Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Casablanca, June 2019
Book Description:Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed in this epic, gripping fantasy romance from debut author Maxym M. Martineau.
Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.
If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without.
Giveaway Details: I received a copy of this book in the mail for review, and as I was on the look out for another urban fantasy series to pad out that section of my read (RIP “Kate Daniels” series), I was excited to pick it up. The book description also is right up my alley. I’ve played “Assassin’s Creed” and thoroughly enjoyed it. And I’ve watched “Fantastic Beasts” and enjoyed that as well. A marriage of the two sounded quite interesting!
The cover leaves a little something to be desired, in my opinion. But alas, that seems to be the state of must urban fantasy covers I run across. The “Kate Daniels” series, again, for example had these really terrible floating lion heads in the background. So here we have a…floating tiger head. Why? Why does these covers seem like good ideas? I mean, I guess because so many of this genre look similar, readers who are browsing will pretty quickly identify this book as urban fantasy. But there has to be a better through-line to choose than cheesy, neon colored big cats. Ah well, never judge a book by its cover!
My review for this book will be up this coming Friday. So in anticipation, I’m offering a giveaway for a paperback copy of this book. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends August 13.
Occasionally we here at Library Ladies get an email asking for some Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes it’s a general ‘what should I read next?’, and sometimes it’s a specific genre or theme that the reader is asking for. We do our best to match the reader to some books that they may like based on the question they give us.
I recently read a Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness and enjoyed that very much. I like urban fantasy that features a protagonist who may have supernatural abilities, but either struggles to use them or is challenged to solve problems without them. Madeline Miller’s Circe was another recent favorite. She was a character who had potion-making abilities, but she had to learn through trial and error over centuries exactly which amount of which herb produced which effect. She also could not rely exclusively on magic to solve every challenge she faced. On the flip side, I like urban fantasy that features ordinary people who outsmart/outmanoeuvre the villain who may have supernatural abilities, i.e. a werewolf ( like Stephen King’s Silver Bullet) or a vampire ( think Van Helsing Vs. Dracula). I will also add that I don’t like zombies because I like my monsters/villains to have a personality. Looking for adult fiction, btw.
I hope that is enough information. Let me know if it isn’t…
It sounds like you have a large swath of interests within the genre, and that’s great! Going by what you’ve laid out in the email, we’ve come up with a few options that may appeal to you.
Book: “The Peter Grant Series” by Ben Aaronovitch
When talking about characters who have to adjust to newly found powers, Aaronovitch’s “Peter Grant” books may be a good fit. Grant is an officer in London’s MPS, and after having a run in with a ghost he is transferred to a division of the Force that deals with all things supernatural. He himself doesn’t start out with powers, but becomes an apprentice wizard once he joins this team. The series follows Grant as he deals with a number of mysteries and conflicts, from warring River Gods to serial killers to magical attacks, Grant has to adjust to a world he didn’t know existed. The best part is that this is a series, so if you like the first book (“Rivers of London” or “Midnight Riot” if you’re in the U.S.) you will have a few more to sink your teeth into!
Book: “The Changeling” by Victor LaValle
Victor LaValle is an author who has consistently come out with stories that deconstruct well explored tropes and injects them with themes of social justice and long unnoticed voices. “The Changeling” is a modern day fairy tale/dark fantasy that is set in New York City, and it involves a humble book seller named Apollo and his wife Emma and their new baby. But when the wife starts to think that their child isn’t really their child, and something truly awful happens because of this belief, Apollo has to go on a journey to find Emma, and perhaps find their child as well. Along the way he meets magical figures, haunted places, and has to contend with a world he knew nothing about. With elements of Changeling folk lore and inspirations from the book “Outside Over There” (and in some ways the movie “Labyrinth”, in turn), “The Changeling” is a mysterious and dreamy book that brings fairy tales to a modern time and place.
