CLOAK GAMES genre breaks

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:

BNThiefTrap

Available at Amazon USAmazon UKAmazon CanadaAmazon GermanyAmazon AustraliaBarnes & NobleKoboGoogle PlayiTunes, and Smashwords.

-JM

 

19 thoughts on “CLOAK GAMES genre breaks

  • August 8, 2017 at 5:40 pm
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    Damn! I guess I’m just an oblivious reader – I hadn’t considered all that (other than the love triangle).

    I probably like the series so much because you don’t follow the genre.

    • August 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm
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      I used to read more urban fantasy because what I wanted was to read more stuff like The Dresden Files, but what I was getting instead was stuff like Twilight or The Hunger Games. Not to knock either one, but that’s not what I was looking to read. So I figured it I wanted it done right, I would do it myself! 🙂

      • August 8, 2017 at 6:20 pm
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        If you just don’t read female authors (with female main characters), I think you’ll find you get what you’d like a lot more often in the urban fantasy genre. Note the examples you gave were both female authors.

        I read a few Dresden Files books but I never could get into it – the Dresden character is kinda lame in my opinion.

        • August 8, 2017 at 6:43 pm
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          Back in the day I would stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning reading a new Dresden book when it came out. Too old for that now!

          I used to joke that I wanted to write more Caina books than there were Dresden books, but I think I passed that point back in 2014. Maybe I should do that for Nadia books next. 🙂

          • August 8, 2017 at 11:27 pm
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            Considering there are 16 Dresden books I find that a very worth goal!

  • August 8, 2017 at 6:17 pm
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    I humbly disagree regarding the biggest convention broken. In fact to me the biggest break can be summed up by Riordan in book 1) “There are no such things as vampires.”

    Actually you use NO common mythological characters (Vampires, Werewolves, Fae, demons, etc.). You use Elves, but rather than the mercurial troublemakers or elemental puppet masters you have them almost as aloof aristocratic scientists, like if the world was run by magic instead of money. It almost feels like The Codex Alera series sometimes but instead of rewriting Rome of the past you rewrote America of the future.

    The ORIGINAL world building of this series is what makes it fun for me. The only series I know of that changes so much about everyday life in an urban fantasy is the Kate Daniels series.

    • August 8, 2017 at 6:42 pm
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      Yeah – I know a lot of urban fantasy rewrites the past, but I wanted to do a logical evolution of what would happen if magic-using elves took over the world.

  • August 8, 2017 at 6:51 pm
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    What I kinda want to know is, did Morvilind tell the High Queen he was breaking the Umbra of earth before he did it? (Also what exactly the process was in doing so.) Because from the sound of it the Umbra acted as a form of shield against the darker things that went bump in the shadowlands.

    And since the world of 2013 couldn’t even defend against a weakened Elvish nation fleeing from its own home world it could be argued that once earth’s Umbra was breached we were destined to be taken over by SOMEBODY, be it elf, archon, dwarf or frost giant (which ok are more traditional mythos characters, if we call nordic mythology traditional).

    If he dropped it on her, then her own vassal basically made her responsible for the inhabitants of earth, since at the time we couldn’t defend ourselves.

    • August 8, 2017 at 7:00 pm
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      Some of that touches on what will happen in the final books, but here’s what I can mention without giving away spoilers.

      Morvilind knew about Earth long before any of the other Elves. He first found out about Earth in the 1950s thanks to the Soviet security services’ interest in the Dark Ones, but dismissed humans as too violent and too unstable to be of any use in the war against the Archons, and Earth’s umbra was intact so getting there would have been too much work. 63 years later, the loyalist Elves had been forced to retreat from Kalvarion. The High Queen planned to regroup in the Shadowlands and launch a counterattack, but Morvilind realized this would have ended in disaster. Having concluded that it was better to ask forgiveness than to beg permission, he breached Earth’s umbra and presented Earth to the High Queen as a potential avenue of retreat and regrouping. The High Queen acquiesced, and the Archons and the loyalists have been deadlocked ever since.

      What Nicholas doesn’t 100% realize is that Earth is indeed extremely vulnerable to invasion from the Shadowlands, but fear of the High Queen’s wrath (backed up by Morvilind and other Elven archmagi) keeps a lot of enemies at bay.

      And the High Queen doesn’t particularly like humans, but she regards her duties as sovereign with the utmost seriousness. Morvilind was one of her tutors when she was a child, so she will do what she believes is morally right, no matter how many people she had to blow up to do it.

      • August 8, 2017 at 7:51 pm
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        One more thing. Do the Elves like anybody? Tarlia doesn’t even like Aravaleon and they’re friends. Seems to me one of the signs of power in your world is a general dislike of people in general.

        • August 8, 2017 at 10:42 pm
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          Power is bad for Elves and other living things. 🙂

          Tarlia actually gets along quite well with Morvilind and Lord Mythrender, but I suppose most monarchs have only a few people they trust completely. Arvalaeon is a hard man to like due to his complete inability to lie tactfully. Duke Carothrace of Madison and Duke Wraithmyr of Los Angeles like almost everyone, and Duke Maelaeyar of Washington DC is grim but on the reasonable side.

          Tarlia’s trust issues may stem from the fact that her eldest son is the Great Dark One-possessed Supreme Commander of the Archons.

          • August 9, 2017 at 12:34 am
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            WOAH WAIT WHAT?!?! Well ok then…that’s awesome. Horrible, but awesome. Go, go gadget epic bad guy.

