I’ve been reviewing genre fiction for almost half of my life – and I’ve seen an extraordinary evolution in genre fiction during that time. In the late ‘80s, before I became a reviewer, I managed bookstores all over Upstate New York and got a firsthand look at this transformation in genre fiction, not only from the perspective of the type of novels being published but also in the changing literary appetite of my customers.
Back in the day, readers largely stayed within the boundaries of their favorite genres – it was almost like being a member of a tribe. Romance readers entered the store, went straight to their tribal grounds, picked out a few books, paid for them and left, rarely looking to see what was being released in other genres (mystery, science fiction, horror, etc.). The same can be said for members of the science fiction and fantasy tribe, the mystery tribe, the small but devoted western tribe, etc. The boundaries between genres were like unassailable walls – and in some cases, exploring new genres was nothing short of sacrilege. I distinctly recall an exchange between a group of young men who frequented one of the bookstores I managed. They were hardcore fantasy fans – bigtime David Eddings fans as I remember – and when one of them meandered over to the bestseller pyramid at the front of the store and picked up a mainstream fiction release, his friends descended on him like a pack of wolves and ruthlessly mocked him. Yes, it was in good fun but there was something deeply significant behind it that stayed with me – reading fantasy defined who they were in some sense and perusing something new was comparable to an existential crisis. It was almost like they were saying to their buddy: “The tribe has spoken. It’s time for you to go.”
After the phenomenal success of LKH, the floodgates slowly but steadily opened – and with the arrival of exceptionally written and wildly original genre blending sagas from Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, Janet Evanovich, Patricia Briggs, J.D. Robb, etc., the boundaries between genres blurred into nonexistence.
This is the future of genre fiction – and there’s no going back.
Yes, there will always be clearly defined science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance and horror releases – but these novels that blend elements from various genres are the future of genre fiction. The quality and quantity of these releases will continue to rise. Mark my words. Think about it – writing a novel that incorporates elements from fantasy, romance, mystery, and horror not only expands an author’s readership exponentially, it makes for a potentially unique and entertaining read. There is a lot of formula, a lot of cliché, in conventional genre fiction – after experiencing a well written genre hybridized novel, reading a conventional mystery, for example, seems bland.
I absolutely loved The Greyfriar and literally couldn’t put it down. (In all honesty, I hugged this book after finishing it.) It’s simultaneously alternate history, epic adventure fantasy, apocalyptic horror, and heartrending romance. With a storyline powered by steampunk sensibilities and an audacious tone reminiscent of the Golden Age adventure pulps (like Doc Savage and The Spider), this novel was simply a brilliant amalgam of genre elements.
Here’s the backstory:
“It had been one hundred and fifty years since the vampires rose. The monsters had lurked quietly among humanity from the beginning of time, but one dark winter night in 1870 they came en masse intent on subjugating human society. It was not known why they chose that moment to attack. Perhaps a great leader had inspired them. Perhaps they sensed a particular weakness in human culture as it teetered between faith and science. And clearly, humans were not prepared; they were taken totally by surprise. Most people had even given up their beliefs in the existence of such creatures as vampires… Within two years, the great industrial societies of the north were cadavers and the vampire clans divided the old world between themselves.”
In a few short years the world was completely remade, with most remaining humans living near the equator (vampires couldn’t tolerate constant heat) and the vampires living everywhere else.
But in 2020, the world is on the brink of war once again. Constantine II, the Emperor of Equatoria, is planning on marrying his daughter Adele to a brash American Republic war hero named Clark. Once the two powers are united, they can begin the “War of Reconquest,” in which humans will take back their lands and vanquish the parasitic vampires once and for all.
But when Princess Adelle’s airship is attacked by vampires during a tour of the frontier (France), the very future of humankind hangs in the balance. If Adelle is killed, her father’s grand schemes are all for naught. But as vampires rip through her guard, she is miraculously saved by a living myth called the Greyfriar, a seemingly unstoppable masked hero who has slaughtered countless vampires. But as the enigmatic legend fights to keep Adelle out of the hands of an army of sadistic vampires, the princess begins to realize that the world isn’t at all as it seemed – and neither is her masked protector…
Yes, this novel has been appearing on numerous “Best Vampire Novels of the Year” lists – and I couldn’t agree more. The take on vampires in The Greyfriar is a decidedly unique one:
“They all floated up into the air like a child’s balloon suddenly released from the grip of a small hand. More and more of the creatures began to drift up out of the village, leaving the slaughter where it lay. The breeze caught them and they wafted away as if they were dead leaves.”
But, as I stated earlier, The Greyfriar is so much more than a vampire novel. It’s an insanely appetizing mélange of genre fiction ingredients. It’s works like this that get me excited about the future of genre fiction – I challenge anyone to read this novel and not feel compelled to hug it like I did after reading it.
The future of genre fiction is now – and it’s Clay and Susan Griffith’s The Greyfriar.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.