Before I leave it to Megan’s article though, please understand that genre blending is the biggest trend in all adult fiction. Understanding this and learning how to incorporate this new reality into both your collection development and your work with leisure readers is one of the most important issues in popular materials service today. I cannot stress this enough.
Enough of me though. Here is Megan’s article.
LIBRARIANS LOVE TO categorize things. Mentally (and physically) we adore putting things into neat boxes, so that when we need to find them again they are labeled, tagged, and ready to hand over to a patron. But how do we handle books that don’t fit into those neat little boxes? There seems to be an increasing number of books described in reviews as “genre-bending” or “genre-defying.” Sometimes these titles travel so far outside our usual understanding of genre that we have to stop talking about what category to put them in and let them be their own unique reading experience.
Another boom in publishing today is that books fall not simply into one genre but two, three, or more. From popular literary titles that resist genre categorization, such as the works of Haruki Murakami and Nick Harkaway, to quirky experimental mixes that may only attract a niche audience, the blending trend is growing. One reason these books are gaining in popularity is that publishing seems less obsessed by how a book can be marketed to bookstores. In the past, if it wouldn’t be obvious where to shelve and how to promote a book, publishers were less likely to take a chance on it. With online discovery, the problem of where to shelve a genre-blended book is suddenly less of an issue. Books can have multiple niches as part of the metadata, providing alternate paths to discovery. Virtually, a book is shelved nowhere and everywhere, a huge boon for the blended.
COLLECTING & PROMOTING BLENDS
When collecting books that merge or cross genre boundaries, think beyond the small annoyances of where your library will shelve the book or what label will go on the cover. Think about the various audiences that this work might bring together. Every genre has certain appeal characteristics that are associated with it: thrillers are fast-paced, romances are emotional stories with an emphasis on character, historical fiction is all about the setting, etc. When you merge genres, you can gain from those multiple appeal points, combining them in one book and potentially gaining new readers who normally wouldn’t pick up that title. If a book features multiple genres and integrates them in a skillful way, you can promote it to a number of potential audiences. If a title is not moving well in one genre, consider displaying it with another, giving it a second chance to move before weeding it from your collections.
In my recent book The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Blends (ALA Editions; see below, Resources), I walk through the possible combinations and the reasons why they appeal. In this article, I focus on just a few of the most popular blends in publishing right now. No stars () are noted because there is so much to choose from that I’ve selected just a few of the very best books, new and classic, of each blend, plus a few examples of how blends are used in other formats.
MYSTERY & HISTORICAL FICTION
From almost the beginning of mystery as a genre, there were those authors who thought solving crimes must have been more interesting in the past, and historical mysteries remain hugely popular.
Franklin, Ariana & Samantha Norman. Winter Siege. Bantam. 2014. 359p. ISBN 9780593070611. $25.99; pap. ISBN 9780593070628. $19.99.
The author of the marvelous medieval mysteries about Adelia Aguilar died a few years ago, but here is one final gift from her, a novel completed by her daughter. Although this stand-alone gives readers a detailed look at the political world of the 12th century, the mystery thread of young girl who witnessed the actions of a depraved monk keeps the pages turning.
Harris, C.S. What Angels Fear. Signet. 2006. 432p. ISBN 9780451219718. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781101210789.
In Regency England, a young woman is killed on the steps of a church and evidence points to the Viscount Sebastian St. Cyr. The young nobleman will need to draw on skills he learned in the Napoleonic Wars to clear his name and find the real killer. This series will be adored by those who love the Regency period, but the mysteries are always tightly plotted, and there is a romance layer as well. ( LJ 7/05)
FANTASY & MYSTERY
One perennially popular combination is the plot and structure of a mystery with the magical landscape of a fantasy. The crimes here can happen on real-world streets or in epic fantasy landscapes.
Bennett, Robert Jackson. City of Stairs. Crown. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780804137171. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780804137188.
