Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Greta Helsing, vampire doctor--wait, what?

Dr. Greta Helsing, GP, is a doctor for the creepy crawlies of London's underbelly, treating vampires, ghouls, and all manner of things that go bump in the night. Because hey, it's not like a ghoul can walk right up to the local pharmacy and ask for anti-depressants without raising a few eyebrows and causing a heart attack or two. 

With Dr. Helsing, one is assured of the services of a smart, discreet professional for any of the thousand afflictions of the undead. If only it paid better.

But a serial killer is on the loose in London, and Greta is drawn into the dangerous search when she's called to tend to one of the would-be victims, the ancient vampyre (as opposed to vampire, they're different things) Sir Francis Varney, of Varney the Vampyre fame.

Secret sects of fanatic monks, demon accountants, ghoul families, mysterious glowing artifacts, and more soon abound in Greta's desperate race to save the supernatural underworld from an ancient menace (or itself).

It's been a while since I picked up an urban fantasy book, because I'd read my fill of dark brooding vampires back in the day. Also all those covers were really the actual worst.

Though this may appear to have all the trappings of a typical urban supernatural fantasy (Special Human Female swept up in supernatural mystery leading to certain death? Check. Handsome Angsty Vampire aiding in her quest? Check and check, there's two of 'em), I wouldn't necessarily categorize it as one. Strange Practice feels a lot like Kate Griffin's Magicals Anonymous books, in that it's a practical view of what it would be like if supernatural creatures existed side-by-side with humans. And I love it. 

Greta Helsing, practical and serious, is only Special in that she's one of the two doctors for the supernatural folk in the local district. She just so happens to be a descendant of the Van Helsing, but it's not actually all that important. If I'd have to identify Greta Helsing's superpowers, it's just being a Damn Good Doctor.

There isn't much in the way of a romance here (although Varney's crush on her is kind of creepy/cute), either, because the story is more about Greta inadvertently assembling her mystery-solving team to save London's supernatural denizens. There's Ruthven, the short but impeccably styled vampire protector of London, Fastitocalon, Greta's mysterious immortal guardian, August Cranswell, a researcher at the British Museum with a big brain and no filter, and Varney, ancient and romantic in the sense that blasted, windswept moors are romantic. 

Vivian Shaw creates an underworld that is at times fun and clever and others, genuinely scary. The mystery provides a trajectory for the plot, and her characters bring the story--Greta's struggle with her helplessness in the face of supernatural powers, Ruthven's immortal depression, the mystery of Fastitocalon, and Varney's self-hatred are interesting explorations of character that draw you in even further (Cranswell, well, he's got an exhibit coming up at the Museum but that's about it).

Despite my satisfaction with the story's resolution, I was sad to reach the end of this book, because it's just fun to read about Greta carving replacement bones for ancient, arthritic mummies and Ruthven's shopping sprees. But then I found out it was the first in a series of Dr. Greta Helsing books, and I am PUMPED.
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