Sleeps With Monsters

Sleeps With Monsters: Older Women As Lead Characters In Urban Fantasy

Older women in urban fantasy. Where are they? I mean, seriously, where?

I know I’ve made this complaint before, about fantasy more generally. But it only just struck me that until recently, I had never read an urban fantasy set in the last decade or so where the main protagonist was a (human) woman over forty. This seems like a missed opportunity: urban fantasy sits at the intersection of fantasy qua fantasy with genre crime and genre romance, and crime, at least, is a genre replete with older protagonists: ageing detectives, DIs and DCIs in the middle of their careers, and the occasional more hard-boiled Miss Marple. But urban fantasy seems to be dominated by youthfulness and youthful thirty-somethings…

…Which makes it downright refreshing to come across a novel whose main character is fifty-five years old and deeply unwilling to take anyone’s shit. E.E. Richardson’s Disturbed Earth (Abaddon, 2015) is a breath of clean air in a landscape that shies away from putting women over forty front-and-centre.

Claire Pierce is a DCI with the North Yorkshire Police. She heads the Ritual Crime Unit — the perpetually underfunded and understaffed team whose job is to deal with crimes of a magical nature. As Disturbed Earth opens, she’s returning to work after weeks on leave for an injury in the line of duty, one received during the course of a case that killed one of her constables and left another in the hospital. Back in the office, she finds herself working under a new superintendent, with a new DI on her team — one who’s more than a bit of a cowboy — and two new constables to break in.

On her first day back at work, Pierce finds her new DI calling in a necromancer to consult on three buried skulls that have turned up in a field. Not exactly recommended procedure, but Pierce is ready to go along until the necromancer is badly affected by whatever ritual the skulls were meant to bring about. With the necromancer suffering possession… and within forty-eight hours, dead, apparently murdered… DCI Pierce is not at all happy about where this case seems to be going. When a lead turns up the possibility of more skulls — and searching for them ends with officers injured and at least one death — Pierce is even less happy.

It seems that some arseholes are planning on hosting the apocalypse on her turf. And to stop them, Pierce has two constables, one detective sergeant, a DI who may or may not be deliberately sabotaging her investigation, and a septuagenarian academic who teaches theoretical demonology. And the dubious assistance of some druids who’re protesting the sale of their sacred site.

In terms of pacing, Disturbed Earth is a little on the uneven side. And until I realised that there’s a prequel novella, the e-only Under the Skin, my impression of meeting a series in full swing didn’t quite make sense. But I really enjoyed it: it’s cracking fun. And Pierce is an excellent character, with great voice, in the grand tradition of cranky middle-aged detectives.

Urban fantasy could use a damn sight more protagonists like her.

Just tell me where I can find them.


Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books and occasionally watches things. Her blog. Her Twitter.

20 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!