Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books on July 25, 2017
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.
Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead.View Spoiler »
Vivian Shaw’s STRANGE PRACTICE is urban fantasy meets classic Gothic literature, a striking combination that makes for a unique and compelling read. Throw in a cast of lovable misfits and fascinating world building and this is a sure winner.
Dr. Greta Helsing (her family dropped the “Van” from their name ages ago) inherited a highly specialized medical practice from her beloved father: one that caters to the unique needs of the supernatural community. There are only two such practices in the entirety of London, so Greta’s a very busy woman — unfortunately, it’s not exactly lucrative despite the brisk business. Turns out that banshees don’t have much in the way of traditional currency. Thankfully Greta has rich and powerful friends to help her out, ones who are notable in the supernatural underground. Supernatural-adjacent Greta may not have any special powers of her own, but her abilities as a doctor and her empathy for those considered monstrous even by non-human standards are highly valued by her clients. So when Greta and those she holds dear are threatened by the revival of an ancient religious cult targeting the supernatural, the entire community is thrown into an uproar.
It is Greta’s relationships with her friends and clients as much as the mystery behind the cult murders that carry STRANGE PRACTICE forward. Unlike many urban fantasy protagonists, Greta is far from socially isolated and has strong network of true – if unusual – friends. After her father’s death, the once-demon Fastitocalon (Fass to his friends) took up the role of parent and mentor to Greta, guiding her through the fraught world of the supernatural. But Fass has little care for his chronic health issues, and Greta finds herself constantly trying to treat his ailments even while the two run headlong into danger. She also treats her friend Edmund Ruthven, the posh vampire who suffers from chronic depression and ennui after a few too many centuries of living.
Shaw does a commendable job of incorporating characters and supernatural creatures from classic Gothic literature into her story without making it feel derivative or gimmicky. The differences between vampires and vampyres are explained by comparing Ruthven and Varney (of Varney the Vampyre fame), the particularities of ghoulish culture are explained, and even a mummy from a famous Pharaoh’s tomb makes an appearance in the story in a very natural way. Greta may be a medical doctor, but it’s clear that anthropology also holds a special place in her heart, a fact that made me rejoice because of the richness it added to the world. A private detective certainly wouldn’t have the same curiosity about the composition of poisons targeting the supernatural. Three cheers for unique protagonists!
Greta’s an unusual protagonist for urban fantasy not only because of her profession, but also because she’s a solid 15 years older than your average UF leading lady…and she’s much more earnest. For a story about ritualistic killings and creatures of the night, STRANGE PRACTICE is a very heartwarming and affecting book. Greta and her friends took me completely by surprise and I found myself very invested in their lives. A strong debut from a promising new voice in fantasy, STRANGE PRACTICE by Vivian Shaw is a delight from start to finish.