Book: “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
We put this out there because of your enjoyment of Miller’s newest book “Circe”. Miller does a similar treatment with this book, this time exploring the myth of Achilles and his lover Patrocles, and the tragedy that awaits them during the Trojan War. Miller once again uses her immersive and engrossing writing style to put her own spin on a long known epic, and gives the characters more complexity and depth than the original source material does. Both Achilles and Patrocles are given quite a bit of plot to work with, and their relationship is slowly developed and gets the reader fully invested, even though the foregone conclusion of what’s going to happen to them is always lingering. It also explores Achilles’s strengths and weaknesses as a being that has God-like abilities, except for his one fatal flaw. It’s a story that may need to be read with tissues at the ready, but it’s also one of great beauty and power.
Book: “School for Psychics” by K.C. Archer
What happens when you take a plucky con artist with some psychic powers, and put her in a school that nurtures people with these powers? You get “School for Psychics”, a fantasy story with a New Adult twist. Teddy has always used her innate abilities to read people to grift them out of money, but after she’s had one too many run in with the law she finds herself recruited by the U.S. Government for a top secret program. This program takes psychics of all types, from empaths to pyrokinetics to soothsayers, and hopes to train them to serve the United States at the highest levels of government. As Teddy slowly learns to harness her powers, she moves closer to accepting a very dangerous assignment that could cost her everything. This is a fun and fast paced thriller with people trying to hone their talents, and figure out where they belong in the world.
What books do you recommend for people looking for stories with supernatural, or non-supernatural, main characters? Let us know in the comments!
Book Description: Kate has come a long way from her origins as a loner taking care of paranormal problems in post-Shift Atlanta. She’s made friends and enemies. She’s found love and started a family with Curran Lennart, the former Beast Lord. But her magic is too strong for the power players of the world to let her be.
Kate and her father, Roland, currently have an uneasy truce, but when he starts testing her defenses again, she knows that sooner or later, a confrontation is inevitable. The Witch Oracle has begun seeing visions of blood, fire, and human bones. And when a mysterious box is delivered to Kate’s doorstep, a threat of war from the ancient enemy who nearly destroyed her family, she knows their time is up.
Kate Daniels sees no other choice but to combine forces with the unlikeliest of allies. She knows betrayal is inevitable. She knows she may not survive the coming battle. But she has to try.
Review: It’s kind of a rare and strange thing to reach the end of an urban fantasy series. For some reason, it seems that urban fantasy in particular tends to draw forth series that go on and on. This has obvious pros and cons, but I tend to think that every story must come to an end, and I’d rather that happen on the author’s own terms than any outside factor. And, ideally, before the creativity of the world begins to leak out, something that occurs all too often with long-running series in any genre. So, it was with mixed emotions that I picked up “Magic Triumphs.”
There have really been only two urban fantasy series that I’ve followed for the last several years, the Kate Daniels series and the Mercy Thompson/Alpha and Omega series. My most recent review was from a book in the latter, and oof, it was rough and in many ways serves as a perfect example of the concerns I listed above about long-running series. With that warning in mind, I was pleased to discover that the Kate Daniels books would end with this one, but also…now what do I read as far as urban fantasy? Ah well, a problem for another day.
“Magic Triumphs” opens over a year after the events in “Magic Binds.” Kate and Curran have had their son, Conlan, and he is about a year old at this point. The rest of their lives are going as expected: continuously shoring up allies and points of strength in preparation for the ultimate show-down with Kate’s father Roland that they know could come at any time. And here, of course, it does. But not only that. Of course not only that! A new, mysterious and powerful force has attacked Atlanta, and now Kate and co. have to balance a war on two fronts.
This book was facing a pretty big challenge for me right off the bat: introducing a child character. This is completely a personal preference thing, but I often find child characters in books to have several problems. They’re often annoyingly “precocious” or “twee” and they have the tendency to re-focus all of the story’s action or the main character’s attention to them. Obviously, a new addition like this will impact the story and the main character’s relationships with everyone around them. But all too often I feel like authors somehow end up losing much of what made up the original characterization of their protagonists under this new force and drive.
