Born to Run: A Novel of the SERRAted Edge by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon
Genre: urban fantasy
Synopsis & Review: Tannim and the elves of Fairgrove Elfhame have a soft spot for children in need and hot cars. For the latter, they’ve set up a stock car racing club, including experiments with fusing magic and technology to shield elves from cold iron. With the former, they try to develop a rapport with streetkids until they can get them to a safe environment, such as Underhill. When Tannim, representing Fairgrove Industries, recruits Sam, a former Gulfstream employee to act as a technological front for them, he also finds himself distracted by a teen runaway.
Tania Delaney left her home in hopes of finding people who cared about her, people who wouldn’t crush her dreams. Instead, she found herself living on the streets, selling her body for rent and food money at the ripe old age of fourteen. While cruising a Savannah bar for johns one night, she hears Celtic folk-rock and is enchanted by the sound. While there, Tannim glimpses her, and persuades Tania to accept some money and food credit, hoping to get her off the streets sometime soon. Bemused but elated by her windfall, Tania stays off the streets that night, going back to her rathole to share with her friends Jamie and Laura.
While Tannim works on gaining Tania’s trust, he also distracted by hostile activity by the local Unseleghe Court, who seek to eradicate Fairgrove and its elves. To fund their mortal world activities, the Unseleighe Sidhe are running a child pornography ring specializing in S&M and snuff films. Noting Tannim’s interest in Tania, they move in to acquire her in a bid to destroy Elfhame Fairgrove once and for all.
Yes, Born to Run is chock full o’ elves, magic, unicorns, Nineties alt-rock, kiddie porn, ghosts, boggles, and trolls, yet it still sucks. And I totally enjoyed it back in eleventh grade. This was one of the novels I stumbled across on the Tualatin High School Library wire paperback racks, like Ballerina. I eagerly devoured it then, thoroughly enjoying the gritty realism (runaways! teen prostitution! drugs! rock n’ roll!) and the magic (the Sidhe! ghosts! protective wardings!) combined–plus, it got me interested in SCAD. But I find that it didn’t age well at all; I wonder whether the charms it held for me were more the introduction to urban fantasy rather than any real quality.
Don’t get me wrong, I remember really enjoying some Mercedes Lackey books in seventh and eighth grade, stuff about wandering warrior/princesses or bards. And I gather she’s still very popular. But this is a far lesser work.
There is far too much going on here, with multiple plotlines that never mesh together, and exposition for one often seems to occur at the expense of others. It seems like two novels crammed into one, and to the detriment of both. And while the exposition is fascinating, there’s too much telling instead of showing, so that when action finally occurs, it’s blindingly fast and over with too soon. This is a major problem at the novel’s climax and ending, both of which are horribly contrived.
I also took issue with the teen runaway hooking subplot in particular, not because the subject matter offended me, but because it was sometimes treated so callously and shallowly. The middle was just fine, depicting Tania’s life (and Jamie and Laura’s as well), but the reason for Tania’s running away, especially when juxtaposed with Laura’s seemed ridiculous. Likewise, the ending too pat. It was disingenuous, and perhaps even almost patronizing. Sam’s conversion to believing in runaways and child abuse is particularly egregious and contrived.
Oh god, and it was so dated! Bugle Boy jeans? Really? It’s set in the early Nineties, yet Tania’s also described as resembling both early Madonna and Pris from Blade Runner. But then she’s thrilled to don a a (tacky) pink sweatsuit with a unicorn on it? Maybe in second grade, Lackey. And the musical references drove me up the wall, seeming like a desperate effort to retain some kind of cache and authenticity, but one that failed miserably. I’m sure I loved Tannim back then, thinking he was the epitome of suavity and cool, but he really came across as a tool on this later reading. Sometimes such details really capture the flavor of an era in a way that’s pleasurable for readers to remember or explore, but this flavor was akin to when milk sits next to rotting chicken in the refrigerator.
Don’t bother, even if you’re a Lackey fan. If you insist, it’s available for free courtesy of Baen Books.
Cover: OH HOLY SHIT, THAT IS SO AWESOME. Everything that’s terrible about fantasy covers in one neat package.
“Remember what I told you about them, that they can’t seem to create anything?” Tannim reminded him. “Keighvin thinks that if they withdraw, they’ll stagnate. That’s something a little more serious to them than it is to humans. They call it Dreaming; they can be forced into it by caffeine addiction, or they can drop into it from lack of stimulation, and being cut off from their old energy sources by Cold Iron. That’s happened to one group in California already. They managed to get out of it, but—it wasn’t pretty.”
He didn’t like to think about that. They had all been damned lucky to pull out of their trap. And they wouldn’t have been able to without the aid of humans.
He pulled his thoughts away; Elfhame Sundescending was all right now, and thriving. “Like the old story of the Lotus-Eaters; they lose all ambition and do next to nothing, sit around and listen to music and let their magic servants tend to everything, dance, and never think a single thought. Scary. I’ve seen it once, and I wouldn’t wish it even on the Folk who’d be pleased to see me six feet under. Keighvin’s got some plans to keep it from happening on this coast, and they involve all of us in Fairgrove.”
19 August – 22 August