RogerBW's Blog

License to Ensorcell, Katharine Kerr 26 June 2022

2010 urban fantasy. Nola O'Grady works for a government agency that doesn't exist, to preserve Harmony in the face of Order and Chaos. Back in her home town of San Francisco, she's looking into portents of doom. She tries to keep this separate from her family, but, well, many of them have magic talents too…

I should say first that I have a long relationship with Kerr's writing. I first met her work when she was writing RPG material for Dragon in the 1980s, and very much liked it; then she started the Deverry series with Daggerspell in 1986, and I read them for a while because I'd liked the gaming stuff, but three or four books in I lost heart. (They're up to sixteen now.) I enjoyed Polar City Blues, and I think I enjoyed Polar City Nightmare, but I remember almost nothing about them. So when I think of Kerr I have good memories, but a hazy recollection that the detail wasn't all that great.

Recently I found this urban fantasy series, and… my reaction continues to be mixed.

There's good stuff. Order and Chaos and trying to find a balance may not be anything very new, and we don't explore them in much detail, but we do get an investigative story with magical assistance, working for an agency that gives very little material support but can provide administrative help. The female lead has significant competence and largely drives the investigation. This isn't standard urban fantasy sexy werewolves and vampires (though the werewolves are here and the "alpha" nonsense is perpetuated).

But Nola also has what seems at first to be the standard stereotyped Western female obsession with being thin, and nobody tries to call her on it except the hunky Israeli undercover cop who turns up to be the romantic hero… and then all of a sudden everyone regards it as an actual eating disorder. She remakes herself to be what he finds attractive, and doesn't even seem to realise she's doing it. (Given where Kerr went with some of the Deverry material she could be playing a long and dark game here, but I suspect that would really annoy the urban fantasy fans.) There's a lot of very dull family drama which isn't made more interesting by Aunt Eileen learning everybody's secrets in her dreams (but we all love her, because, er, because, cornfield?). The introduction of pointless acronyms for Nola's various psychic techniques starts off being done to show her impatience with them, but by the end of the book they're being used in all seriousness. When Nola first meets Ari her magic goes wonky because of the sexual charge between them, but once they've slept together everything's fine. (Magic is interfered with by unresolved sexual tension?)

Also, Ari is the sort of character to whom Noam Chomsky is an Unmentionable Person because "he defends the PLO and Hamas. Drums up a lot of support for them in America".

Really, this isn't particularly good in any respect except the basic technical business of writing, but it does have an odd fascination, and I'll probably read at least one more of the things.

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Series: Nola O'Grady | Next in series: Water to Burn

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