Harper Blaine is a small-time private investigator trying to earn a living when a low-life savagely assaults her, leaving her for dead. For two minutes, to be precise.
When Harper comes to in the hospital, she begins to feel a bit…strange. She sees things that can only be described as weird - shapes emerging from a foggy grey mist, snarling teeth, creatures roaring.
But Harper’s not crazy. Her ‘death’ has made her a Greywalker - able to move between our world and the mysterious, cross-over zone where thing that go bump in the night exist. And her new gift (or curse) is about to drag her into that world of vampires and ghosts, magic and witches, necromancers and sinister artifacts. Whether she likes it or not.
I mainly bought Greywalker to get myself in the mood for the ‘Dresden Files: Streets of Seattle’ game, since it was an urban fantasy novel set in the very same city. I had no expectations of the book being anything more than an average read before I got it, but at the very least I thought it might give me a feel for the setting I would be playing in. I’m glad to say though, that I was pleasantly surprised once I got started.
At its heart, this book is all about the normal, everyday life of an ordinary private investigator being turned upside down after a near-death experience gives her the ability to perceive both the normal world, and the world of the supernatural. Harper’s struggle to accept this new reality is really the driving conflict of the entire novel. The quote on the front of the book says, ‘enough paranormal complications to keep you on the edge of your seat’, and for much of the book, that’s all that the paranormal stuff really amounts to. Complications to Harper’s life, which she tries to ignore while carrying on with business as usual. But its inevitable that she will be drawn more completely into that world, and the signs of this are seeded throughout the book, until the point is finally made clear to Harper herself about midway through the book.
Another thing it says on the front quote is ‘non-stop action’. Well, there is action in this book, but Harper Blaine isn’t really an action heroine like the protagonists of some of the other books from the contemporary and urban fantasy genres. The emphasis in this story is, for the most part, on leg-work and following the clues, good old-fashioned sleuthing. If you’re looking for a supernatural action block-buster, this isn’t it. When the action takes place, it’s usually short, brutal and painful, much like in real life. If you like your supernatural thrillers grim and gritty, you’ll enjoy this a lot. If you’re looking for an action movie in print form though, you might want to find something else.
Even the paranormal world itself has a sense of gritty realism to it, added to by the pseudo-scientific rationale given for the world of the Grey and the things that inhabit it. Ben Danziger presents a theory to Harper about things existing on different energy states to the one we inhabit, and Mara doesn’t strongly disagree with the theory. It gives a feel of credibility to the phenomenon Harper is experiencing which melds it more comfortably with the harsh reality of the human world presented to us previously in the story. The theory might come across as a bit New Age-y for some readers’ tastes though.
There’s a cast of wonderful and loveable characters in here. There’s Harper herself, a tough, but not unsympathetically hardened female detective, who loves her pet ferret and comes across as a very human and vulnerable protagonist. She’s also very intelligent, and resolves both cases that she faces in this novel by doing lots of research on the situation and then setting a plan in motion according to the intelligence she’s gathered. Then there are the Danzigers; the model of a normal happy couple, and yet Ben’s a man of science and Mara’s a witch. Their relationship, the rational and the supernatural living together in (almost) perfect harmony, are the best tutors Harper could ask for in adapting to her new condition. They’re also adorable, even if Mara as an Irish witch is a bit of a cliche. Then there’s Quinton, Harper’s very own Q. He’s eccentric, perfectly amiable and brilliant at what he does, and yet there’s an element of mystery to him, things about his life which are hinted at but never revealed. It should be interesting to find out more about him in the later books.
Now, I’ve gone over what I liked about the story, so here’s where we get to the things I didn’t like so much.
First off, the way in which Harper meets the new network of contacts that will be of great aid to her in this story and the ones to follow seemed a bit too convenient. The doctor that Harper consulted about her ‘hallucinations’ after her assault happens to be a bit unconventional - perhaps even having some experience of the paranormal himself - and points her towards the Danzigers for answers, whereas another doctor might have recommended counselling or psychiatric treatment. The locksmith that repairs Harper’s office door after a break-in points her towards Quinton, tech-whizz extraordinaire, and there’s another thing about Quinton that’s just a little bit too conveinient for my liking. The love interest of the story, at least, didn’t turn out to be in the know about the supernatural, and so Harper’s love life was complicated by her ‘gift’. But there are no other friendships or connections which are complicated by Harper’s condition. Nobody to be concerned that she might be losing her mind. The emphasis is much more on the dangers of Harper accepting the new reality of the Grey than on the implications of her becoming more open to it, which takes away a potential source of added conflict from the story.
Then there are the vampires who closely associate themselves with the Goth scene. The suggestions of sado-masochism in their dealings with humans. Sound familiar anyone? That’s right, this book features some of the same old vampire cliches we’ve seen time and time again. It’s not a major failure on the book’s part, but it is just a little bit disappointing.
If you’re a fan of the contemporary and urban fantasy genres, then I recommend giving this book a try. It may or may not be to your tastes, depending on how much blockbuster-style action you like in your thrillers, how willing you are to let certain conveinient plot points slide, and how tolerant you are of the somewhat cliche portrayal of vampires. In my own humble opinion though, it’s well worth giving it a shot, and I’ll definitely be picking up the next book at some point in the future.
Overall Rating: 8/10