Julie Kenner’s Extraordinarily Yours
by Travis Hedge Coke
The novels and novellas of Julie Kenner’s superhero series technically comprise the Extraordinarily Yours romances. But, they used to be officially the Protector series, and I have always called them the Aphrodite books, as has anyone I have talked to who knew them, due to the original titles, which tended to an Aphrodite ___ format, beginning with the 2001 novel, Aphrodite’s Kiss.
Set in a world of godlike superhero lineages, beginning with So (Very!) Much More than the Girl Next Door (formerly, Aphrodite’s Kiss), Kenner’s stories emphasize extrapolation games in the superhero situation with a sturdiness of plot and freewheeling wealth of characterization.
Zoe Smith, twenty-five, is a school librarian who says, “Hopping Hades,” and can’t eat chocolate in public without her superhuman senses overwhelming her in an embarrassing fashion.
Mordichai Black, son of a master supervillain, capable of generating flames, eventually tries to lead a good life, but cannot quite convince people exactly how bad his father is.
Tracy Tannin is used to living in the shadow of a Hollywood-famous grandmother, until she discovers an unusual belt that might actually be the girdle of goddess.
The world is filled out, not only with superheroes and supervillains, some of who have day jobs and some of whom do not, also private detectives, art teachers, famous actors, animal familiars, and loads of bureaucrats.
The Aphrodite books are heavy on bureaucracy. The regulations and minutiae are kept to a minimum on the page, but their structure, their restrictions are felt everywhere. Normative human life is governed bureaucracy, and so is superhero life. Lest you suspect supervillains are freer, think of the it’s turtles all the way down model, except that it’s bullies all the way up.
As a lifelong superhero fan, it fascinates me to see mores and codes of conduct laid out in a feasible, culturally, and cross-culturally specific manner. Even without seeing the regulations presented in full, they seem socially workable in ways that Watchmen’s Keene Act or the Avengers’ protocols do not.
This extra tight framework keep the action and scope of behavior regulated in a believable, reasonable manner, opening up the novels as social comedy, and giving a verve to the romantic aspects, that superhero rom-coms often lack.
The Extraordinarily Yours books exhibit a definite sense of play; play enhanced by rules and by a defined game board.
Layering genre on genre, Julie Kenner does not rely on the stock elements, presuming familiarity and immediately launching into novel riffs, inversions, and extrapolations. Her understanding of the daily life of a person who can fly, who possess the super senses, for generates fantastic energy from their hands, is not pulled simply from the question of how they can use that to fight crime.
Even in many of our most intimate superhero stories, living with superhuman abilities is limited, outside of crime-fighting and pugilism, to Daredevil sleeping in isolation tank.
Kenner’s characters are governed by their bodies, families, social situations, work regulations, and ethnic and cultural considerations. Superhuman, in this world, is its own culture. They are an ethnic minority, some of whom pass in contemporary American society.
Most wonderful, to me, is that they never become stolid extracts about cultural architecture, arch and starchy character studies so in-depth that you lose plot and play, or in any way mockery or dismissal of any of the genres being braided together.
The Aphrodite books, Julie Kenner’s Protector series, the Extraordinarily Yours romances are an extraordinary, and extraordinarily fun adventure. So (Very!) Much More than the Girl Next Door, The Charmed Affair of an Invisible Bodyguard, The “Super” Secret Life of an Accidental Daddy, How a Sexy Hero and a Marvelous Makeover (Sorta!) Saved the World, and more! Sweet, exciting, shot through with intelligence and radiating love.
Julie Kenner’s Extraordinarily Yours
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