Seanan McGuire is fantastically cool – and not just because she sets some of her books in or near where I live. As Seanan McGuire, she writes the October Daye urban fantasy series. She also has several geek-tastic CDs and is notable for, among other things, setting a scene from Firefly to music (“My laugh is an evil, laugh, ha, ha, ha, ha, die”). Finally, she writes the highly acclaimed Newsflesh series under the name Mira Grant.
I'd love to review the Newsflesh series for you, but it involves a zombie apocalypse and has pretty much no romance to speak of. Even though I have no excuse to review it here, I will say that it's a great gritty non-romance series, and the final book, Blackout, is out as of June 2012 so you have no nasty cliffhangers to torture you for years (Seanan, HAVE YOU BEEN TRYING TO KILL ME?).
Anyway, Seanan also has a new urban fantasy series out with strong romantic elements that I think the more geektastic Smart Bitches will enjoy. Discount Armageddon follows the adventures of Verity Price, cryptozoologist, waitress, and competitive ballroom dancer. Verity's family studies cryptids (mythological creatures, monsters, etc). They are trained to kill any cryptids that pose an active and immediate threat to humans, but they also work within the cryptid community to assist the substantial non-violent population and study them. Verity's family broke off from a group, “The Covenant”, generations ago. This group is devoted to killing any and all cryptids regardless of threat level. When Verity is presented with a new cryptid threat, she is forced to work with Dominic DeLuca, a Covenant rookie who is quite the hottie and pretty confused about this whole “non-predatory cryptid” concept.
There's nothing particularly new here. Thanks to my beloved Joss Whedon, the idea that a petite girl in cute clothes can take down monsters is pretty standard stuff. However, what the story lacks in originality it makes up for with wit, great descriptions, engaging characters, fast pace, and a whole lot of energy. Verity is an enormously likable character and she's surrounded by a great, and varied, supporting cast. Verity's reasons for studying ballroom dance are fascinating – she is able to make a case to her family that by pursing dance, something she loves, she can build many of the same skills and physical abilities she would use in combat without having to do so in hiding. I loved Verity's roommates, the mice who celebrate an endless sequence of festivals and respond to every new comment or development with cries of “HAIL!” The book is a little heavy on the exposition but since Verity's voice is so conversational, and it's the first book in the series with a lot of world building to tackle, I didn't mind it.
The weakest part of the book is the romance, which is fair since it isn't a “Romance Novel”. Because the book is told entirely from Verity's point of view, and she doesn't know much about Dominic, we don't either. He has plenty of appealing qualities but he stays something of a cypher. Hopefully his character will be better developed as the series progresses – right now he's just a token love interest. Their chemistry is great and there's a lot of potential for them to be great partners. Those of you who are allergic to cliffhangers will be pleased to know that the book ends solidly – the immediate situation is resolved, and while the romance is not resolved it's left with a promise of future development.
By the way, even though it's not romance, I can't resist telling you that the Welcome to Bordertown (A | BN | K | S) anthology is out on paperback. I read it when the hardback edition came out and it was beyond wonderful. Whether you've never tried urban fantasy before and you want to check it out, or you've loved urban fantasy for years, please don't miss this short story collection by the masters of the genre. Some stories have a romantic element and some don't, but they are all marvelous.