Thanks to my friends at Goodreads, I’ve been slowly resuming my relationship with urban fantasy. (As Alex recently pointed out, occasionally my statements that appear to be compliments may not be actual admiration. You people could just be enablers, you know). So, my fellow enablers, thanks! I tried this out on the strength of a fellow reader to compared it to Aaronovitch, and then on the largely positive reviews of a couple of friends. There’s good and bad to be found here, but intriguing enough to be a quick read.
The setting is modern London, but due to characters, writing style, and a cover that looks strangely similar to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, there’s a definite Victorian feelw. This is encouraged by a vampire and a vampyre that hail from the 16th century (give or take, it’s not like I pay attention to these things) and are prone to be rather… old-fashioned in their views. I experienced a mental stumble or two when a ‘cab’ actually turned out to be an actual car with an engine and everything, and not a carriage. I’m note that I’m not the only one, as in a review of her next book, Publisher’s Weekly wrote: “This series is a fine example of how much (un)life remains in the historical urban fantasy genre.”
Narration is shared among a number of characters, but initially focuses on Greta, doctor to the supernatural. She seemed fairly competent, but as the book progressed, I thought that characterization fell apart. Greta is supposedly focused, and determined to get things done, except when she is ‘too tired to even think,’ which is most of the time. I did like how she handled an attack, so hurrah! Not a shrinking violet. One of the vampires, Ruthven, gets more time, but honestly, the end result is Vampire Lestat. Sir Francis Varney, the vampyre, gets a bit of narrative time as well, but as it’s usually guilt-ridden about his state of being or filled with ennui, it’s a little more tiresome. Both are apparently named after two historical fiction vampires, although clearly, the stories get it wrong. Not having read either, the references missed their mark.
My favorite character was quite possibly Fastitocalon, chronically ill patient of Greta’s. Although I felt like it was a sign of incompetence that the doctor hasn’t caught on to his real identity. We don’t get any viewpoint from the ghouls, which in my estimation was a bit too bad, as they seemed some of the more likable characters.
Perhaps one of the best and most underused hooks is how underused Greta’s job as a physician to the supernatural community is. In this book, the focus is on caring for Varney, after he is injured in an attack, and then caring for various other members of the group. There’s a brief interlude where Greta returns to the office and makes a phone call to a local mummy, discussing upcoming surgery for foot-bone replacement. I immediately got caught up in the questions surrounding mummies, making it into one of the more interesting parts of the story.
Writing style is alright; certainly decent. For a few minutes, I wondered if this could be Kate Griffin (Clare North) under yet another pseudonym. and I believe contained only one or two smirks the entire book. But the author has a habit of italicizing certain words (not different language) as well as thoughts, and I found it more than a bit distracting. I think unless you are very, very sure of your wordsmithing, you should probably not attempt to do so in your urban fantasy book (example from 6% in: “The blood looked brighter now, somehow, which made no sense at all.“)
In summation–this may be one of those compliments–it’s a decent book. It didn’t really offend me, and I was interested enough that I skimmed over what I didn’t care about instead of shifting into annoyance gear. Eventually there is quite a bit of [ angel and demon (hide spoiler)] kind of philosophy, which may or may not be of interest. It does mostly fail the Bechdel test, and Greta has a serious case of daddy-worship going on (women! stop writing books where the female protag is surrounded by a coterie of men. Briggs–I’m looking at you as well). But nevertheless, if Shaw can follow Seanan McGuire’s example of the InCryptid series by focusing more on the wide assortment of creatures, she’ll have a hit on her hands.