Continuing my reviews of the top 10 SPFBO 2018 finalists with Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc. Usual disclaimer that I am not affiliated with the contest in any way, and this review has no bearing whatsoever on the final results.
Out of Nowhere is about Sean Danet, a sarcastic tough guy who works as a paramedic in a somewhat seedy Massachusetts town. But Sean has a pretty big secret: one, he’s older than he looks. A lot older. So old that he can’t even remember his childhood, though he does remember such famous figures as Napoleon and Shakespeare. His second secret is that he can heal people supernaturally. He tries to keep both of these things a secret, lest people freak out and he gets run out of town or burnt at the stake. But working on an ambulance, he can heal people just a little, bring them from “probably going to die” to “just merely injured” and thus help people without drawing too much attention to himself. When he heals a guy with an injured ankle, however, the victim definitely takes notice. Soon, Sean finds himself under frequent attack from mysterious European strangers while he races to unravel the conspiracy that threatens everyone he cares about.
I will be brutally honest and say I didn’t have extremely high hopes about this one coming in. I’m not the biggest fan of urban fantasy in general and noir in particular — I do like Dresden Files, but that’s in spite of, not because of, the subgenre. But with this one I was pleasantly surprised.
For one it was nice to see an urban fantasy where the character’s profession is something different than the usual cop or bounty hunter or private eye. Secondly the main character is a Healer archetype which is rare enough in fantasy, but also a Tough Guy Healer who is not a Holier-than-Thou Paladin, which seems even rarer still. Out of Nowhere is a fast-paced page turner, reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code or National Treasure (actually, I pictured the main character’s romantic interest as the woman from National Treasure precisely, but I’ll get back to that later). There were almost no times in the story where I was bored reading it, and I felt thoroughly invested in the characters throughout. The author is, I believe, a paramedic for his day job, so the stuff about the main character’s job as a paramedic felt vividly realistic and believable.
However in some places the book’s greatest strength is also, paradoxically, a weak point. This is entirely a personal preference thing on my part, so your mileage may vary. But while the author being intimately knowledgeable about a subject can lend authenticity and realism to any fantasy work, many authors also have a tendency to get bogged down in minute details that don’t really do anything to advance the plot. I felt that Out of Nowhere suffered from this, slightly, during the early scenes where the protagonist is just going around doing paramedic stuff, it seemed just a little bit too gratuitously like the author was going “Look! I know all about paramedics!” and it was the only place in the book where the plot really dragged. In particular there was one scene where an elderly man’s nurse is trying to convince him to move to a nursing home, and the hero has to convince the nurse that he’s fine where he is. The scene didn’t really advance the main plot seemed to serve no purpose except for to demonstrate how incompetent the nurse was (she never shows up again). Since the nurse is also the only female character not to be described as stunningly attractive, I found this scene especially uncomfortable.
I want to reiterate that this is a very minor gripe, and I would much rather have a bit too much paramedic info-dumping than for an author to just come in and get paramedic knowledge (or any other career knowledge) entirely wrong.
Now to bring up the proverbial elephant in the room, that is, the problematic content other reviewers have brought up. Throughout the course of the book, the main characters exchange a lot of homophobic and racist banter. This is, I think, another facet of the realism of the story, as I can totally believe that lots of paramedics actually talk this way. Would have been nice if it was challenged a bit more, or at least toned down. I don’t think every page-turner urban fantasy needs to turn into a political screed about microaggressions in the paramedic community, but having to read them to such a degree without any confrontation of why it’s problematic is bound to make a lot of people uncomfortable.
The other issue a lot of people bring up is the sexism. There’s no getting around the fact that there is a lot of male gaze in this book. The main character’s love interest has no flaws to speak of, and their relationship was very much insta-love at first sight. It came across as very much wish fulfillment on the author’s part. And honestly, I don’t have a huge problem with this. Let people have their wish fulfillment. If Twilight is allowed to exist, then this should be, too, I suppose.
The problem is that there aren’t any other female characters that the main character doesn’t find hot, except for the one-off nurse who is shown as incompetent. In fact, the main character spends a lot more time than necessary angsting about why he doesn’t want to bang his hot ambulance partner, which was just … weird and uncomfortable.
However while I know that being from “another time” is not an excuse, it is nevertheless unfortunately a noticeable pattern of behavior. It is sadly realistic that someone who’s been alive since before the time of Shakespeare to perhaps have a few outdated social norms. And honesty, I respected the fact that Sean acknowledges some of his sexist impulses, and shows capacity to learn and grow. That’s a lot more flexibility than a lot of the racist uncles and grandmothers around the US. LeClerc, too, has taken the criticism in stride and, rather than becoming defensive, is looking for ways he can do better in the future. This makes me optimistic about future works from this author.
People who will like this book
- People who like fast-paced page-turners
- People who like realistic depictions of the medical industry
People who might want to avoid this book
- People who need well-developed romance and not insta-love
- People put off by male gaze and casual microaggressions
r/fantasy 2019 Bingo Squares
- Self Published