Last month I looked at Young Adult novels. Now for the other end of the spectrum—Adult novels.
In much the same way that YA novels used to be dismissed from any conversation involving “serious” storytelling, Adult novels carry a similar stigma because they talk about—gasp—sex!
And of course, the accusation is not without some basis in truth. You can insert your own 50 Shades of Grey joke here. Hell, just Google “50 shades of grey jokes” and pick your top ten. I’ll wait.
Done tittering? Okay, first off I think it’s important to distinguish between romance/erotica and porn. My English professor described literary porn’s story arc as such: “Boy meets girl. They do it. They do it again. They do it again. They do it again. The end.” A good romance or erotica story is still going to have all the trappings of a good novel, it’s just not afraid to be a bit more HBO about it.
And now we have a generation of geek girls all grown up and looking for something saucier in their reads. Not only that, they’re writing these stories as well. More power to them! If comic books can be all about sexy cheesecake poses that appeal to boys and—let’s face it—men, then geek girls could and should do the same in their own niche.
More Than Magic, by Donna June Cooper, is a story that will appeal to fans of books and movies like Practical Magic or TV series like Haven. It’s part of an ongoing series (Books of the Kindling) which each feature couples who have been trying to hide the fact that they have supernatural abilities, and centers around a farm in the Appalachians and the small town down below.
In this first novel, DEA agent Nick McKenzie is on what is most likely his last case. His cancer no longer in remission, Nick wants his career to go out on a high note by tracking down a source of Meth called Smoky Mountain Magic. His only lead is a mountain in the middle of nowhere, whose most notable feature is a successful herb farm that also has a cabin retreat for tourists.
Grace Woodruff, on the other hand, is struggling with a strange and powerful ability she never wanted. She has retreated back to her grandfather’s farm to try and control it, as well as decipher the meaning behind her grandfather’s final cryptic message.
Grace shuts down the cabin retreat early, but one last-minute visitor never got the message, a man she doesn’t realize is an undercover DEA agent. Her attempts to scare Nick off only make him more convinced something is afoot. And there is, something far more than bizarre than either could have ever imagined.
The source of everyone’s growing abilities is tied in with a mysterious cave on Woodruff Mountain. There is something alive in the mountain. It sings to those who have been chosen, and it has a terrible burden for them to undertake. One that will change the world. One that’s meant to save it.
Rather than just being about a new romance each time around, Donna has long term ambitions with her series, and though Woodruff Mountain always plays a key part of the story, the sequel, Mostly Magic, also splits its time between Florence and a Renaissance Fair in Texas, while the next in the series, Making Magic, spends most of its time in the small town at the base of the mountain.
Aside from romance, the Books of the Kindling have two major themes running through them: superpowers and environmentalism. The superpowers involved are scaled down from your average comic book, meant to fit in more with the real modern world—like how Heroes started out or Haven if you substitute the Troubles from that show with gifts. These are abilities that can help people but they are afraid of what might become of their lives if those powers were to become public.
Environmentalism also plays an ongoing theme. The farm on Woodruff Mountain is meant to be an excellent example of sustainability, utilizing solar power and other modern green technology. Various issues explored include the poaching of rare herbs that take decades to grow wild and the decreasing global bee population, all done with a great degree of research but never coming off as preachy.
But there is a third theme that is growing as the series progresses. It turns out that not everyone with a gift uses them for selfless purposes, and there are others who know of these new abilities in the world and have their own plans for it. For those who really like to get into a series and not just have more of the same each time around, this story arc is going to have long term appeal as it unfolds.
For those who are squeamish (or curious) about the “heat” level of this series, I’d say it’s middle of the road. Moments of titillation sprinkled throughout with a payoff at the end, but it never forgets to keep its attention where it really counts: the story.
I’d recommend this series for full on geek girls or those just with geek tendencies.
BONUS: A soundtrack playlist the author compiled to accompany one of her books.
Originally Published in KODT #215