Today’s the day!!! I’m so excited to share my cover reveal for CAMBION’S LAW with all of you! Wide preorder links for ebooks are now LIVE. Preorders for paperback and Amazon are still to come, so stay tuned!
Drumroll for the trailer, please…
And here, for your viewing pleasure, is the cover in all her glory:
To celebrate this occasion, I want to talk about why I love the urban fantasy subgenre and my favorite tropes in CAMBION’S LAW.
The Masks We Wear
The “Masquerade” is one of my favorite urban fantasy tropes. The idea that magic and the supernatural are indeed part of the real world, but secret and hidden, has lasting appeal because it allows the fantasy world to look just like our familiar one. It’s seductive to imagine that mysterious forces are at work just beyond the veil of the mundane, around the corner from the life we know.
That’s not to knock stories that explore how magic and technology would fit together in a modern world if out in the open, because I love those too. But there’s a special allure to the Masquerade because the more magic becomes known in the fictional world, the more it must logically affect the workings of that world, rendering it less familiar.
There’s another aspect to the Masquerade trope too, especially when it features protagonists with supernatural abilities, like my protagonist, Lily Knight. It suggests that not only might the world be more magical and mysterious than it appears at first glance, but we as individuals might be as well. Lily must learn to step into her power and really own it, rather than avoiding its implications and pretending that she’s “normal.” The potential of ordinary-seeming people to be or become powerful and extraordinary lies at the heart of the Masquerade.
In the world of CAMBION’S LAW, most people don’t believe in demons. Cubines (incubi and succubi) live side by side with humans, using their persuasive powers and perception-warping abilities to escape notice. They are camouflage predators, and they believe their safety depends on it. With that said, there is one thing that is different in this world—a historical event that left its mark on the West—but it’s out of sight, out of mind for most humans.
Queer Monsters Need Love Too
As a cambion, Lily lives between the worlds of demon and human, belonging to neither. She experiences bisexual attraction but has trouble feeling at home in her best friend Danny’s queer spaces as well as in her heterosexual relationships, healthy and otherwise. At her core, Lily struggles to feel human at all. In her mind, she’s a monster. And in a very tangible way, because of her touch-based powers, love and romance are dangerous to both her and her human lovers.
Did I write Lily intentionally to explore my experience of being a queer, bisexual woman in primarily heterosexual relationships? No, I did not. But relevant themes slipped in anyway. Because monster tropes are queer as hell.
I loved this TikTok video by LibraryofClaire that “scientifically” plots tropes by quadrant. Note the location of monster/human pairings in the left-hand bottom corner, deep in the quadrant of “gay and mentally ill.” Yes, I’m calling myself out here. (Found family is also one of my favorite tropes and it shows up in everything I write so often I forget to mention it.)
There’s also a touch of the soulmate trope in CAMBION’S LAW, but it’s not quite the way I’m used to seeing it. It’s not a matter of fate but of choice, and it’s also not necessarily monogamous! More on that in the sequels, maybe/probably.
Powerful Women (and Power Fantasies)
SFF has historically been a realm that caters to masculine power fantasies, despite the fact that women wrote the first SFF novels. In fact, you could say that almost all genres that aren’t romance traditionally cater to those fantasies, despite the fact that women invented the novel. And it hasn’t escaped my notice that on forums like Reddit, fantasy fans of a certain demographic routinely put down urban fantasy as “mostly written by women” and therefore inferior. I won’t say anything more about that because you can probably guess how I feel about it.
As a young reader whose love of fantasy and science fiction started with Tolkien, I was keenly aware that many books in my favorite genre were not written for me. One of the major reasons I became obsessed with the urban fantasy subgenre was my hunger for action-packed books about powerful women. I wanted to see myself in the role of the traditional action hero, confronting bad guys, solving mysteries, and encountering mysterious forces.
