Friday, February 24, 2012

Review: Greywalker by Kat Richardson, Book 1 of the Greywalker Series

Harper is a private investigator. Though that sounds a lot more glamorous than it is for the small time Seattle PI. At least until one of her clients tries to kill her and her injuries do cause her to die – at least for a little while. And when she came back, she could see things she never imagined existed.

Now able to see an experience the Grey, she is faced with a world where ghosts, vampires and witches all demand her attention – and her client list has certainly become both more interesting and much much more frightening. Faced with a vampire coup, a lost vampire child trying to find his way in the world without a mentor, and a mysterious client seeking a haunted artefact; Harper has to investigate in ways she never had before – and finds her skills as a detective and a Greywalker in much demand.

Of course, this very much results in her being thrown in at the deep end – and she must learn to swim even while desperately refusing to see the water.

This book was a lot more unique than I imagined – the mystical private detective/cop has, of course been done done and done again – but I’m continually surprised by how much it can be done differently. Harper’s abilities as a Greywalker still remain very much undefined and somewhat ambiguous – at this stage her powers are probably best described as super senses as much as anything else. This makes the mystical much more a focus of Harper’s adaption to the world she’s seeing

And that world is strange indeed. I still have a lot more questions than I have answers and this book has done a great job of introducing a world but not giving too much away – hinting at vast diversity without feeling the need to enumerate every creature and spell. We have vampires and revenants and witches and ghosts all inter-twined in different ways – and even these simple labels rarely encapsulated the full power and variety of each being. We saw at least 3 or 4 vampires that had vastly different abilities and numerous hints to magic and powers for all these forces that point to a lot more to come. To say nothing of the vast and complex nature of the Grey as well. Is it completely unique? No, but there’s a lot of fascinating twists on old concepts here.

While the plot starts slow it quickly interweaves 2-3 mysteries together. I was actually irritated that we had too much going on competing with each other, but then they came together to be connected and feed off one another. It was nicely done, just as I was getting lost and irritated, we then had one storyline fed by all three tributaries. I liked it, I was impressed, it was a great piece of writing.

Characterwise, Harper has a lot of competence. But I wouldn’t say she’s an overly amusing character and I found it really hard to like her or to identify by her. She isn’t hugely funny and she, naturally, spends a lot of this book being emotionally wrung out by the revelations of the Grey and the events of the book draining her. Very natural – but it mean she spends a lot lot lot of the book telling us how terrible she’s feeling, how sad/tired/aching/overwhelmed she is etc. I don’t want to say the character spent all her time whining, because she had good reason not to be happy… but, yes, there was a the character being unhappy and letting us know. This, coupled with her shock and denial (both natural) also make her acerbic, sometimes unnecessarily so, to people around her, including people who don’t really deserve it. In fact, sometimes she’s downright unjustifiably harsh. She doesn’t make any really ridiculous decisions in a Spunky Agency sense, albeit her motives are a little questionable at times. She’s independent, wilful, determined and driven… but, well, she was more effective than identifiable.

The relationship with Harper and Will was surprisingly OK – I expected to dislike it. A romance plunged into the middle of all these major life changing events, I was ready to find it out of place and a distraction, but it managed not to be. Ok it didn’t add anything to the plot exactly but nor did it especially detract or distract either nor was it unrealistic or did we end up with heavy relationship emotions derailing the plot line and other, more pertinent emotions. It was realistic, it didn’t drag out and it didn’t consume. It was also kind of cute. The only problem I had with it is that it didn’t add to the plot - in the same way that the guys ransacking her home/office and Quinton didn’t add to the plot either. I’m hoping that all 3 are foundations for future books in the series, because they didn’t really help this book at all and added to its pacing problem.

Which I have to mention. I didn’t like the pacing of this book. I think we were bogged down a lot with Harper’s emotional turmoil and her rejecting of answers - not unreasonably, of course, she has an awful lot dumped on her in a very short space of time. But it means we spend an awfully large part of the book plunging through the Grey with no answers or world building beyond her confusion and inability to deal.  It took what seemed to be an immensely long time full of Harper denial, Harper confusion and Harper unhappiness for the plot to actually get moving and it wasn’t until well half way through that the book actually picked up. There were too many questions and not only not enough answers but the questions are barely asked – there’s just things being described that won’t be explained for a long time.

I don’t think I would have minded so much if it weren’t for the fact that the book is a little more wordy than it has to be. Things are over described, we have a lot of descriptions we don’t need and the descriptions of the Grey and its forces are often very long, excessively detailed, very repetitive and often just lost me, I’m afraid. Add in that the explanations given are often very flowery, long winded, academic or otherwise need you to really turn your brain on to keep up. I found it tiring to read with large amounts of text I didn’t really have to but needed ploughing through to ensure you could keep up.  I’m afraid we really do have some quite lengthy and quite opaque infodumps here that I found neither fun to read nor particularly informative.

Social justicewise, this Seattle is an extremely erased city. The only POC I recall is an Asian restaurateur and a black thief. There were no GBLT people – though there is a possible reference that Cameron may have had sex with Edward to make the abusive vampire release his sister, but it’s almost denied more than anything (more a hypothetical sacrifice the straight Cameron was willing to make but he didn’t have to) and since Edward was an abusive, amoral vampire holding and abusing a young woman… that wouldn’t be ideal either.

We also have some body type issues – with passing, unnecessary reference to a woman “overflowing her chair” and a whole lot of problematic dialogue about a thin character colloquially known as Lady Gwendolyn of Anorexia. Harper also has some dubious ideas about consent – like Cameron agreeing to go off with Edward (the evil vampire) equals consent to anything that happens afterwards. Especially when even that agreement only happens because Cameron is trying to get Edward to leave his sister alone. This level of “consent” is dubious in the extreme.

We could have some examination of class and gender roles with the way Sarah and Cameron are treated by their ultra-rich, controlling parents, but I think we only touched the surface – especially when the fighting-for-independence-older-sister-Sarah is rescued by her little brother Cameron. Sarah in general is cringe-worthily ineffective a rebellious teenager who is more than a little too old for the role.

All in all it’s an interesting book, an intriguing book with a large world, an interesting protagonists and a good story that was put together extremely cleverly – and it all blended together well and skilfully. Unfortunately it had issues of both erasure and pacing that were roadblocks to be loving this book. But I liked it, certainly, and I will read the next one without a doubt.