I’m going to try to remember to actually review the books I’m reading instead of just mentioning them in passing. We’ll see how long this resolution lasts, but in the meantime, here’s what I thought of Kat Richardson’s Greywalker.
This is yet another entry in the urban dark fantasy genre. Its premise is a little different: Harper, a private investigator, gets badly beaten during an investigation. Her heart stops for a couple of minutes, and when she wakes up, she can see ghosts. Supernatural things are drawn to her, and before long she’s up to her eyeballs in needy ghosts and bickering vampires.
I have an ongoing frustration with reluctant and/or skeptical heroines in this brand of fantasy. When the protagonist drags her feet and refuses to accept what’s obvious to the reader, she isn’t actively working to solve her problem. While she’s passive, she’s draining energy from the plot… and the longer she takes to accept what’s happening, the longer the plot drags.
Harper is definitely reluctant, and I was impatient with her for it. However, the plot doesn’t drag at all. That’s one of the best things about this book. Even as she’s rejecting the ghosts and vampires around her, she’s out on the streets doing her PI thing. It’s through her mundane investigations that she meets the two new guys in her life. (Well, the investigations seem mundane, but turn out to be somewhat… not.)
Sex, or at least the promise of it, is a required ingredient in this kind of book, and here we have a couple of appealing items on the menu. First there’s Quinton, the endearingly geeky loner who helps Harper rig up and defeat various security systems. (Other talents are hinted at, but not explored.) He got my vote, but Harper had her eye on Will, the attractive antique auctioneer. I liked the way these guys were introduced, and I thought Harper’s interactions with them were well done…. except that I felt the author was holding back on this aspect of the story merely because this is the first book in a series. Harper isn’t one of those damaged heroines who constantly holds men at arm’s length; she’s ready to have some fun if she gets the opportunity. Instead, the guys — especially Will, who isn’t a geek loner — seemed artificially distant. In terms of long-range series planning, I can’t fault the setup. By the end of the book there are lots of possibilities, each of them potentially fraught with drama. This is a good thing. I just wish I thought the romance faded into the background because the characters wanted it to, or got too busy dealing with the other stuff to worry about it, not just because they conveniently forgot to call each other for a week even though they had nothing better to do. I was definitely pleased with the book’s plot to nookie ratio, but it felt imposed rather than inherent.
Harper doesn’t have an easy time of it in her investigations, but her setbacks tended to be of the bumps-and-brusies variety. I’d like to see future antagonists focus less on beating her senseless and more on undermining her support system. She gets help from some friends? Take out the friends. Buffy did this well: knocking Buffy down is less interesting than separating her from her entourage and then knocking her down. Still, even Buffy started out with purely physical confrontations before graduating to the nasty emotional stuff. This being the first book in a series, I’ll give it a pass… except to note that for beings who are (we’re continually told) tricky and underhanded, the vampires are awfully straightforward in dealing with Harper.
There’s a lot of good here. The setting is detailed and realistic. The ghosts and vampires are genuinely nasty, and Harper’s reasons for getting involved in their world are well-defined and reasonable. She’s not, for example, going to waltz into a vampire night club because she thinks it’ll be a sexy good time; she’ll go because someone has asked for her help in such a way that she can’t refuse it. The minor characters are mostly well-drawn. My quibbles with Mara were outweighed by my love for Cameron and his sister, who were entirely believable.
The mystery plot is really outstanding. Other books with similar marketing are… not light on plot, exactly, but their plots generally tend to be more of a loose framework on which to hang the hot vampire (or werewolf) action. Here the mystery is a dense, knotted thing. Each seemingly loose thread eventually folds back on itself, leading right back to the center of the tangle. Every time Harper tries to take herself out of the situation (by going on a date, for example), she finds that she’s actually following one of those loops. Where Moon Called wins the prize for best heroine, Greywalker wins for best plot.
I’m looking forward to Poltergeist. Greywalker has problems, but it makes an excellent starting point from which the author could go in any one of several directions and come up with an outstanding series.