Today I’m reviewing Cliché, a comedy-fantasy novel by Aerin Grey and Allison Rose. I had the pleasure of being one of the book’s advance reviewers, and I highly recommend it. (This review is spoiler-free.)
Handsome rogue Xander Portmanteau has a problem. He's the only chauvinist left in the feminist fantasy realm of Landria, whose problematically patriarchal tendencies have not been smashed. Why? Because his authoress, Jen Penrose and her (totally unrelated) protagonist, the elegant and opinionated Lady Jen, are madly in love with him.
Lyra Jones is in a similar bind with her author, pulp fiction aficionado Ryan Petrie. Try as he might to write that perfect strong, female protagonist, he's falling back on old habits. Lyra knows she needs more than an impractically scant suit of armor and the emotional range of a Barzümian monkey-lizard to be the best Space Huntress on the moon.
But can she prove it to Ryan?
With a little help from a mysterious, magical intermediary known only as the Guardian, these two poorly-written protagonists emerge from their manuscripts' pages to confront their poorly writers…
Ironically, given the title, Cliché is a unique and refreshing read. Meta-fiction is a genre with a wealth of comedic potential. However, much of that comedy is in the form of low-hanging fruit, which means that meta-fictional stories all too often take on an irritating tone. The authors of Cliche are to be commended for never sacrificing good storytelling in favor of cheap jokes. The humor is genuinely funny, but the book has a heart and a purpose as well.
In addition, while common tropes linked to social issues are a centerpiece of Cliché, these topics are handled in a balanced, tactful manner. Like the comedy, these themes never infringe upon the story. For example, Xander Portmanteau is essentially a spoof of those male leads whose boorishness is forgiven by female characters (and readers) on the strength of their rippling muscles. However, he’s not a one-dimensional effigy heaped with all the sins of chauvinists across history for the sake of ham-fisted virtue-signaling. He has depth, even in his less admirable moments, and he’s likable. The same can be said for Lyra Jones, who avoids being a cardboard parody of those women who confuse misandry with feminism. In addition, the (fictional) authors of both characters have believable motivations and personalities. Neither is demonized for questionable characterization skills.
The end of the story is somewhat abrupt, but not in a frustrating way—only in the sense that it makes you want more. The authors take the time to set up an intriguing mythology behind the story’s unusual happenings (a relief, since they could so easily have hand-waved the explanation away). There’s certainly room for more stories in this setting, and I certainly hope Allison Rose and Aerin S. Grey choose to write a sequel.
Cliché is a must-read, both for career authors and for people with just a casual interest in fiction. It’s an highly enjoyable book that drew me in from the first page and refused to relinquish my attention until I was finished. Add it your reading list—or its characters just might crawl out of its pages and pester you until you do.