In the city of Bulikov, the gods are dead and the conquered populace forbidden from talking or writing about their past. Saypuri master spy Shara Thivani comes to Bulikov to investigate the death of a historian and discovers the city’s god might not be as dead as everyone thinks. Complex politics and characters—as well a great puzzler of a mystery—make this an amazing series opener. ( LJ 8/14)
Butcher, Jim. Skin Game. Roc. (Dresden Files, Bk. 15). 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780451464392. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698157897.
The latest in this long-running series gets back to its crime fiction roots when series hero Harry Dresden is trapped into helping with a heist. Butcher finds a way for readers to root for Harry and the crew of criminals he is working with to get away with their caper, as that success seems to be the only way forward for Harry, who has been struggling to adapt to the many recent changes in his life. ( LJ 4/15/14)
ROMANCE & HISTORICAL FICTION
You can find these in your fiction aisles and on your romance spinners. Adding the complication of a historical setting to a romance gives you lots of good reasons that the hero and heroine can’t be together.
Gabaldon, Diana. Outlander. Random. (Outlander, Bk. 1). 1991. 640p. ISBN 9780385302302. $35; pap. ISBN 9780440212560. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9780440335160.
Claire Randall is vacationing in the Scottish Highlands with her husband when she somehow travels through time to the 17th century. Rescued from British troops by a clan of Highlanders, Claire is forced to create a life in the past—a task made easier by attractive Scotsman Jamie Fraser. Brilliantly rendered details of the time and place for historical fiction fans plus swoon-worthy chemistry are two reasons this has also made an excellent TV adaptation is in its first season on STARZ. ( LJ 8/96)
MacLean, Sarah. Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover. Avon. (Rule of Scoundrels, Bk. 4). 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062068514. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062065414.
Georgiana has always exploited society’s secrets and kept her own, but when she decides she must wed to give her illegitimate daughter a chance at a different life, she turns to newspaperman Duncan West for help. Although there are rewards for longtime readers of MacLean’s historical romance series, this could easily be enjoyed by anyone who loves watching a woman succeed despite the restrictions of her gender. ( LJ 12/14)
HORROR & THRILLER
Horror is alive and well but often lurks in other categories, sneaking in monsters and unearthly forces by pairing them with page-turning action and suspense and calling these books supernatural thrillers.
Beukes, Lauren. Broken Monsters. Little, Brown. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780316216821. $26; pap. ISBN 9780316216814. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780316216838.
Against the decaying backdrop of present-day Detroit, a series of horrific crimes appear to be the work of a twisted serial killer. But layered onto the story is a cynical look at the future of journalism and a big dollop of the supernatural. Beukes is a hugely inventive author, never afraid to borrow from whatever genre gets the job done. ( LJ 7/14)
Wellington, David. Positive. Harper Voyager. Apr. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9780062315373. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062315380.
In a world set years after an epidemic wiped out the population and turned millions into zombies, 19-year-old Finn is suspected of carrying the virus. Exiled from his community, he is tattooed as a “Positive” and must make his way in a hostile landscape. His fellow humans are far more dangerous than the zombies in this dark tale that shows there are still interesting stories to tell in the zombie genre.
HISTORICAL FICTION & SF
Future-loving sf and past-worshipping historical fiction seem unlikely to combine, but where they intersect most often is alternative history, a genre that asks the sf question, “What if?” while basking in the landscape of the past. Steampunk is an especially robust segment of this genre blend.
Bear, Elizabeth. Karen Memory. Tor. Feb. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780765375247. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466846340.
Life in Madame Damnable’s isn’t bad for a working girl in a frontier town, or it wasn’t until Karen got on the wrong side of Peter Bantle—pimp, politician, and possibly murderer. Bear has created a vivid Old West landscape that teems with vice and violence, with marvelous steampunk touches. ( LJ 12/14)
Tregillis, Ian. The Mechanical. Orbit. Mar. 2015. 480p. ISBN 9780316248006. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780316247993.
