A mashup of urban fantasy, fairy tale, and chick-lit, the debut novel of Andrew G. Schneider is ambitious, adept, and boldly written. Weaving between Washington, D.C. mundane life, the nature of fiction itself, and the dwindling dollops of fantasy that exist, Undercaffeinated occasionally suffers from a muddled tone as it shifts focus page to page, but such shortcomings are easily forgiven for its fully developed female protagonist, well-conceived story, and unique manner of telling.
Schneider writes a first person present tense story. At first, this scared me to death both as a writer (I don’t think I could do it) and as a potentially awkward way to read a whole story. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Schneider effortlessly slips into the stream of consciousness of his main character and creatively punctuates and bends grammar rules for the right effect. The story creatively twists figures from folklore existing alongside, and conflicting with, modern society. Rather than lazily making its female lead into a stereotype, the author depicts a fully realized woman full of strengths and weaknesses struggling with not only the challenges of womanhood, but of her own fantastical nature.
Undercaffeinated bravely switches tones and locations, playing up the clash between the fantastic and the mundane, but sometimes this change of pace creates mood or setting whiplash. Part of this is surely intentional, after all these two worlds exist on top of each other, but for a reader sometimes the effect is cacophonous. Whatever shortcomings the novel has, they do not interfere with enjoying it for its multitude of good qualities.
For reasons unknown, folklore metafiction is huge right now. I have read Fables for years, but with Sleepy Hollow, Grimm, and Once Upon a Time being televised these days a relatively obscure genre has exploded into mainstream popularity. In that regard, if you are tired this conceit then there is no way around it. Undercaffeinated is unabashedly folk-inspired.
B. Undercaffeinated and Overexposed: The Tale of a Coffee Shop Princess is a great story. It has a few bad words and depiction of sex and violence, but I could easily see this as a great read for a young girl that wants more women protagonists in her fantasy reads. For a devoted fantasy nerd like me, it’s a little light on the fantasy and heavy on the real, but that is pure reader preference. For bigger fans of the genre, this could easily be rated higher.