world. I’ve been reading a bit about Scandinavia lately, and the role of the king among the mountain people in this book sounds a bit like it could be based on the modern attitude about royalty in Scandinavia. Meanwhile, the enemy sounds a bit like evil Vikings. Or maybe I’m just seeing it all through that lens because I just watched a series of travel videos about Scandinavia and mapped that imagery and attitude onto the book.

Anyway, my local library branch has the sequel, and I’m off to pick it up today. I started reading the other book I had handy once I finished this one, and I couldn’t quite get into it, as all I could think about was what happens next to this character.


Recent Reading

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to spend more time reading and less time watching TV or on the Internet. I’m trying to be off the screens by 9 p.m. so I can then spend that time before I go to sleep reading. So far, it seems to be working. I’ve already read two novels and half a non-fiction book this year, and I think I’m sleeping better, too.

One of the novels was something recommended by a blog reader, Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. This book is something of a play on the Tam Lin legend (and is reminiscent of Pamela Dean’s novel, Tam Lin). A couple of sisters, one a dancer, one a writer, get accepted into a prestigious arts fellowship that includes residency in a scenic campus setting, and once they get there, they learn that there’s something else going on — and that there’s an opportunity related to the fellowship that could lead to automatic success for the winner, at a rather high cost.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot, lest I spoil it, though if you’re familiar with fairy folklore, you’ll probably have a sense of what might be going on. Aside from the fantasy elements, the book is largely about the relationship between the sisters, who grew up in an abusive home that seemed right out of a wicked stepmother fairy tale. They’ve been estranged, largely due to the interference of their mother, and are hoping that being together in this fellowship will help them repair and restore their relationship, only to find that it might put extra stress on their relationship.

The book also delves into the creative process, how it affects your life, how it can be affected by life, and explores what people might be willing to do for success. Some might be eager to pay the high price for guaranteed success, while others would rather take the risk of failure if it means they know any success is purely due to their own merit.

The setting is nicely atmospheric, conjuring a place that truly feels magical. Also, I want to know where I can sign up for the fellowship that lets me live in a cottage in the mountains and have all my meals delivered to me while I spend all my time writing.

I suspect that fans of my Fairy Tale series will like this one.

I also re-read Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, which is one of my favorite books. I’d read it several times, but I recently got the reissued “Author’s Preferred Edition,” so I figured it was worth a re-read. I have a story relating to that book that I should probably tell again, as I figure my blog readership has entirely turned over since I last told it, but that’s a subject for another post.

In other news, I’m about to revive my every other week writing posts. Is there some aspect of writing, publishing, or the writing life you’d like to have me address? Let me know!

And is there something you’d like me to cover in my blog? I kind of feel like I’m writing into the void right now. I don’t get a lot of hits or comments, so I’m evaluating whether continuing with this is a good use of my time or whether it’s something I need to focus on and build.

Books, TV

Playing with Pride and Prejudice

I’ve finally started digging into the pileup of Christmas movies on my DVR. Last night’s was an old Lifetime one, The 12 Men of Christmas, which is basically a retelling of Pride and Prejudice — a PR exec who lost her job and seems to have been blackballed from other agencies after she caught her boss making out with her fiancé at the office Christmas party takes a desperation job of promoting a small Montana town as a site for corporate retreats. She gets off on the wrong foot with one of the locals, and Pride and Prejudice ensues, with the external plot centering around her idea to raise money for the local search and rescue squad by doing a sexy calendar involving the men on the squad. Of course, “Mr. Darcy” is against it because it’s beneath his dignity, and it doesn’t help that “Mr. Wickham” is gung-ho.

And then my bedtime listening was the last part of an audio drama of Pride and Prejudice. Which seems to have led to my waking thought this morning being to wonder if anyone’s ever done a gender-flipped version of this story. I’m not sure it would work in the original setting because so much of the plot involves gender politics — the precarious situation of Lizzie’s family because they were all girls and the estate was entailed, which required them all to make good marriages; the scandal of the elopement, which affected the woman’s family more than the man’s. But it would be interesting to play with the idea of the woman being proud and aloof and the man taking an instant dislike that skews his discernment about anything anyone says about her.

Next thing I know, I’ve got a TV Christmas movie playing out in my head — there’s a family with five sons who run a ski lodge. They’re barely keeping the business afloat and need a huge influx of cash. Then they learn that a wealthy woman (maybe a movie star or rock star?) has rented a chalet in town. Maybe they could get her to invest in their lodge — or, since she seems to hit it off with the oldest son, they might end up with a cash infusion in another way. Unfortunately, her haughty best friend gets off on the wrong foot with the second oldest son, who then hears some nasty rumors about her from one of the guests staying at his lodge — a guest who’s actually a con artist who scams the youngest brother.

Hmm, maybe I’ve got my next Christmas story right there. But for it to be me, I’d have to find a way to add a dash of magic. I was thinking I’d have to write it in third person, or else write it from Mr. Lizzie’s perspective, but then it occurred to me that this story from Ms. Darcy’s perspective might be interesting. To some extent, part of the fun of the original story is not knowing what’s really going on in Darcy’s head, so we only see him the way Lizzie sees him, but it might be fun to flip that around and be in the Darcy character’s head, with all the “what is wrong with these people?” that surely must be going on.

