The best description of Liu’s novels comes from [ profile] meganbmoore, who described them as “The X-Men as genre romance.”

Dirk and Steele is a high-priced, high-class security agency… because its agents are all secretly shapeshifters, telepaths, and other mutants! Each novel is a romantic thriller featuring psychic powers and/or magic, plus some truly cracktastic plotting.

Liu’s prose is ordinary at best, though her dialogue is good, and can veer into ultraviolet. Her plots tend (quite endearingly, in my opinion) toward “everything and the kitchen sink.” Her cast is multiracial and multicultural, and both her heroes and heroines tend to be sweet and tough, wisecracking and angsty. The romances are frequently interracial, though so far I think they’ve all been person of color/white person.

I like her because her romances ring true and don’t make me want to take out a restraining order on the heroes, I love psychic powers and angst and she has lots and lots of both, there’s plenty of action and wry comedy, and I enjoy her enthusiastic approach to plotting (“And then he runs away to the circus, and there’s an old woman who can turn into a dragon, and then they all get on a train to Russia with some immortal dude. And then a mummy attacks.”)

Here’s a quick run-down on her novels. They don’t need to be read in order (and I don’t think I’ve listed them in order.) Like Suzanne Brockmann, there’s a large cast of recurring characters and the supporting ones tend to get their own books and own romances eventually.

Eye of Heaven. Blue is an Iranian-American agent with electrical powers and tons of family angst, including a brother who ran away to join the circus. Iris is a white circus performer who can turn into a lion. Together, they fight organ-leggers! Someone loses an eye, or maybe an ear; I forget. Great fun. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Eye of Heaven (Dirk & Steele, Book 5)

Shadow Touch. Artur is a Russian psychometrist. Elena is a healer. They’re both held captive in an evil laboratory and must bond on the psychic plane to escape. This one is super-angsty. It was the first I read, and got me hooked on the series. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Shadow Touch (Dirk & Steele, Book 2)

Tiger Eye. Dela is a psychic who opens a magic box. Hari is the ancient shapeshifter who pops out of it after being imprisoned for thousands of years as the slave of the owner of the box. The novel avoids accidentally creepy power dynamics by having the characters realize how creepy and horrible Hari’s situation is, and do their best to free him. Sexy and sweet. Click here to buy it from Amazon: Tiger Eye (Dirk & Steele, Book 1)

The Wild Road. He’s a gargoyle disguised as a human. She’s an amnesiac covered in blood who tries to steal his car. They go on the run and end up squared off against the Queen of Elfland, if I remember correctly. The combination of two stoic, quiet, brooding characters is surprisingly entertaining. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Wild Road (Dirk & Steele)

The Red Heart of Jade. Loved the main couple, but the plot crossed the line from wacky to incomprehensible. Some funny bits, but overall skippable. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Red Heart of Jade (Dirk & Steele, Book 3)

The Last Twilight. Rikki is a virologist investigating a hot zone. Amiri is a mild-mannered former teacher and current agent by day, and a cheetah whenever he feels like it. They fight biological weapons-makers in Africa. I loved the main couple and the supporting character (Eddie), and appreciated Liu pointing out that Africa is a very big and diverse place, and that just because Amiri is from Kenya doesn’t mean he knows anything about the Democratic Republic of Congo. Given that, it’s too bad that the actual plot centers around every African cliché from Ebola to hatchet-wielding rebels. I think I would have also bristled at the African hero having an animal form if this had been the first Liu book I read, but since it was about the fifth and the series has multiple shapeshifters of various races, I didn’t. Your mileage may vary. Overall, though, I enjoyed it a lot. Click here to buy it from Amazon: The Last Twilight (Dirk & Steele)

I haven’t yet read the last two on this list, but you can still click to buy them from Amazon!

The one with the merman: Soul Song (Dirk & Steele, Book 6)

The one that isn’t Dirk and Steele: A Taste of Crimson (Crimson City)

From: [identity profile]

“And then he runs away to the circus, and there’s an old woman who can turn into a dragon, and then they all get on a train to Russia with some immortal dude. And then a mummy attacks.”

This-- this is quite possibly the most succinct description of her plots I've ever seen.

From: [identity profile]

You totally want to move the one with the alpha female werewolf to the top of your list.

From: [identity profile]

A Taste of Crimson...the Crimson City one. (And if you wait about 5 minutes, my post on it will be up at my LJ actually. I only read it last week.)


From: [identity profile]

I didn't like SOUL SONG as much as some of the others, but loved THE WILD ROAD.
ext_12512: Hinoe from Natsume Yuujinchou, elegant and smirky (Gojyo IBARW)

From: [identity profile]

The romances are frequently interracial, though so far I think they’ve all been person of color/white person.

The one with the merman perhaps gets partial credit -- the heroine is biracial (black mom from New Orleans and white dad from Appalachia), while the merman hero isn't entirely human -- dad was human and white IIRC, mom was mer, and from what little we see of mer society it seems like their equivalent of "racial" categories might run on rather different lines from human ones.

