Reading is a lot like eating. If the old saying “you are what you eat” is true, then certainly there is some validity to “you are what you read.” Just as food nourishes the body, so do books nourish the mind (and, sometimes, the soul).
But although I enjoy delicious gourmet meals, sometimes I can’t help but yearn for a flattened cheeseburger and hot, greasy fries from some fast food drive-thru. For me, that’s what neo-pulp fiction is – contemporary genre fiction releases (paperbacks between 250 and 350 pages) which can usually be read in one or two sittings that, while lacking substantial thematic sustenance, offer up heaping helpings of – often lurid – literary escapist fare.
Some readers may see the term “pulp fiction” as derogatory but I don’t. Whenever I use the expression, it’s generally to describe a read that is wildly entertaining; and although the characters may be two-dimensional and the plotlines may not exactly be labyrinthine, the petal-to-the-metal pacing, action packed storyline, and generous servings of fight sequences and/or steamy sexual encounters make it virtually unputdownable.
And after reading a particularly dense novel – like N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – I find it enjoyable to seek out and consume a delicious fast food read.
…enter Solie, a 17-year old red-haired beauty who, faced with an arranged marriage with a “forty-five-year old fat man,” decides to run way from her village. Unfortunately for her, it’s on the night that the King of Eferem has planned to call a battle sylph from another dimension and bond it to his princely son. His soldiers go out in search of a suitable sacrifice, find Solie on the road in the middle of the night and take her back to the castle to be murdered in a dark ritual.
In their haste, though, they forget to thoroughly search her before tearing her clothes off and tying her to the altar. When the nightmarish sylph enters through the conjured gateway and the prince is preparing to plunge his dagger into Solie’s heart, she uses her green butterfly barrette – which conceals a small knife – to cut through her bonds and stab the prince. In the chaos, the slyph bonds to Solie and destroys half of the castle in his rage to protect his new queen and escape. With Solie and her battle sylph (named Heyou) on the run from the king’s forces, they must somehow find sanctuary for themselves and come to terms with their new union, which is more intimate – and more terrifying –than anything the naïve teenager has ever experienced before….
But with the odds against their survival, the unlikely duo stumble across a revelation that could not only save them but also transform the landscape of the entire realm…
Are the characters in The Battle Sylph complex? Not really. Were there any particularly deep themes or existential insights? No. Will I remember storyline specifics about this novel a month from now? Probably not.
And, honestly, although I consider this a neo-pulp fiction read, the realm that McDonald has created has a huge potential – this genre fiction Happy Meal could eventually evolve into a paranormal fantasy filet mignon….