Urban fantasy is a genre I feel should probably dominate more of my reading list than it actually does. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel will forever hold special places in my heart. So when I hear of The Dresden Files, I always find myself intrigued, but it like so many other urban fantasy books don’t get me to take the leap into actually reading them. If I had to be honest, the space strikes me as something exclusively white with white authors dabbling in the cultures and aesthetics of POC but never really bringing us to the table. Even with my loves of Buffy and Angel, I think that critique applies. Often in these stories, you can count on one hand over the course of seasons/books the number of POC that are given major roles. It’s irksome and I’ve never really been able to move past it.
Shadowshaper was actually my first Daniel Jose Older book, so with that one under my belt I felt pretty damn confident going into Half-Resurrection Blues that a good story would be delivered. Older embraces cultural uniqueness with a natural cadence that I think fails many other writers and for my money, that’s because they’re not really willing to accept the uniqueness. Sure, they want you to think this “random brown god from a mythology I looked up on Wikipedia” is unique, but they don’t have the wherewithal to actually learn the intricacies and nuances. Older breathes these nuances and intricacies through the lenses of both race and gender in Half-Resurrection Blues.
Look at Older’s handling of masculinity within Half-Resurrection Blues. The main character, Carlos Delacruz (sidenote: ummm can someone slide the cover model my number? Because….damn!!) is vulnerable in so many ways. Physically he’s wounded and has to make use of a cane, a happy departure from your Greek god specimen heroes of UF. Mentally, he’s having to deal with the fact that he doesn’t know anything about his life before his half-death. Emotionally, he finds himself falling in love and what more vulnerable state is there than that? Carlos isn’t some beefed up Chosen One figure and I couldn’t be more thankful for it. His normality (outside of his model status fineness which I ain’t going to complain about) is refreshing in a way I didn’t know I needed.
Now in typical hyper masculine fashion, you would think that Carlos would be having all the ladies swoon at his mere presence and all the guys wanting to dap him up right? Let’s all have a long, slow clap for that not happening here. There are plenty of characters in this story at various points who let Carlos know he ain’t shit and they’re not pressed by him. And this is ultimately where some of that intersectonality comes in. Certain POC cultures don’t mind ribbing you out of love. Someone isn’t really your friend if they’re not giving you a hard time and Carlos falls square into that. A male hero that not everyone is falling over? Tell me more.
One of the most provocative pieces of Carlos’ portrayed masculinity for me was his sexual vulnerability. There was a part of the book where after having spent a night of genuine connection with his love interest, Carlos went home and masturbated. I remember reading that and being sort of shook out of the story. Not in a jarring way, but in a “oh man this is it” kind of moment. I already knew that Older was a different kind of author, but that particular detail just solidified the notion even more. I cannot think of any other SFF book in recent memory that has male masturbation as something completely natural, worthwhile and nothing to make all that big a deal about. In our wider culture, the act is often met with immature humor, deflection and degradation. So to see it slid into the narrative without so much as a peep really impressed me.
So let’s talk about that love interest. Carlos doesn’t win her over in Shakespearean fashion. He actually has to get to know her instead of popping out his pecs. He has to make her laugh and show her that he’s worth her time. Basically, he has to earn her. What a notion right? That a guy actually has to really prove himself worthy of a woman?
It shouldn’t have been so breathtaking. It should have been expected, but this is the work folks like Older are out there trying to make happen. He challenges these notions of masculine supremacy with Carlos and has given me something to look forward to in the world of Urban Fantasy.