Considering how consistently the cover art on this series has downplayed the existence of the POC characters -- I think Red Heart of Jade was the only one so far that clearly conveyed that at least one of the protagonists wasn't white -- and how inevitably interracial romance novels in general seem to be POC/white rather than two POC from different cultures, I really wonder if there might not be a bit of editorial pressure going on there. I have seen at least one shorter non-Dirk-and-Steele Liu piece that didn't follow the formula so strictly (Chinese supercop/secret agent heroine, half-Russian/half-native-Siberian hero who looks visibly mixed)...

From: [identity profile]

I know Liu was pressured to write under a white-sounding pseudonym early on, but she refused. It would not surprise me if there's some "One POC romantic lead is okay if you insist, but the world will perish if you have two of different races!"
ext_12512: Hinoe from Natsume Yuujinchou, elegant and smirky (585 embrace your demons)

From: [identity profile]

Yep, or perhaps even more like "You have to have at least one white character so the audience can identify with someone!" *sighs*

The merman book was the first Liu I read -- I'd picked it up rather randomly, not knowing anything about the series or author, but the cover art and blurbs made it sound astonishingly similar to a cracktastically so-bad-it's-almost-good Gena Showalter that came out at much the same time, and I was curious to see if one was ripping off the other. So I was very, very pleasantly surprised to find that this was rather fun and decently written, and was rather happily startled to find that it contained things like a biracial heroine who did not look white-with-a-touch-of-exotica and even better yet was NOT all endless hand-wringing "oh woe is me, I'm trapped between two worlds and don't know where I belong!!1!" angst, various minor characters that actually seemed like a pretty decent representation of the demographics of the city it was set in (including an Asian female cop who was not an elite martial artist, a submissive flower, a Dragon Lady terror, or any of the other usual ethnic-stereotype-in-lieu-of-characterization tropes). Which isn't to say it's totally free of issues -- the heroine's grandmother, when we first meet her, seems to be SUCH a stereotypical backwoods Voodoo Queen that a friend of mine couldn't stomach more than a few chapter of this. Somewhat to Liu's credit, if you can stick it out, Granny Voodoo turns out to be actually tweaking the stereotypes in somewhat unexpected ways...but I certainly can't blame anyone who is not in the mood to be patient with that sort of thing.

(There *is* some "oh noes, where do I fit in?" angst on the merman's part, now, but since he is quite LITERALLY a rather unique hybrid who doesn't quite fit in mer or human society and is trying to figure out where he belongs, that tired trope is much more appropriate than usual for him...)

From: [identity profile]

The copy of The Last Twilight I have has, if you squint, off to the side, a back of a man who's black, if you're paying attention. And then the cover's all the white lady's face. Of course.

From: [identity profile]

Shadow Touch. Artur is a Russian psychometrist. Elena is a healer. They’re both held captive in an evil laboratory and must bond on the psychic plane to escape

OMG that sounds MARVELOUS.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

BWAHAHA awesome! Also, you should totally read the Crimson City one, because it actually has a more coherent plot because it's not allowed to sprawl across books. It has cool older woman and a heroine who's afraid she's a feral werewolf and an angsty and quiet vampire hero. It's one of my favorite of hers, along with the psychic one and the gargoyle one.

And the Chinese agent one is in the Kim Harrison anthology Holidays in Hell; I vaguely remember liking it.

Yeah, I think I was turned off by Last Twilight for all the Africa cliches, even though I really wanted to like it (black hero! so rare to get black hero in non-African-American-marketed romances!).

From: [identity profile]

Liu also has a second series about a Slayer-ish dynasty of women who fight and exorcise demons with the help of sentient tattoos which render their bodies virtually invulnerable in daylight, then hop off the woman's skin and come to life to help out as loyal but very dangerous imps after sunset. Unfortunately, there are only enough demon-sidekick tattoos for one woman at once. So once her daughter (each of them inevitably winds up having one) is old enough and strong enough to handle the tattoos, the imps jump ship to her, leaving the mother sufficiently vulnerable to physical harm that she usually ends up quickly getting killed by some of the many demons she's pissed off since she originally acquired the tattoos herself and became the designated demon-hunter of her generation. (The title that goes with this is Hunter Kiss, since for some reason the surname the women use is Kiss.) The first book is called "Iron Hunt," and came out sometime last fall. The second book in the series has either just come out or is just about to.

Liu is also currently scripting the Marvel Comics series (miniseries?) "Nyx: The Return," which is a very peripheral X-title. (The teenage "family" of main characters are mutants, and Wolverine's teenage female clone [don't ask} X-23 appeared in the original, non-Liu-scripted Nyx series. However, as far as I know no X-Men or X-Men supporting characters have shown up in the current revival of it.)

From: [identity profile]

I am finally reading The Last Twilight and man, I want more Rictor.

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