I love action movies and I love SFF, but even now, neither of those genres always feels like it’s for me. Traditional high fantasy often still leans heavily into imagined patriarchal societies dominated by toxic masculinity and rape culture, and woe betide anyone who challenges the need for “historical accuracy” in worlds with dragons and magic. (Game of Thrones, I am looking at you and the look ain’t that respectful.) Many of “the greats” and “the classics” of science fiction have become increasingly inaccessible for me as I raise my standards for how I want to see people like me treated on the page.
Nowadays, SFF is much more inclusive overall, but urban fantasy is a subgenre that is primarily marketed to women, and for good reason. (Yes, there are exceptions, most notably Jim Butcher, but this isn’t about them!) Urban fantasy has made room from its earliest beginnings for heroines who are powerful in their own right, women who get to kick ass, beat the big bad, and get the hot love interest in the end. That’s a gender-swapped mirror of the typical male power fantasy tropes in every classic action movie.
On the subject of love interests, urban fantasy also tends to feature heroines with a strong sense of sexual agency. CAMBION’S LAW explores the junctions of sex, power, and agency explicitly through Lily’s half-succubus nature and includes a non-zero amount of gentle, consent-based kink. Lily’s abilities create a literal kind of power exchange that raises the stakes of intimacy for her and her partners. Her discomfort with the implications of these dynamics and how to ethically use her power give rise to some of the core conflicts in the book. Is it even possible for her to have a healthy relationship, given her predelictions? At the beginning of the book, she has decided that it isn’t possible, but she will soon meet someone who raises a compelling argument to the contrary.
There’s something else I love about urban fantasy: its roots in classic noir and hardboiled detective fiction. I think urban fantasy is noir’s spiritual successor. Like noir, it often takes a gritty, realistic, even cynical view of humanity and human institutions. Like noir, it’s concerned with justice, crime, and punishment. Like noir, it’s deeply grounded in place, in the bustle and isolation that go hand and hand in big cities. And like noir, it thrives in moral gray areas with flawed protagonists. Noir is a subgenre that skews masculine in my mind, so urban fantasy flips that literary tradition, too.
In noir, everyone is fallen, and right and wrong are not clearly defined and maybe not even attainable.Megan Abbot, Literary Hub, 06/26/2018
I’m a huge fan of classic detective tropes and the mystery genre in general. The “supernatural detective” character, usually the protagonist, is a core trope of urban fantasy, so much so that some have argued it is overdone. In CAMBION’S LAW, Lily is not a detective by trade. But like many a hardboiled gumshoe of the Golden Age, she reluctantly takes on an investigative role after a beautiful and tragic character begs for her help. And as such cases tend to do, this one quickly gets personal.
I’m leaning into the noir vibes even more in the sequel to CAMBION’S LAW. Lily loves old movies, which lets me indulge in recurring references to Hitchcock’s oeuvre along with some other favorite mid-20th century classics. The Cambion series definitely draws some of its cultural vocabulary from films like Vertigo, with its grounding in the San Francisco Bay Area’s iconic landmarks.
My fellow 2021 debut author, Kate Myles, got me thinking about noir and its overlap with urban fantasy after I read her fascinating article about dark thrillers on CrimeReads. Her debut thriller, The Receptionist, is out now, so check it out if you are a noir fan! Personally, I don’t think CAMBION’S LAW is as bleak as the books Kate discusses in her article. It fits more into the “hardboiled” detective tropes, in which justice is possible if hard-won. But it definitely toys with noir aesthetics.
[N]oir demands that we consider the problem of the irredeemable. Sometimes it provides context, considering the interplay of the individual and environment. Sometimes it’s just about accompanying transgressors to hell. But always, noir asks us to stop for a moment, within the safe confines of the written word, and bear witness to their humanity.Kate Myles, “The Bleakest Noir: a List of Ultra-Dark Thrillers”
“The problem of the irredeemable”: if we’re working with that definition of noir, then CAMBION’S LAW is definitely playing in the same ballpark.
Anyway, I think I’ve nerded out enough about my own book now and will probably have to have a lie-down after I post this. Please tell me your favorite tropes and themes of urban fantasy in the comments!