The Becoming: Nothing to write home about

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book reviews Jeanne C Stein The Anna Strong Chronicles 1. The BecomingThe Becoming by Jeanne C. Stein

If you don’t think about it too hard, The Becoming could be a fun book for the beach. It’s short, fast-paced, and suffused with a sun-drenched California atmosphere that’s unusual in a vampire novel. (Jeanne C. Stein’s vampires have evolved to tolerate the sun.) It’s also nice that it’s self-contained; there are sequels, but The Becoming is a complete story in itself. Unfortunately, there are all sorts of things about it that bothered me or fell flat with me.

Bounty hunter Anna Strong becomes a vampire after being raped, bitten, and left for dead. At first, she doesn’t remember the attack, but before long she’s having flashbacks. She remembers suddenly that, in the end, she enjoyed what was done to her. What’s creepy is that she seems to accept her supposed “consent” a little too easily and doesn’t spend much time being upset about the whole thing. Grant Avery, the vampire doctor who treats Anna and later becomes her mentor, seems to think she consented too: “It’s frightening you because you realize you were a participant, not a victim.”

Maybe this is just meant to show us a difference between human psychology and vampire psychology. Maybe it’s supposed to show that Avery has an insensitive side (which he certainly does). To me, though, it looks like an example of a trend that’s been bothering me in urban fantasy lately, starting with Laurell K. Hamilton’s ardeur. There seems to be this idea that if someone uses magic to force someone else to feel pleasure, it’s not really rape. I don’t see how it’s any different from using a date-rape drug.

Anna is evidently not that bothered, though, and the plot goes on. Anna seldom thinks about the assault again. When she does finally get good and angry at her attacker, it’s because of something else entirely. Anna believes he’s behind a series of violent acts that threaten to bring her new “unlife” to a very quick end.

Meanwhile, she begins an affair with Avery, despite the fact that she has a long-term boyfriend, Max. Sounds like a recipe for conflict, but there really isn’t any. Max is barely in the story. I’m not sure why he is in the story, unless there’s a rule that an urban fantasy requires a love triangle. (Max is not the only wasted-potential character, either. While Anna is in the hospital, she has a lengthy argument with her bounty-hunting partner David about her friend Michael. Michael never actually appears. Why all the page space devoted to bickering about him?)

The Anna/Avery sex scenes are kind of weird: vague and purple rather than either explicit or fade-to-black. Also, these scenes tend to come out of nowhere. Anna and Avery will be talking about something completely non-erotic, and then suddenly they start having sex.

There are some minor awkwardnesses, too: proofreading mistakes, an injury that randomly switches from the left leg to the right and back again, that sort of thing. These are issues that would be almost invisible in a great novel but loom large here.

The essential problem is that, in a subgenre as glutted as the “tough girl kills and dates vampires” one, a novel has to be special to stand out from the crowd. There isn’t anything stellar about The Becoming that distinguishes it from the rest of what’s on the shelves, and if it does stick in my memory, it won’t be for the right reasons.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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