Luckily, that is not the case here. While Conlan is definitely a new focal point for Kate and Curran and a huge motivation in the decisions they each make, all of the aspects of these characters that we’ve grown to know and love were still present. Kate kicks ass and takes names, but also, adorably, frets about minor issues with her son, constantly dragging him to the Pack doctor for check-ups. Curran is still protective and supportive, with his own plans on how to get his small family through the trials ahead.
There are also all of the many, many, MANY familiar faces sprinkled throughout this book. Honestly, I don’t think I had a full grasp on exactly who everyone was. The cast is so large and some characters have only had large roles in various books throughout the ten book series that I couldn’t quite pin down some of them. But, as far as it goes, Andrews gives readers enough information to catch you up on who is who and why they are important, so I was able to pretty easily just go with the flow for some of this unknowing.
I did like the addition of the new big bad that was introduced in this story. I was pretty surprised that the book even went this route, honestly. The series has been building to the show-down with Roland for books and books now, so I fully expected that to be the primary focus of this story. That made it all the more surprising when that aspect of the story took a back seat through much of it. I was sorry not to get more page time between Kate and her power-mad father, but given the situation that had been built up over the entire series, there weren’t that many options for resolving it that would have made sense, so this new addition and focus seemed to help. There were several other surprises in store throughout the book, including some hidden plans of Curran’s, an introduction to a new group of magical beings, and some pretty disgusting magical threats.
My one critique of the book comes down to pacing. The story starts off fairly slowly, taking quite a while to even get to the point where the main characters even know what they’re dealing with. And then once they do, there is very little page time left to really deal with the fallout of this situation. This then leads to a rather rushed ending and what felt like a bit of a truncated last battle and ultimate resolution. Like I said, the series has been building to this moment, so I wish there had been just a bit more given to it, be that increased page time or maybe just a bit more “oomf” put into the proceedings.
In the end, however, I was very satisfied with the conclusion to this series. I was sad to see these characters go, but I was glad they were able to go out on a high note. For fans of the series, this final chapters is definitely worth getting your hands on.
Rating 8: A bitter-sweet goodbye to what turned out to be an excellent urban fantasy series.
Book Description: When Greta Helsing, doctor to the undead, is unexpectedly called to Paris to present at a medical conference, she expects nothing more exciting than professional discourse on zombie reconstructive surgery and skin disease in bogeymen — and hopefully at least one uneventful night at the Opera.
Unfortunately for Greta, Paris happens to be infested with a coven of vampires — and not the civilized kind. If she hopes to survive, Greta must navigate the darkest corners of the City of Lights, the maze of ancient catacombs and mine-tunnels underneath the streets, where there is more to find than simply dead men’s bones.
Review: I loved the brilliantly odd “Strange Practice” and blazed through it in a single summer day last year. So there was no question that I would get my hands on its sequel, “Dreadful Company” as soon as possible. And the quirkiness, strong characters, and unique world-building came through for me again!
Though a doctor to the undead, Greta Helsing’s responsibilities are very similar to those you’d find for any medical professional, up to and including attending conferences and presenting on obscure topics of medical interest. While at such a conference in Paris, however, things go astray when Greta starts noticing strange (but adorable!) little monsters popping up at her hotel room. Where did they come from? Why are they here? What starts out as innocent questions quickly leads Greta down a path that leads to a nasty group of vampires who read a few too many Anne Rice novels for anyone’s tastes. But even this may be just the beginning of a much more serious threat looming over the entire city.
One of the biggest strengths of the first book was its world building and the clever manipulation of classic monsters into new, often very suave, beings. And here that strength is just as evident. In a new city, we are introduced to several new creatures ranging from the adorable well monsters and hair monsters that lurk in Greta’s hotel room to the bigger power players such as a werewolf who has been the guardian of the city for centuries and two undying ghost experts who are just in town to handle a local haunting. They are all expertly crafted and incorporate interesting twists on the traditional lore associated with these types of supernatural creatures.