  • August 8, 2017 at 7:43 pm
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    Ahhhh I was wondering if he’d asked. Very nice backstory :).

    If I had one complaint about Cloak Games….it’s that Nadia knows almost nothing. No that’s wrong, she only knows things she has personally been through, she’s a reactive learner. (E.G. When she had anthrophages chasing her after book 1 and she would have gotten eaten if not for the good fortune of having Riordan tracking her down.) Her magical education is the same way, it’s all piecemeal. Plus there are whole avenues of magic you’ve touched on Nadia hasn’t a clue about (Potions have been mentioned as have enchanted items).

    In most tales, power and knowledge go hand and hand, as one grows so does the other. But Nadia got a whole lot of one and nothing at all of another. She basically worked out in a bubble for a century and a half. You mentioned once you wanted a character who went from Catwoman to Gandalf, and while she definitely has passed through fire and death, she never seems to understand anything about her enemy until it’s almost too late. The Dark Ones, the Shadowlands, magic in general, it’s like the world is halfway done.

    Ok so the series isn’t finished, but your fight sequences could seriously be epic if you gave her more to work with. Her enemies always know more than she does :(.

    • August 8, 2017 at 10:49 pm
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      Nadia was basically raised by Morvilind’s retainers, so her view of the world is extremely skewed and cynical. She’s not an unreliable narrator, but there are lots of things she just doesn’t know anything about. Morvilind didn’t bother to give her a comprehensive education because that would not suit his purposes.

      It doesn’t help that there are lots of things that the High Queen doesn’t tell humans about – based on the official news broadcasts, most people think the High Queen is winning victory after victory against the Archons in the Shadowlands, and the Day of Return to the Elven homeworld is imminent. Most people don’t even know that the name of the Elven homeworld is Kalvarion.

  • August 9, 2017 at 12:47 am
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    I’m not saying her perspective doesn’t make sense, just makes me frustrated because she’s like a big gawky kid. In fact between her boyfriend troubles, her emotional instability, and the fact she has a lot of brute strength, but not a lot of finesse, Nadia’s basically going through her magical puberty, isn’t she?

    Actually I realized what my overall problem is. This series is an RPG game waiting to happen. I want her to explore the world, pick up some items, do some side quests. If it were me I’d stop main questing and find a couple of sweet dungeons to crawl for a level up. Go look in the shadowlands for a magic gauntlet that let me stop bullets or block dark magic or something. She’s a glass cannon, all offense and no defense. Then she combines that with way too much mercy when her opponents are going to cheat to win. GIVE THE GIRL SOME POINTS IN DEFENSE JM!

    • August 9, 2017 at 1:46 am
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      So to sum up. I just called your book series a video game based around a girl going through puberty which features ancient Elven school teachers, sociopathic ex-boyfriends and the potential end of the world. Feel to use that in a review….

      • August 9, 2017 at 2:49 am
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        It’s definitely getting quoted in a post. 🙂

    • August 9, 2017 at 9:09 am
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      It would be awesome as an RPG, be it one focused on Nadia herself – it’d make for a great open-world game in the right hands – or just a spinoff merely using the setting. For that matter, it’d make a great campaign setting for pre-existing RPGs, as would the world of Ghosts, and the world of Frostborn/Sevenfold Sword. Demonsouled is good too, but it’s less suitable for most RPGs, as magic seems relatively rare/uncommon or less universal/pervasive.

      Jonathan Moeller has a positive gift for worldbuilding. And it shows. He could probably make money just in developing campaign settings and/or adventure paths/modules for RPGs, if he picked the right system (ie, something sufficiently played, popular, and supported) and had someone with enough system mastery to help with testing the mechanical fiddly-bits.

      My only real issue with Nadia is that she’s at all not proactive about learning more magic and/or more about magic, despite having repeatedly said that she wants power and magical power.
      Everything to do with magic that Nadia knows (spells, theory, etc) was basically handed to her – she hasn’t gone looking for someone to teach her, despite Morvilind having mentioned that he expected that she had sources of knowledge other than himself back in book 2, I think it was. After the events of Shatter Stone, she might have been able to ask Hakon for some discrete education/training. For that matter, she knows Riordan’s a much more knowledgeable and experienced wizard than she is – she could have asked him to teach her some things (before she broke up with him).
      This seems to me like a massive oversight on her part.
      And then she lets Rory – someone she knows is a Rebel – teach her a spell, and is interested in having Nicholas teach her the Seal of Binding.
      I dunno, it just feels like Nadia says she wants more magical power, knows that she has gaping holes in her magical education, and she knows that knowledge is power (especially with magic), but then she never actually tries to do anything to address her lack of magical knowledge. It seems to me like it’s something that she absolutely would and should do, or at least try to do, but as far as I can tell, she hasn’t even tried to expand her magical knowledge at all.
      If I were in Nadia’s shoes, I’d like to think that I’d put a significant emphasis on seeking to expand my magical knowledge as much as possible. It’d doubtlessly be difficult and time-consuming to find suitable sources/instructors and learn what they had to teach, but it’s definitely something that’d be worth the effort.

      I’m not sure whether it’s just an accidental oversight, or intentional/plot-related, but it’s definitely something that stands out.

      • August 9, 2017 at 11:58 am
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        Nadia would like more magical power and knowledge, but she’s also risk averse, because she knows that if she pushes things too far, Morvilind will kill her or let Russell die.

        At least that’s the way it’s always been, but the events of books #6 and #7 are starting to push their relationship to a crisis point, but more on that to come… 🙂

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