Alternate-world London, approximately present day. Dr. Greta Helsing treats patients who are “differently-alive” to use the PC term. Vampires, were-folk, ghouls, banshees, demons, etc. The non-human world is far more varied and nuanced than most people believe or understand. And now, a bizarre medieval religious cult has risen to the surface to attack both human and non-human, and a vampyre – a different species than a vampire – has shown up injured on the doorstep of a friend and client of Greta’s. A whole group of people (living and not) must riddle out the secret of this cult and stop the string of murders happening across the city.
Oof. That’s a terrible description and makes this sound like a supernatural crime novel or cozy mystery. It’s not. The book is far richer than that. The setup is similar in some ways to Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate books (Soulless, Changeless, etc), but this isn’t historical fantasy, there’s no Jane Austenesque speech, and the story/characters/writing are much thicker and heavier. This is a book for someone who wants urban fantasy with real people as characters, deep world-building, moral conflicts and philosophy, and heavy emphasis on love of the friendship sort. We’re talking about a vampire who has become a mentor and benefactor for a young historical researcher, and a witch who will cancel her vacation plans to run the clinic when Greta is in deep trouble, and a demon who stepped in as a father figure after Greta’s father died years ago. The ties these characters all have to each other go way back – sometimes hundreds of years back – and that is reflected in their relationships and actions throughout the novel.
Y’all know me – I love this sort of thing to pieces. The story was amazing. I suspected it would be a fun book when I started, but had no idea just how awesome it would be. It was unencumbered by traditional novel tropes, while delivering a solid plot arc. It was a perfectly closed story even though there are future books. I don’t even have a hint of what the next book will be about, plot-wise, and yet I definitely still want to read it because I loved the characters so much. I want to spend more time with them. The mystery was also revealed slowly over time and becomes far more grey-toned than one would expect from a group of serial-killer-monks. So I think it’s no surprise that this was a perfect read for me, or that I’m planning to read the second book (which just came out) for this upcoming RIP season (just a few weeks away!).
My only quibble with the story has to do with the audio production. First, I want to say that the actual audio performance was just as amazing as the book. Susanna Hampton does a first rate job with all the characters, making them all distinguishable with minor changes in accent and speech rhythm. She kept up the pacing well. However, the production tended to give no pause at section breaks. One minute Hampton would be reading about one character, and the next line would take place somewhere else with someone else, no transition at all. I’ve listened to other audiobooks that do this, and it’s always a bit jarring. But it really does feel like it’s a problem in the production – as the sections are pieced together – rather than what the narrator has done. Once I realized what was happening, I could adjust a little and just do a quick rewind if I got confused, but the first time (when a particular character was introduced in a completely different scene), I had no idea what was going on because I hadn’t realized it was past a section break. So if you listen to the audiobook – and I do highly recommend it – be forewarned about that one production quirk.