When I saw the pitch for "Urban Shaman", I was sceptical: an Urban Fantasy book that blends Celtic and Cherokee myth in the form of a modern-day Seatle PD cop. How likely was that to work?
But one of my New Year's resolutions was to try and be positive and I still had two days before Epiphany brought the Yule ride to end, so I gave it try.
About five chapters in, my response was, "WOW. Why haven't I heard of this series before?" A day later, having finished the book in a self-indulgent binge read, I had a grin on my face because I'd found my new Urban Fantasy series for 2018.
What C. E. Murphy has done by merging Celtic and Cherokee myth is bold, original and more than a little risky but she pulls it off. The action is more a "Dr Strange"fight-the-forces-of-evil-while-travelling-outside-your-body-on-another-plane kind of thing than it is an "Avengers" hit-your-enemy-with-your-hammer /shield/large green fist type of thing. That's hard to do and may not appeal to everyone but Murphy does it well and I loved every minute of it.
Joanne Walker is a half Irish, half Cherokee woman who, although she works in Seatle PD and went to the Police Academy, spends her time in the motor pool. The book starts with her returning from her mother's funeral in Ireland. On the descent into SEA, drowsy, airsick and with her contacts glued to her retinas, she sees a woman running away from a pack of dogs and towards a man wielding a butterfly knife. That unlikely optical feat and her dire compulsion to rescue the woman should have clued her into the fact that something in her life had shifted but it takes a while for her to catch up with this.
What follows is a story in which Joanne is introduced rather traumatically to her own, previously unsuspected, shamanic powers by being pitched into a conflict with the Wild Hunt.
Why does this work? Well, Joanne is likeable and has a character that is deeper and more complex than the usual kickass heroine with a sharp line of chat and a flair for martial arts. Most of the time Joanne has no idea what she's doing and words frequently fail her. I found this quite refreshing. The secondary characters, from the voluable cab driver to the perfectionist Police Captain, swiftly move from archetype to someone credible and interesting. The astral conflicts are described in surprisingly down to earth ways and conflict resolution is never about who has the biggest sword.
As a standalone book, it's fun, fast and fresh. As the first book in a series, it fills me with anticipation.