Of course, the vampire coven itself is one big mockery of many of the tropes found in vampire fiction. You’ve got leather, you’ve got glitter, you’ve got bones used to decorate gothic, blood orgies. And while they serve as menacing villains on their own, half of the fun is enjoying Greta and her friends scathing judgement of the silliness of this group.
Of course, among the new faces, we also have the familiar ones of our favorite vampires, Rutheven and Varney who must come to Paris when they discover that Greta may be in over her head (but is she really, guys? It’s Greta! Girl can get it done!). In the first book, there were several fun asides having to do with the classic vampire fiction which was derived from these two real vampires’ lives. Here, we have even more classic monster tales making an appearance, even if the monsters themselves remain in the shadows. Probably one of the most fun pieces of this story, for me, was watching how these classic tales were worked into the story on hand, and I was particularly thrilled when one in particular became a much larger focus than I had originally thought!
Greta, of course, is her usual excellent self as the heroine of the tale. While this book incorporated even more characters, which meant even more page time that needed to be shared between their stories that twisted in and out of Greta’s own, I still found myself preferring her story specifically. Not only is she a fun character to follow, but it was great seeing her in action in this story, winning over her foes with her competence and sympathy. She may not be up to fighting any battles with supernatural beings, but here she proves why she doesn’t have to.
The story was slower in the beginning, so it did take a bit for me to become fully invested in events. As I said, Greta is sharing the stage not only with the familiar characters from the first book, but with an entirely new cast of characters, friends and foes alike. And while all of their various plot lines tie together neatly in the end, in the beginning it was a bit tough reading some of the slower storylines while wanting to anxiously get back to the action with Greta. It all pays off in the end, however.
For fans of the first book, I definitely recommend continuing with this series! In many ways, it’s even stronger than the first.
Rating 8: A solid second showing proves that the clever concept and compelling characters weren’t a one-off!
“Dreadful Company” is a newer book so isn’t on any relevant lists, but it should be on “Magic Punk.”
Book Description: They are the wild and the broken. The werewolves too damaged to live safely among their own kind. For their own good, they have been exiled to the outskirts of Aspen Creek, Montana. Close enough to the Marrok’s pack to have its support; far enough away to not cause any harm.
With their Alpha out of the country, Charles and Anna are on call when an SOS comes in from the fae mate of one such wildling. Heading into the mountainous wilderness, they interrupt the abduction of the wolf–but can’t stop blood from being shed. Now Charles and Anna must use their skills–his as enforcer, hers as peacemaker–to track down the attackers, reopening a painful chapter in the past that springs from the darkest magic of the witchborn…
Review: This is going to be a really challenging review to write. For one thing, I have read all of the other books in this series, but they were all before Kate and I started this blog, so the progression of my feelings for this particular series isn’t already documented. I’ll try to discuss that a bit in the beginning to lend some context to this review. My feelings are also all tied up because a very small moment in this book has a massive effect on not only this series, but also the Mercy Thompson series which I have been reviewing here. I’m still not even completely certain if my ultimate rating is accurate. So with that super clear and stellar intro, let’s get into it, shall we?
This story takes place directly after the events in the last Mercy Thompson book, thus Bran is still away overseas. This leaves Charles and Anna in charge of managing the pack back home in Montana. All seems well until the some of the more dangerous members of the pack, those so wild that they live removed from the others out in the wilderness, begin to report being pestered and attacked by strangers with powerful magical tools. But how are these strangers even aware of these far and removed wolves and what do they ultimately want?
As I said, I’ve been reading this series right alongside the Mercy Thomspon books, as Briggs seems to release one book from either series almost yearly. I’ve had my up and down moments with the Mercy books, but overall, I’ve always enjoyed her as a character and had a fun time with those books. Not so with this series. For some reason, Anna’s more passive character has never seemed to translate well for me, and combining her with the often stoic and reserved Charles does nothing to add any more energy to the story. What’s worse, I’ve felt that the books previous to this have been pretty light on the action over all, leaving most of the story to be carried by characters alone, something that I never felt either Charles or Anna were up to.
