After my 2-year anniversary post for CLOAK GAMES, someone asked which urban fantasy genre conventions the series broke. I started to answer the question, and around 600 words I realized that the answer had turned into a blog post.
Good question, then!
Specifically, I think CLOAK GAMES broke these urban fantasy genre conventions (though, of course, an author’s opinion of his own work is always unreliable):
-The biggest break with convention is that urban fantasy books with a female lead almost always have a love triangle (usually with a brooding vampire and a werewolf alpha), and CLOAK GAMES doesn’t. Nadia doesn’t have a love triangle and probably wouldn’t be interested in one if the opportunity arose. Admittedly, I pondered Nadia’s potential reaction to a situation like that as I was writing the previous sentence, and it would probably be both amusing and violent. Also, both male and female urban fantasy protagonists tend to be more “romantically adventurous” than Nadia is inclined.
Nowadays urban fantasy seems to have more of a romance element than CLOAK GAMES. I think Nadia is single for 5 out of the 8 books.
-Urban fantasy books are usually set in the present day, but CLOAK GAMES is set 300 years in the future.
-Urban fantasy books generally tend to deal with magic in one of two ways – it’s either hushed up like in THE DRESDEN FILES or VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE and the wizards are despised outcasts (and sometimes a heavy-handed metaphor for various persecuted groups), or magic is all government-controlled by some bureaucratic horror like the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Mutant Registration Act or whatever.
The Wizard’s Legion in CLOAK GAMES doesn’t quite fit into the second category. Like, if you’re a human wizard, you put in your mandatory six years with the Legion, and then after that you’re a respected member of the community, unless you get called up for service in an emergency (kind of like the US National Guard).
-Nadia is young enough (at first) that CLOAK GAMES could have been a Young Adult series. I admit I thought about marketing it as a Young Adult series, but I decided it was too dark for that.
-Speaking of Young Adult and 300 years in the future, I’ve had people ask me repeatedly if CLOAK GAMES was supposed to be a dystopia, but it breaks with the genre conventions of dystopias as well. The thing is, Nadia’s world isn’t all that different than our present world. The Elves are aloof and tyrannical, but they’re not nearly as bad as they could be. It’s the sort of place where you can grow old and thrive and be left alone so long as you obey the rules, but if you step over certain lines, the hammer falls on you hard.
Or to put it another way, the Elves are authoritarian, not totalitarian. It helps that the High Queen has a better grasp of human psychology than most humans. Like Arvalaeon told Nadia, her genius was that she built a system where humans mostly police themselves in her name, and she did it by making sure nearly everyone had something to lose and turning humanity’s love of social status against them. (No one wants to be the loser getting mocked on the Punishment Day video remixes, after all.) Someone like Hakon Valborg would never even think of rebelling against the High Queen, and even someone like Riordan who is cynical about the Elves still thinks that overthrowing the High Queen would cause an apocalyptic global war.
It also helps the High Queen that her main enemies (the Archons) are much worse than she is.
-Probably the biggest genre convention that CLOAK GAMES breaks is with the Rebels.
In American fiction, the plucky rebels fighting against central authority are nearly always the good guys (Star Wars, Hunger Games, Divergent, etc) and the Emperor is always the bad guy. You know how movies will establish who the villain is by having him be mean to a dog? It’s a form of shorthand to establish the movie’s villain. The convention that rebels are good and central authority is bad is almost as common of a form of cinematic shorthand, and one that is thoroughly embedded in American culture.
So, I suppose if I followed the genre conventions, Nadia would have joined the Rebels, fallen in love again with Nicholas Connor, and be fighting to overthrow the High Queen.
But I didn’t like that idea, because very often in history revolutionaries turn out to be worse than the people they overthrow. Nicholas Connor would have a lot in common with Napoleon the Pig from George Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM, though he’s definitely not a coward the way that Napoleon the Pig was. The Elves aren’t great, but a world ruled by Nicholas and his lieutenants would be infinitely worse, especially since they are playing with fire with the Dark Ones.
In the end, I think CLOAK GAMES breaks way more of its genre conventions than any of my other series, which can sometimes make it a difficult sell to readers. So I’m very grateful that so many people have come along to book 8! I’m looking forward to finishing the series with books 9, 10, and 11 in 2018.
And if all this has gotten you curious about CLOAK GAMES, the first book is free at the links below: