It’s an interesting time to be a paranormal fantasy fan. Over the last few years, some hugely popular series have ended—Nicole Peeler’s Jane True saga, Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire sequence, the Sabina Kane series from Jaye Wells—and Kim Harrison’s phenomenally successful Hollows saga, featuring Rachel Morgan and crew, will soon reach its own highly anticipated conclusion (the penultimate installment, The Undead Pool, will be released on February 25).
This leaves a void at the top of the paranormal fantasy food chain. All these series found remarkable commercial success in large part because they found an audience of mainstream readers as well as fans of genre fiction. (Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels are a perfect example.) And although there are a lot of exceptional paranormal fantasy series out there, not many have that mainstream appeal—some may be too sexually explicit (Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake), and others too violent (Marcus Pelegrimas’s Skinners). So what sagas are poised to become that next big thing in paranormal fantasy, by capturing those mainstream readers looking for what to read next? Here are four predictions:
1. Kat Richardson’s Greywalker
Categorizing this extraordinary series—which features Seattle-based private investigator Harper Blaine, who, after being clinically dead for almost two minutes, can now see into the realm of ghosts—as just paranormal fantasy seems like a disservice. It’s classic supernatural fiction à la Algernon Blackwood that brilliantly blends together elements of noir-nuanced mystery and dark fantasy. It started in 2006 with Greywalker, and the eighth installment (Possession) was just released this summer.
Mainstream appeal: Endearing heroine, highly intelligent storyline, classy narrative undertones.
2. Adrian Phoenix’s The Maker’s Song
This series, which revolves around the sensually super-charged relationship between former FBI special agent Heather Wallace and vampire goth rock star Dante Baptist, has a decidedly dark and edgy feel. The carnal draw of Dante (who has been called the sexiest male character in paranormal fantasy) is obvious, but the real hook is the incredibly knotty storyline, which is essentially a pedal-to-the-metal thriller that incorporates elements from romance, horror, and dark fantasy. It began in 2008 with A Rush of Wings, and the fifth installment, On Midnight Wings, was just released.
Mainstream appeal: “I’ll-have-what-they’re-having” romance; intricately plotted, bombshell-laden storyline; and an edgy, Nine Inch Nails–scored backdrop. A line from On Midnight Wings describes this saga perfectly: “intoxicating and deadly.”
3. Stacia Kane’s Downside
The Downside saga, which began in 2010 with the release of Unholy Ghosts, is a visionary and thematically powerful paranormal fantasy series. Offering an alternate history in which, in 1997, ghosts rose from their graves and killed millions of innocents, Kane has created a world where all religions have effectively been proven false. The story revolves around the relationship between hardcore drug addict Cesaria “Chess” Putnam—a Debunker for the Church of Real Truth, whose job is to banish spirits of the dead—and Terrible, a muscular giant of an enforcer who works for the local drug dealer/pimp. The storyline is gritty, compelling, at times heartbreaking, and unlike anything you will ever read.
Mainstream appeal: immersive world-building, unforgettable characters, profoundly moving themes, and, above all else, a love story to die for!
4. Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim
This one is a little more of a stretch, since the main character, John Stark—who has spent time in Hell (aka “Downtown”) and even worked as Lucifer for a stretch—is such a foul-mouthed badass antihero. And while it may not be everyone’s cup of brimstone, those who do seek out and read these novels (starting with Sandman Slim) may become dark disciples of Kadrey’s aggressive and deeply philosophical writing style. Some of my all-time favorite lines come from this series, like this one, from Kill the Dead: “The universe is a meat grinder and we’re just pork in designer shoes, keeping busy so we can pretend we’re not all headed for the sausage factory.”
Mainstream appeal: Acerbic sense of humor, over-the-top characters and storyline, corrupt yet charming protagonist, an abundance of memorable—and meaningful— one-liners.
What’s your vote for the next big thing in paranormal fantasy?
What paranormal series do you think will become the next big thing?