So that’s what makes this story particularly hard. For the most part, action-wise at least, I enjoyed this book way more than I have other entries in the series. Particularly the one that came directly before this, “Dead Heat,” which I barely made it through out of sheer boredom. Here, the action takes off almost immediately and the tension and mystery remains interesting throughout the story. While I still did get to a point where I was over halfway through the book and wondering when the main plot was going to get going, I still had had enough action in smaller moments to keep me on board. I particularly liked the addition of a few new wolves in the half-crazed wildlings that live on the periferary of the Montana pack. One in particular, a crux point for the entire story, had a very compelling back story and new take on how one becomes a werewolf and how ones life prior to this change can affect their life going forward.
I also liked the way witchcraft was brought into this story. There were some new magical weapons that were introduced, and an longer story arc was referenced that I could see continuing to play out in exciting ways in both future books in this series as well as in the Mercy series.
Charles and Anna, too, were fairly strong in this one. While I still don’t enjoy them nearly as much as Adam and Mercy, they were interesting enough here. Anna’s passivity still makes her not the most interesting character, but her unique Omega powers were used in a new way that lent some new depths to her character. We also had some ties to her past that reinforced some of the challenges that she still struggles with. Charles was…Charles. Not much changed there, but oh well.
So, with all of that, I would rate this book on its own around a seven. I probably would have rated most of the other books in this series around a 5 or 6, so a 7 is a marked increase for me in general enjoyment. And yet, as you can see, it has a 4.I really can’t discuss the reason for this drastic drop without spoilers. So for those who still want to read this book, spoiler free, just know that there is a particularly conversation that massively retcons a certain character that has, in my opinion, a dire impact on both this series and, maybe even more so, the Mercy series. But for those want to know, spoilers below!
Apparently, Bran has had romantic feelings for Mercy since forever. And both Charles and Anna, and probably Leah, and pretty much everyone but Mercy (AND THE READERS) have known about this the entire time. I have so many problems with this, let me list the ways:
First and foremost, we have had ZERO indication that this is the case through two entire series made of 14+ books. That’s a whole lot of writing in which this was never referenced in even the slightest way. Every discussion about Bran and Mercy’s relationship has firmly framed it as a father/daughter relationship. Nothing Bran has done or said has indicated anything else. Nothing Mercy has said or thought has indicated anything else. And no other character, even in passing reference, has even hinted that there is a romantic element to all of this. It’s a retcon in the most clear way.
This is hugely upsetting and pretty much ruins Bran’s character. Up to this point, Bran had been one of my favorite characters in the series. He is supremely powerful, but has hidden it successfully for centuries. His love (fatherly!) for and loyalty to Mercy were always touching moments, especially for a character whose own real parents were largely absent from her life. Now he’s a pedophile. There’s just no way around this fact. Bran sent Mercy away from the pack when she was a teenager, fifteen or sixteen I think. He did this to prevent his own son from pursuing a relationship with her, knowing that the age difference and differing motives (Sam just wanting kids who will survive) made it an almost predatory situation for Mercy. She then spent the rest of her growing and adult years removed from Bran and the pack. So what this entire conversation between Charles and Anna sets up is a horrible, pedophilia-based interest from Bran in Mercy. Charles and Anna discuss that Leah’s poor treatment (abusive in its own right) of Mercy was largely due to her own knowledge of Bran’s feelings for Mercy. From what we know, Leah was terrible to Mercy almost always, meaning that Bran had romantic interest in Mercy from when Mercy was a very young child. Even in the best light (which again, doesn’t work with the Leah timeline), Mercy was only 15 when she and Bran were living in the same pack and had a relationship together. 15!!! And he’s thousands of years old!!! And the entire reason he sent her away in the first place was presumably because of his own son’s age (and the child stuff).
This entire thing also puts a horrible spin on Leah’s treatment of Mercy. It was always bad and cast probably the darkest shadow (up to this point) on Bran’s character that he didn’t stop it. Again, Mercy was a child and Leah tormented her to the point where Charles, in this book, admits that he followed Mercy when she was alone to make sure Leah didn’t try anything, hinting that he had legitimate concerns that Leah could do something extreme to Mercy. This book proceeds to try and make Leah a more sympathetic character by setting up this “Bran having feelings for Mercy” thing. As if Leah has some sort of right to be angry AT A CHILD for inspiring wildly inappropriate feelings in her mate, and in some ways Mercy had the bad treatment coming.