There’s a conference in a ski resort town (though not during ski season) that I’ve been thinking about going to next year. That would be a great opportunity to research this story. I’m not sure it has to be at a ski resort, but that was the setting that occurred to me and where I see it playing out.


Updating Classics

I’ve developed a habit of listening to audio dramas before I go to sleep at night. I find that they’re a good way of bridging the awake and asleep modes — a little time with the lights out but the brain still somewhat on, and then I fall asleep much more quickly after that night’s episode is over. The BBC web site is full of these, and a lot are classic literature, so I get to refresh my knowledge of some of these stories, or else experience them for the first time.

Recently, I listened to a version of Jane Eyre, and after that there was Jane Austen’s Emma, and then Pride and Prejudice. That got me started thinking — there have been modern versions, updatings of Emma (Clueless) and Pride and Prejudice (Bridget Jones’s Diary, among many others), but has there been one of Jane Eyre? I know there have been other books inspired by elements of it (I even used the governess and employer with a secret in Rebel Mechanics), but they usually take place in a Victorian-like setting, not in modern times. It’s not just that comedies work better than more serious dramas for updating, since there have been a lot of modern versions of Romeo and Juliet, for instance (West Side Story, Twilight).

You really couldn’t just stick the plot of Jane Eyre into modern times because it would fall apart. Divorce is more common and socially acceptable, and there are treatments for mental illness, so the mad wife in the attic as an impediment to remarriage wouldn’t be an issue. I did manage to strain my brain to come up with a way to kind of get the same effect in a modern setting, but then I started wondering if it’s a story that should be updated. It’s very much a story of its time and place.

When you look at the stories that get retold and put into current settings, it tends to be the ones that have an element of universality to them. There will probably always be people who think they know it all while they’re actually oblivious to the damage they’re doing by trying to “help” others, so you can take the plot of Emma and put it into almost any time and place (hmmm, now I want to do the space opera version). Ditto with Pride and Prejudice — bad first impressions are always going to happen. Not all of Austen’s novels get updated. A lot of the plot of Sense and Sensibility falls apart when there’s no real social stigma to a man breaking an engagement, though I think the emotion vs. reason, and there being positives and negatives about both, theme is universal enough that you could probably do something with it, even if the plot had to be changed somewhat to find some other reason Elinor and Edward can’t just get together. Mansfield Park is very much of its time and place and would be hard to put into a new setting because its themes aren’t that universal.

If you look at themes in Jane Eyre, while the mad wife in the attic is very specific to that story, I think the theme of Jane’s resilience and her awareness of her own standards is something that could hold up in any situation. As desperate and vulnerable as her situation is, she holds true to her values, refusing to live as man and wife with Rochester when she’d know it wasn’t true and that he had another wife, and then refusing to marry St. John Rivers just as a cover for them to do missionary work together while living like a brother and sister, because that marriage wouldn’t be true, either. Maybe that story could be moved into the workplace, where someone who desperately needs a job won’t compromise with employers who want her to cross ethical lines, and her stand on that makes one of her employers realize he needs to change his ways.

And now I think I may have a possible plot for a future Christmas story — kind of A Christmas Carol (one that gets updated a lot) meets Jane Eyre.


This Year’s Spooky Classic: Dracula

During all my travels, I had a chance to do some reading. Last year, I decided I should read a spooky classic in October, and I decided to continue that as a tradition. This year’s book was the original Dracula, by Bram Stoker. No, I hadn’t read it before. I’ve never been a big fan of horror or of vampires.

I must say that the book was nothing like what I expected. Has there ever been a movie version that was all that faithful to the book? Because the book is nothing like most of the popular culture depictions I’ve seen of that story.

For one thing, it plays out to some extent more like a detective story or mystery, with the various letters and journal entries giving us pieces of the puzzle as all the characters see parts of what’s going on. We, the readers, have to read between the lines to figure out what’s happening. Then when they put their heads together and sort out all those pieces, it’s about finding and tracking down the villain and figuring out what to do about it. Almost all the “horror” is totally offstage, and Dracula himself affects everyone but is seldom actually present. So I enjoyed it far more than I expected to. I love books that aren’t written in straight narrative but that are put together from letters and other sources. In this case, compiling all this information into a coherent narrative is actually part of the plot, because it’s only when the information is put together in the proper order that they figure it out. The book itself is essentially the compilation the characters put together. It’s an interesting structure for a novel.

But the main thing I love is the character of Mina. She’s a wonderful example to look to for people who want to write strong female characters in a historical setting. She’s totally appropriate to her time (given that the novel was contemporary when it was written) and doesn’t feel like a 21st century character plunked into that setting, but at the same time she’s dynamic and active in a way that modern audiences can relate to. She’s not out physically kicking ass and taking down much larger men, but she’s the one who has a lot to do with bringing down Dracula, using her knowledge of stenography, typewriting and organizing, and she keeps a clear enough head to use the psychic connection Dracula forces on her to track his movements. The men recognize her abilities, even as they act like men of their time — and that even figures into the plot when keeping her safe by keeping her out of the action turns out to work against them because that leaves her vulnerable.

I may even end up reading this one again to analyze the structure and characterization, now that I know how the story comes out.