Sunday 25 September 2011

Paranormalcy, Kiersten White

I'd been vaguely aware of Paranormalcy for a while, from other people's "mailbox" and review posts, but I'll be honest, it really didn't jump out and grab me, probably because of the title. I'd been coming to think the word "paranormal" to be a bit overused, an easy categorisation of an entire genre of books, without anything to say what makes this one different. Also, as a Brit, the word "normalcy" just doesn't sound right, and that, too, might have turned me off. But then, I happened upon author Kiersten White's blog, and after reading a few posts, decided I wanted to see more, went out and bought the book.

Yesterday, I was sorting through my books, picked up Paranormalcy to add to my to-read pile, then flicked it open. I was going to pick up and reread The Princess Bride, but upon opening Paranormalcy, literally from the first line or two, I could not put this book down.

The first chapter was called, "Oh, Bite Me!"
"Wait- did you- You just yawned!" The vampire's arms, raised over his head in the classic Dracula pose, dropped to his sides. He pulled his exaggerated white fangs back behind his lips. "What, imminent death isn't exciting enough for you?""Oh, stop pouting. But really,the widow's peak? The pale skin? The black cape? Where did you even get that thing, a costume store?"
I had to read more. Just one more sentence, to see if it was as funny as the last, and another, to find out what exactly was going on. It didn't take very long to get a clear picture of narrator Evie: Sassy, snarky, exuding attitude, but a girly-girl at heart. She might be employed by the International Paranormal Containment Agency to track down supernatural creatures - vampires, werewolves, faeries, you name it - for monitoring, but despite her unusual life, Evie herself is just a normal teenage girl, who would like nothing better than to be an ordinary high school student with a driving license and a locker. Just because she has the unique ability to see beneath the glamours - magical disguises and illusions - of "paranormals" - doesn't mean she herself is anything but normal.

But then immortal creatures start dropping dead by the dozen, and the person responsible is somehow connected to Evie. They seem to have more in common with each other than any of the other weird and wonderful creatures IPCA is keeping tabs on. Perhaps Evie's not as normal as she thought.

I'm usually wary of fantasy stories set in the real world which have too many different species of impossible creatures, preferring to stick to just one. But Paranormalcy really worked. Although "paranormals" aren't known to most humans, to Evie they're just differently normal. Her best friend is a mermaid, her ex-boyfriend a faerie, many of her colleagues werewolves, and her new crush Lend is something no one quite knows how to classify. It had a bit of an Eyre Affair feel to me, with its humour and matter-of-fact acceptance of the bizarre. The book launches straight into the action, the world-building being done by immersion rather than exposition, but it is easily picked up and understood.

At first I was a bit surprised that Evie was only sixteen; her bag-and-tag job seemed far too dangerous for one so young. But as we get to know her, she is a very realistic teenager, sometimes a bit bratty but basically likable, funny, obsessed with all things pink and sparkly and her favourite high school soap opera. I found her fascination with all things high school very understandable - I'd have loved to go to an American high school, or a boarding school, just to see how different it was from my own school experience!

Kiersten White has a refreshing take on various different "paranormals" from myth and literature. Her vampires may look suave and seductive, but all Evie sees is walking corpses. Sexy(!) Her friend Lish, the mermaid, lives in a tank of water and can't speak English, so has a computer translate her speech for her. But some of her more imaginative language translates to "bleep," something that Evie picked up. I'm not sure whether "bleep" necessarily worked in this book all the time. I liked the idea of it as an in-joke that turned into a habit, and I certainly think that less is more when it comes to swearing, but it sometimes jarred, if it was at a point of high tension - I'd rather nothing at all than a substitute-swear. But that's a small criticism.

Evie's double, Vivian, was an interesting antagonist that constantly kept me questioning the morality of Evie's world. She was a villain who evoked pity and caused me to wonder whether she was really all that bad, or if there was something in her reasoning. There wasn't a clear-cut black-and-white solution to this tale, which I appreciated.

I've read on other people's reviews that, despite its title, Paranormalcy is more an Urban Fantasy than a Paranormal Romance (which I've translated as meaning that plot and character come first, rather than just being an excuse for the IMBC* mushy stuff.) It is a fun, fast-paced story that had me grinning and turning the pages right the way through. And there was a wonderful jab at Twilight and the like:
Arianna snorted. "Why on earth would a vampire go to high school?"
Why indeed?

*Interchangeable Magical Boyfriend Creature

1 comment:

  1. It took me ages to pick up this one as well and I was very pleasantly surprised by it! Glad you enjoyed it as well :)


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