Anna, too, is ruined by this, because at one point she says she “understands” Leah and would “feel the same way” had Charles had similar feelings. Anna is supposed to be a character whose empathy and social awareness makes her unique among a species prone to emotional denseness. And this is terrible, to at all relate to essentially a mother who abuses her child (to the point that others fear for the child’s life) because the father has an inappropriate fixation on said child. For Anna to be on the wrong side of this situation, to be casually talking (and smiling!) about it as if no part of it is that big of a deal, other than pack gossip, pretty much ruins what is supposed to be her “super power.”
This is a small thing in the grander scheme of disgustingness that is this entire situation, but we now have almost every male character in this series falling in love with Mercy. It was bad enough before with Samuel and Stephen, but now it’s just gone to a crazy level. As if no man is capable of having a healthy, platonic relationship with her without succumbing to wanting more.
I really can’t say enough about how upsetting this turn of events is. It’s truly going to make it difficult to continue with either series. If taken as fact, it makes Bran a despicable character, a predator in the most base sense, and someone who can only be seen as a villain going forwards. Any interaction between him and Mercy has now retroactively been made cringe worthy to read, and going forward impossible to support. I honestly don’t know how Briggs can fix this or if she even will try. I’ll probably read the next Mercy book just to find out, but I don’t really have any hope for the situation. Other than killing off Bran, I don’t know what can be done. And even that still leaves it very difficult to go back and re-read the other books in the series without feeling incredibly uncomfortable and put off. If I could just tear these pages of dialogue out of the book and pretend I had never read them, I’d be so much happier.
So, that’s my feelings on that. As you can see, I massively downgraded this book because of what is only a short conversation, but one that has dire consequences for this and the Mercy Thompson series as a whole. And it’s too bad, because on its own, I liked this book the best of all the others in this specific series. But if I could, I’d rather have not read it at all and kept my good feelings about Bran and the Mercy Thompson series instead.
Rating 4: Honestly, if you’re a big fan of the Mercy Thompson series, I wouldn’t read this. It does more damage to those books than the good it does for its own series, in the end.
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description:After a human uprising was brutally put down by the Elders—a primitive and lethal form of the Others—the few cities left under human control are far-flung. And the people within them now know to fear the no-man’s-land beyond their borders—and the darkness…
As some communities struggle to rebuild, Lakeside Courtyard has emerged relatively unscathed, though Simon Wolfgard, its wolf shifter leader, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn must work with the human pack to maintain the fragile peace. But all their efforts are threatened when Lieutenant Montgomery’s shady brother arrives, looking for a free ride and easy pickings.
With the humans on guard against one of their own, tensions rise, drawing the attention of the Elders, who are curious about the effect such an insignificant predator can have on a pack. But Meg knows the dangers, for she has seen in the cards how it will all end—with her standing beside a grave.
Review: GAHHHHH!!!! What is it with the number of series that have failed to stick the landing recently?! (“Recently” being my own recent reading history, mind). I guess I really should be reading the writing on the wall a bit better. Just like the Gemma Doyle series, Bishop’s “The Others” series has slowly, steadily, agonizingly determinedly, been working its way down the sad decline into the land of boredom and “who cares.” That “Etched in Bone” finally lands this decline at the very bottom and adds a nice kick in the butt right at the end for your effort…maybe shouldn’t be surprising.
There will be some spoilers in this review, because I’m definitely talking about the ending for this one!
It’s on the record that I didn’t love “Marked in Flesh,” either. But the one thing that it did deliver was the massive, destructive climax that had been building up between the Humans First and Last movement and the Others for the last several books. Shit went down. Cities were systematically wiped out. And because most of the human characters (other than all the special ones that seemed to live in Lakeside) were truly awful people, there was some sick joy in watching them go.
