Magic in a Certain Slant of Light, by Deborah Coates

June 3, 2008

Listen to it at PodCastle.

I’m all about not judging a book or story by its genre. I believe that just about any genre is capable of producing gems of storytelling, as well as unmitigated dreck. When it comes to genre, I like to think of myself as an equal rights activist.

Even I have my limits, though. When it was announced in the PodCastle intro that Magic in a Certain Slant of Light had been reprinted in Year’s Best Paranormal Romance, I felt my stomach drop and my gorge rise. For the love of all that is good in the world, no!

I used to dislike romance in general, but then I read Sense and Sensibility and Wuthering Heights. It still feels like a guilty pleasure, even though those books are canonical. It’s still romance, after all.

Anyway, I did not let the label ‘paranormal romance’ put me off this story. I braced myself, and reminded myself that every genre has potential, whether it’s high literature… or paranormal romance. I think I had to stop myself from giggling hysterically as I thought that.

Although it still certainly isn’t a genre that I particularly like, this story has shown me that yes, even paranormal romance can produce wonderful stories. Truth be told, this felt more like a high-literature piece, maybe something that a female Kurt Vonnegut without the wry humour would have written.

The protagonist knows things. She knows that someone is pregnant, even before the lucky woman herself realises it. She knows what her boss is planning, before he’s announced it. She also knows that her lover is going to leave her within a year, and she is powerless to stop it.

This story analyses the way that people deal with losing the thing that they love most. It gets a bit meta, which I thoroughly enjoyed, being the postmodern geek that I am.  Yes, the protagonist got a bit whiny, and  yes, the zeppelin thing did wear a little thin towards the end, but it was nevertheless enjoyable.

It would have been vastly more enjoyable, however, if the ending hadn’t been so… not. It wasn’t really anything. Yes, the character came to terms with the fact that, despite her science skills, she can’t control every aspect of her life. Good for her. But there was no real resolution. We’re shown how things vastly improve between her and her lover (thanks to a zeppelin), but nothing changes. He’s still going to leave. But we’re just told that and… I don’t know, it just falls a little flat. I was surprised when the PodCastle music started playing, because I was expecting another paragraph or two.

Still, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Magic in a Certain Slant of Light has vastly improved my opinion of paranormal romance as a genre. It reminded me that not everything has to be about a woman stuck in a dead-end job falling in love with a vampire and then having all kinds of wacky adventures and weird sex. This, needless to say, is a good thing.

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