Born to Run by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon was published in 1992.
Born to Run is urban fantasy. The premise is that elves and banshees and various creatures and circumstances of the Irish and Scottish mythology are real. The good elves are relatively well-disposed toward humans, and will generally help people, and the bad ones hate humans and will try to do them harm. The modernization of this basic story is that the good elves, led by Keighvin Silverhair, are building racecars in order to get money to help children, since in the modern world magically-created gold isn’t so useful, while the bad elves (and other creatures of the Unseleighe Court) are running a business creating kiddie porn and snuff films, enjoying both the monetary profit and the negative emotions.
The story plays out in the lives of the elves of Elfhame Fairgrove, the human mage Tannim, the retired metallurgist Sam Kelly, and the teenage runaway and prostitute Tania.
I like this modernization of the mythology. It serves as a great basis for the story, and it’s an interesting enough setting to hold the reader’s attention.
Unfortunately, the writing wasn’t so good. It was very heavy-handed. I’d even call it amateurish, in many ways. The foreshadowing is obvious enough that they might as well have just said “check back in a hundred pages when this plot thread ties into the others”.
In particular, it was totally obvious from the beginning that Ross would be helping out in the climax (“You need me, you call.”), that Tania would be rescued by Tannim (“She had vague memories of a dream, where Tannim was some kind of warrior, in leather and blue jeans, and he fought monsters to protect her. . . .”), that the bad guys who make kiddie porn would use Tania in their plot against the good guys… and so on. It would have been far more surprising if those things hadn’t happened. Even the character of Skippy-Rob was pretty obviously set up as someone we should miss when he died–someone to die to show us how serious things are.
Besides the plot-related issues, the book feels very like reading fanfiction–regular references to popular culture and scifi/fantasy literature. As for the former, being published in 1992, it’s very firmly set in a late-eighties/early-nineties cultural milieu, which is probably a little more jarring now than it was twenty years ago. As for the latter, the only other book I can think of that made quite so many scifi references was Inferno by Niven and Pournelle, but it had a pretty good reason for it. Born to Run also ignores the Law of Conservation of Detail at odd moments, devoting, for example, two large paragraphs to describing Tannim’s bed. Those kinds of things can add character to a work, when done well, but they just felt out of place here.
The heavy-handedness I mentioned comes through not just in the foreshadowing, but in the moralizing the book engages in. The most substantial theme of the book is that there are children in very bad circumstances, forced to live as no child should, and that this is a real problem. True and important. But they try too hard, I think, to convince us. A relevant quotation:
Sam nodded, but he had reservations. Not that he hadn’t heard about all the supposed abused kids, on everything from Oprah to prime-time TV dramas, but he wasn’t sure he believed the stories. Kids made things up, when they thought they were in for deserved punishment. Hell, one of the young guys at work had shown up with a story about his kid getting into something he was told to leave alone in a store, breaking it, then launching into screams of “don’t beat me, Mommy!” when the mother descended like a fury. Embarrassed the blazes out of her, especially since the worst she’d ever delivered in the kid’s life was a couple of smacks on the bottom. Turned out the brat had seen a dramatized crime-recreation show the night before, with an abused-kid episode. Sam was beginning to think that a lot of those “beaten kids” had seen similar shows, then had been coached by attorneys, “child advocates,” or the “non-abusing spouse.” Wasn’t that how the Salem witch-trials had happened, anyway? A bunch of kids getting back at the adults they didn’t like?
Sam, being one of the good guys, comes around pretty quickly (he decides that elves are probably pretty hard to trick). I recognize that the authors are intentionally trying to head off the kinds of arguments people make in the real world, by having them countered in the story, but it still feels clumsy. And it’s far from the only time in the novel when there’s a scene that is almost certainly only present to counter some misconception that the readers may have.
I’ve said a lot of bad things about this book, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I’ll probably read the others in the series, some time, and I’d even recommend the book–if you think it sounds interesting, you’ll probably not be disappointed if you read it. Just don’t expect a masterpiece. The plot is engaging enough, and it’s not hard to care about what happens to the characters, particularly in Tania’s segments.
I enjoyed Lackey’s Valdemar series much more, but this book is a pretty solid 3/5, in my opinion. It used to be in the Baen Free Library, but it doesn’t seem to be, anymore, so if you’d like to read it, you’ll have to pick up a copy elsewhere.