“Etched in Bone” opens shortly thereafter with the powers-that-be conferring together and still asking their one driving question: “How much Human do we keep?” To determine this, a select few travel to Lakeside to witness this hybrid example of Other/Human life being lived in harmony, all due to the changes brought about by Meg. With the massive damage dealt in the last book, this one had a problem right from the start: is it really credible that any humans would still be holding to these crazy views? Literally thousands of lives have been lost and the Others didn’t even blink an eye. It was hard to buy in the last several books that people could be willfully this stupid, but it got to a point of complete ridiculousness here.
And, as always, the villain character was the worst of it all. It seemed that he was evil purely for evil’s sake, and the fact that anyone would still buy his crazed philosophies after witnessing the prior destruction and knowing the thin knife’s edge that human life as a whole balanced upon was just too big an ask of my imagination.
On top of this all, the previous book also fully cracked the rose-colored lens through which I had been reading this series. It’s no surprise that I (and I believe many fans of these books) have been following the series primarily out of a love and interest in the two main characters, Simon and Meg. As their relationship has floundered (more on that) and more side characters have been introduced, the series’ flaws have begun to show more and more. Specifically, its very stereotypically gendered roles. References to the “female pack” that before were a funny little quirk, now read as supremely uncomfortable in light of the fact that all of the women, aside form a sassy elderly woman character, exist in very narrow confines. None of them are in leadership roles, and their friendships and lives are littered with pitfalls of silliness.
Beyond this, the series’ other main weakness has been a penchant for info-dumpy chapters full of mundane details. In my last review I complained about the pages devoted to stock piling toilet paper, and nothing has changed here. In the first few chapters, we’re already enduring pages and pages full of characters (not even the main ones!) discussing the ins and outs of Lakeside’s economy and trading. It’s just…dull.
And then. AND THEN! Simon and Meg. I knew I was going to be disappointed right from the beginning. In the end of the last book, it seemed that there were a few steps being taken in the right direction. Meg asked Simon to go skinny dipping, very PG skinny dipping of course, but still. But here, in the second chapter of the dang book, we have Simon recounting how that pretty much went nowhere and that, while he was potentially interested in Meg that way, he wasn’t willing to risk there friendship. And then Meg gets her own chapter and what do you know? She thinks the same! And so on and so on. Any progress that readers thought they saw in the last book was immediately walked back, and for the majority of this book, it was business as usual.
Until the end. And what do we get? What do we get for sticking through 5 damn books of packing lists and excruciating infodump conversations? We get one, very brief scene where Meg and Simon agree to try to make something work. And a kiss. IT’S ONE SCENE AT THE END OF THE BOOK!! There is no build up. There is no follow through. No relationship learning and stumbles. Nothing.
Not only do we get absolutely nothing out of this scene, but this same chapter could have been tacked on to the ending of any of the 3 books that came before it and you wouldn’t have noticed. We’ve all been going along trusting that this slow burn relationship was just that, a slow burn relationship. Instead, now, we realize we’ve been tricked the whole time. It wasn’t a slow burn, it was nothing. “Slow burn” implies we are building towards something. This book makes it very clear that either Bishop didn’t know what to do with these characters’ relationship (and hasn’t for the last several books) or never cared to begin with and just tacked it into a series where her main interest was writing about the minute details of the world itself, only to be dismayed by fan reaction and throw in this final scene as some attempt to quell readers.
At this point, anyone who is reading this book has read the ones that came before it. If you did enjoy those, maybe this one won’t be as frustrating for you, as much of the actual plot is lather, rinse, repeat with the conflict between dumb, evil people and the Others who are bizarrely still enamored by Meg (her special snowflake status has reached a peak, if you’re curious). But I have a hard time seeing many longtime fans being satisfied with this conclusion. I know I’m not.
Rating 2: Not only did this book continue to trot out the tired themes of the previous books, it failed to provide any resolution for the one part of the story that had retained any of my interest throughout.
