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Claudia Gray – the new Stephenie Meyer?

Originally posted on Great stories, 4 July

Given the phenomenal global success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, there’s a mad rush from publishers and publicists to find “the next Stephenie Meyer”.

Which is ironic, because it was only a year or so ago Meyer was being touted as “the next JK Rowling”.

I’m pretty sure authors themselves cringe at such comparisons, but in the current glut of urban fantasy, paranormal adventure and YA escapism hitting our shelves, they’re unavoidable.

Once author being compared to Meyer is Claudia Gray (the pseudonym of New York-based writer Amy Vincent). She’s currently two books into a planned four-book series about a gothic boarding school and the strange goings on there.

The Evernight series is told in the first person through the eyes of Bianca, a shy newcomer to the school who falls for fellow outsider Lucas.

For the first hundred or so pages, Evernight seemed to be heading into familiar Twilight territory. But then there was a very neat twist I hadn’t seen coming (having not gone out of my way to read too much about the series beforehand), which took the story in a new and interesting direction.

Without giving too much away, the series features vampires, vampire hunters and (in the second book, Stargazer), ghosts. It’s a kind of Twilight, Supernatural and Buffy hybrid, with a bit of Hogwarts thrown in for good measure.

Evernight introduces the main characters, establishes the mythology and sets the lines between the warring vampires and vampire hunters – which Gray then nicely blurs, ensuring the reader is never quite sure who’s “good” and who’s not.

Stargazer then ups the ante with more tension and twists as Bianca and Lucas try to make their relationship work, and new elements are added to increase the sense of mystery and menace. It’s these twists and turns, and the relative complexities of the relationships between a number of characters, that makes this series more than just another teen vampire love story. That, and the fact Gray is a good storyteller.

So … is she the next Meyer?

We’ve talked before on this blog (Great stories) about why Meyer’s novels have struck such a chord with readers. The appeal is undeniably the intense relationship between Bella and Edward, particularly the idea of a powerful, sexy vampire denying his very nature to love and protect the human he craves.

While the Bianca-Lucas romance drives the Evernight story, it’s as much a suspenseful gothic mystery as it is a love story. The relationships aren’t always healthy, and truth is never black or white, which makes the story all the more interesting.

Gray’s author bio refers to her lifelong interest in old houses, classic movies, vintage style and history, and she nicely weaves these elements into her narrative.

It’s not fair to compare Gray to Meyer. Gray is an unashamed fan of vampire stories – particularly those not mired in horror – and Everynight and Stargazer pay homage to that.

These YA books are fast-paced and suspenseful, and while there’s not the underlying sexiness of the Bella-Edward dynamic, there are plenty of hot and heavy moments with Bianca and Lucas (with their own complications, of course).

(See original post on Great stories for past comments)

Update: You can check out my review for the next book, Hourglass, here.

Urban fantasy – a new form of spirituality?

Originally posted on Great Stories, 24 July 2009

So, what is it about paranormal and urban fantasy that appeals so strongly to teenagers?

Bookstore shelves are groaning under the weight of these series – mostly involving vampires.

Of course, the better ones can be equally enjoyed by adults, but there’s no denying most of the bestsellers target the YA market.

Yes, there are the usual YA elements: the coming-of-age angst of finding acceptance, falling in love and finding meaning in life … but why are these aspects so much more appealing to teens when woven into a story about vampires and werewolves?

Is it a natural progression from classic horror stories (I certainly spent plenty of hours reading Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Peter Straub as a teenager), even if most of the new breed of stories aren’t actually about horror?

Or is it a symptom of something else? A need to live – albeit fleetingly – in a world where there is more to reality than we can see? A place where greater forces are at work and ordinary teenagers can discover they have epic destinies?

Which leads to me to wonder if these stories are, in some bizarre way, replacing religion (there’s no denying the religious-like zeal associated with the Twilight series). I’m not talking about urban fantasy themes as a doctrine, but as an experience.

In these alternate worlds, there’s meaning in life, death and suffering, even if it all takes place as part of a narrative far removed from reality. For a while, teens can exist in a world where there are clearly defined rules (even if the characters break them).

Otherworld fantasy also offers this level of escape, but seems to be the domain of older readers, with teens more interested in stories taking place in worlds that resemble their own (happy to be corrected on this one).

Personally, I enjoy both forms of storytelling, but I’m curious to know if readers of these types of stories prefer one type over the other – and if so, why?

And do you have any theories on why teens (and adults) are drawn to this new genre? (see original post on Great Stories for past comments).