How might the world have been different if Dutch alchemists had discovered the secret to creating mechanical servants bound to do the bidding of humanity? Berenice is a French spy who believes she can overthrow the Dutch if she can find and control a rogue Clakker. But the mechanical man won’t give up his newly won freedom easily in this fascinating alt-history. ( LJ 12/14)
SF & MYSTERY
Both sf and mysteries appeal to the intellect, asking questions about what the future might bring and why people commit crimes. But no matter how technology or the future changes things, the one constant seems to be murder.
Scalzi, John. Lock In. Tor. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780765375865. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9780765381323. $8.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466849358.
After a pandemic sweeps the globe, there are millions of survivors left “locked in” to their bodies—fully aware but unable to control their physical selves. Technologies have been developed to help those sufferers, but it looks like someone used that technology to commit murder. As fascinating for its look at how a near-future society might deal with disability as for its twisty crime investigation. ( LJ 7/14)
Winters, Ben H. The Last Policeman. Quirk. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781594746741. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594745775.
If an asteroid were hurtling toward Earth, guaranteed to destroy everyone on the planet in a few months, what would happen to the concept of law and order? Det. Hank Palace is determined to keep doing his job in a world counting down the days. ( LJ 7/12)
SF & THRILLER
The future can be a scary place and technology almost always has a dark side. That makes the combination of sf and adrenaline genres like thrillers and suspense a natural fit.
Bacigalupi, Paolo. The Water Knife. Knopf. May 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780385352871. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385352895.
Drought and climate change mean that water knives like Angel keep busy protecting the interests of those who want to control the water supply. Angel winds up in parched and dying Phoenix, where his path intersects with that of a journalist and a refugee as they all search for documents that could change the balance of power for the region. ( LJ 2/15/15)
Barry, Max. Lexicon. Penguin. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781594205385. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9780143125426. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101604908.
Words have power, and in this pulse-pounding thriller special people called Poets have trained to be able to use words to control others. As the book opens, Wil Parke is kidnapped by two Poets who believe he is the only one who can stop a cataclysmic disaster. ( LJ 5/1/13)
Layman, John (text) & Rob Guillory (illus.). Chew. Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice. Image. 2009. 128p. ISBN 9781607061595. pap. $9.99.
In this ongoing comics series, Tony Chu is a detective who can get psychic impressions from what he eats (including people). Set in a future where poultry is illegal after a pandemic of bird flu, the series opens with Tony becoming an investigating agent for the FDA. The truly bizarre premise is executed brilliantly; hilarious and gross in equal measure. ( LJ 3/15/10)
Vaughan, Brian K. (text) & Fiona Staples (illus.). Saga. Vol. 1. Image. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9781607066019. pap. $9.99.
Alana and Marko are two soldiers from opposite sides of a galactic war who fall in love and go on the run in this first volume of an ongoing series. While the book works as a poignant love story and an indictment of prejudice, trippy visuals and clever dialog make this Romeo and Juliet space opera a lot of fun as well.
McArdle, Megan M. Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Blends. ALA Editions. 2014. 232p. ISBN 9780838912560. pap. $55; ebk. ISBN 9780838912560.
This recent entry in the ALA Editions “Readers’ Advisory Guide” series focuses on books that blend genres. The book discusses the nature of blended books and the challenges they pose for libraries, includes chapters on all the major genres with examples of blends, and focuses on RA tips for blended books. A companion website with an interactive database of genre blends can be found at blender.genrify.com. (Professional Media, LJ 1/15)
EBSCO’s invaluable database can help answer readers’ advisory questions. For the reader interested in books that blend genres, the advanced search function can be a wonderful tool, as it includes a genre search field (GN). Simultaneously searching multiple genres can help yield more unusual mixes, and some of the more common (such as historical mystery) get their own designation.