Book Description:Greta Helsing inherited the family’s highly specialized, and highly peculiar, medical practice. In her consulting rooms, Dr. Helsing treats the undead for a host of ills – vocal strain in banshees, arthritis in barrow-wights, and entropy in mummies. Although barely making ends meet, this is just the quiet, supernatural-adjacent life Greta’s been groomed for since childhood.
Until a sect of murderous monks emerges, killing human and undead Londoners alike. As terror takes hold of the city, Greta must use her unusual skills to stop the cult if she hopes to save her practice, and her life.
Review: First off, thanks to Orbit for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for a review! I read the description for it, and was pretty much like “Yep, gotta read that!” As a lover of urban fantasy, it’s been a distressing few years recently. Many of my favorite series (“Mercy Thompson” and “Kate Daniels”) are beginning to show their age and are likely (perhaps hopefully) going to wrap up soon. Beyond these, many of my other forays into the genre have yielded middling returns. Either these books stray too closely to tropes already well-established in staple series in the genre to trigger any sense of originality and interest, or…they’re just kind of bland? Not so with “Strange Practice!” Shaw has expertly introduced a new leading lady with a unique perspective on her urban fantasy world and lifestyle, and I was digging it the entire way.
Greta Helsing is a doctor for the strange and unusual, the monstrous and the arcane. It is a family practice after her family decided to turn away from the hunting business and re-focus in on the helping side of things. Right here we have such a unique take on urban fantasy that I was immediately completely sold on. Not only is Greta a great character on her own, but her perspective as a doctor presented readers with an entirely new lens through which to view the supernatural world. How do mummies get by with their rotting bodies? What about sunburns for vampires? Do any of these creatures suffer from mental illnesses? Cuz living forever could have some major psychological implications. Not only was there a plethora of creativity in this area, but Greta remained true to this focus throughout the story, even when the evil monks showed up and the action really got started.
A big frustration of mine with urban fantasy is when the heroes or heroines sillyly jump beyond their own abilities, somehow thinking (and for plot convenience, accurately thinking) that they can play on the same field as magical beings who have million times the magical power as they. Suddenly the author is forced to create loop hole after loop hole to keep their protagonist up and moving instead of simply being hand-swiped away in the first minute. With this in mind, it was refreshing that Greta’s entire perspective on her situation was always rooted firmly in her position as a doctor. Even more so, in that she realizes the unique service she provides to her clients and understands the importance of staying safe, not only for her own sake, but for those who would suffer without access to medical care. As I said, refreshing, and when she does end up in the action (cuz of course, she must), she plays a believable, yet important, role. See?! It is possible to keep your heroine grounded while also staying true to the action of your story!!
Beyond Greta, I was surprised to discover that we had several other point of view characters as well. I always wish there was some way for these book descriptions to hint at this possibility, as it always feels like a bit of a side-swipe to be set up as if the book is from one protagonist’s point of view, and then end up with a handful of others. But alas. With this story, it is of no matter since I thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives these other creatures brought. We had a vampire and a vampyre (the distinction having to do with the type of blood they require), a demon, and even a few chapters from the viewpoint of the nefarious schemers. There was quite a lot of unique world-building and monster “history” that was brought in with all of these characters, and the many other supernatural beings who made appearances.
I particularly liked the tone of the story. Dark, witty, and full of literary allusions that were great fun to spot. There as a nice balance struck between the horror aspects and the vampire-friendship-fluff. On one page there would be murder and mayhem, and on the next, a vampire shopping spree! And never once does the story get swept away by its own concept. It would have been all too easy for the humor of the story to have veered into the silly, but Shaw walks the perfect line. Lastly, the setting of London for this story gave it an extra dash of depth, as, like the city itself, the timeless aspects of these creatures that are steeped in history and meaning must now adapt to exist alongside the speed and change of the modern world.
If you enjoy urban fantasy, and are hankering for a new series to follow, I can’t recommend enough that you check out “Strange Practice!”
Rating 9: An excellent new entry into what was beginning to feel like a tired genre.