Diaries Of An Urban Panther
by Amanda Arista, fantasy (2011)
Avon Impulse, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-211474-7

Diaries Of An Urban Panther is the first book in a genuine series - which is to say, the main cast will show up throughout the entire series - that has the same name as this book.

I initially didn't give this one much thought, aside from going, "Gee, one of the first titles from Avon's new digital publishing arm, I see!", because I already had enough series to keep track of. Having it available as an ebook only made it easier for me to put it out of my mind. And then Avon Impulse started putting out their titles in print-on-demand dead tree mass market paperback format and... well, here I am.

Meet Violet Jordan. She is the scriptwriter for a movie production house that specializes in B-grade horror movies, which makes her a genre-savvy heroine. This nudge-nudge-wink-wink aspect of her sarcastic personality goes some way in making up for her Mary Sue tendencies. And oh boy, be warned people: the Sue is really strong in this woman.

The trouble begins when Violet gets mauled by a poochie-eating monster that shows up in her neighborhood. No, maybe it sort of started when she noticed a while back this guy, whom she calls "stalker boy", showing up to glower at her and her friends whenever they hang out in town. After being attacked, Violet awakes to this fellow's "care". Chaz Garrett says she is special (of course), a prophecy dictates that he looks out for her, and, oh, that he needs to check and see whether Violet would howl at the next full moon or show other unusual behavior.

Only, Violet turns out to be a panther instead. I know, the title of this book is such a spoiler, heh. At any rate, this story is basically Violet getting schooled in the ways of her new and improved self, although a villain shows up very late in the story to facilitate Violet's ascendancy from Mary Sue to Queen Magnificent Suebella the Fifth.

I'm really not kidding about the Mary Sue overload here. In fact, Violet is a Perfect, and that's Perfect with a capital P, with a prophecy or two confirming her status as a superior creature compared to the rest of us mere mortals. Being turned into a shape-shifting panther also gives her awesome superhuman skills and quick healing factor. She's told by practically everyone else that she is destined to be amazing. Even the hero says so. Feet don't fail Violet now, because she's on her way to the top!

Not too surprisingly, there isn't much suspense here when it comes to the final showdown with the villain, and it's probably for the best that the villain shows up late in the story, because I don't think anyone will be shocked to know that Violet ends up on top of everything. The villain isn't the plot anyway, it's the rise of the Sue that is the plot.

Still, as eye-rolling as the story can get, and it often does, I can't deny that there is a buoyant sense of humor here that is quite infectious. The playful self-referential humor at some of the more silly elements in the plot is certainly fun. Come to think of it, Diaries Of An Urban Panther is in some ways a nice change from the more formulaic urban fantasy romps out there. It's not free from its share of clichés, but it offers some interesting twists to the norm. For one, the heroine has a good female friend that doesn't turn out to be a villain who betrayed the heroine because she is jealous of that woman. Then, we have a hero who isn't a stereotypical raging alpha male who insists on being in control of everything, and he turns out to be not that bland, heh.

I like the author's style. It's just that, at the end of the day, this is still the story of a Mary Sue discovering how awesome she actually is, and the whole thing often feels too much like some thinly-veiled wish fulfillment fantasy. I'm not sure whether I will follow the series, but if I do pick up the second book one of these days, I hope there is a bit more plot in that book instead of "The heroine is awesome, and I bet you wish you're just like her!" repeated for several hundred pages.

Rating: 78

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