I am really late to the dance on Liu - she's been building her Dirk and Steele Series for a few years and is, by now, a hugely-deserved, best-selling author. I crashed into the series with The Last Twilight, a shape-shifter human romance, that reads partly like an action-adventure, travel book and a comic book - with steamy love scenes tossed in.
There are a couple of things that AMAZE me about this woman's writing. Her depth of research is astounding and better yet, her use of that research is deft and subtle. No big chunks of info dump. No bulky, crappy 'you know Bob' dialogue. Nothing boring. Ever. If she didn't live in Africa -- I am stunned, really stunned. Too often great research results in bad books - Liu has not committed that sin.
In that same vein, she uses simple, careful, subtle world building. No long paragraphs about rules, or super powers. Nothing is told - it's all shown. Characters that can read minds -- guess what -- they just read minds. Characters that turn into cheetahs - she shows them morphing into cheetahs. People who can't die - that's right -- the bullets get pushed right back out of their skulls. There's no third chapter -- 'here's what we can do' scene. It's freaking amazing. She shows us everything - nothing is told. Her characters are just who they are - she makes a point of introducing them in scenes that reveal their core core nature. He's a cheetah running the streets of San Francisco and she's in a bar in Africa somewhere, arm-wrestling a soldier. That's good showing.
NO CLICHES. I think this was my biggest realization/amazement. Powerful, original writing. That was, for the most part, cliche free. And wow. You just don't read that in romance -- I know I'm not writing it. But I'm going to start trying harder, that's for sure.
Now, Joanna Bourne. The Spymaster's Lady is her recent debut and lucky lucky me, my agent is her agent as well and she got me an ARC of My Lord and Spymaster. I felt like a star! For those of you who might not know - these are top top shelf historical. Lots of action, lots of intrigue. No damsels in distress in these books, that's for sure. Well, they are actually, but they don't act like it. She breaks every historical convention about what a heroine should and shouldn't do and then goes to work on the men. So, for those of you longing for a historical with bite and miles away from any ballroom - here you go.
Again, her research is impeccable and subtle. Her settings, her plots and her characters are original. She is cliche-free too. Her writing - the bones of it -- beautiful. Time and time again she made me green with envy over some tiny turn of phrase, that was so perfect.
But it's her characters that shine. They burst on the page, fully formed, fully human, fully alive. We don't get backstory dumps, they just act in tune with their backgrounds and past.
Liu and Bourne have truly inspired me to push past my first ideas. Make hard decisions in my editing process, trust my reader, banish easy cliches. Work Harder. A few weeks ago I said that to succeed in this business you have to try and write better than the best romance you've ever read -- well, these two just upped the bar.