C.E. Murphy makes an impressive debut with her first novel, Urban Shaman, a book that kept me up way past my bedtime. I knew I was going to be exhausted the next day, but couldn’t tear myself away from this fun ride. It was worth the lost sleep.
Half-Cherokee/half-Irish Joanne Walker had little use for either side of her heritage, until a series of events forces her to come to terms with both. Early one morning, she returns to Seattle after her mother’s funeral in Ireland. As the plane descends over the city, she spots a woman being chased by a pack of dogs on a street outside her window. Compelled by an unshakable instinct to help this woman, Joanne commandeers a cab as soon as she gets off the plane and tracks the woman to a local church where she’s hiding from her pursuers.
The woman is Marie D’Ambra, an anthropologist who recently discovered she has the ability to foretell someone’s death. She reveals that she’s being pursued by an ancient Celtic god named Cernunnos. He leads a group of riders called the Wild Hunt, which collect the souls of the dead. The Hunt is currently in our world, collecting souls and gathering power, until the time when it is drawn back into the underworld. That will happen in two days, and the Hunt is determined to capture Marie for some unknown purpose before then.
Marie has barely explained all of this when Joanne finds herself face-to-face with Cernunnos. This was the first, but not the last, moment in the book to make me a little giddy. He pulls a sword and is about to skewer her. Rather than move out of the way, Joanne leans into the sword, letting him impale her, and slides up the metal to stab him with a knife of her own. That was pretty awesome, if I do say so. It also reveals that she has powers she never knew she had, such as a talent for rapid healing. It turns out Joanne is a shaman, a legacy passed down through both sides of her heritage. With the Hunt on the loose, someone else committing a series of grisly murders throughout the city, and a supernatural showdown coming soon, she’s going to have to tap into every one of her undiscovered powers to save the world.
The author wastes no time getting into the story, dropping the reader into the plot with Joanne on the plane and drawing in the exposition as it goes along. It moves at a nonstop pace, the entire book unfolding within a three-day period. It’s a very creative storyline, full of cool moments and stellar scenes. I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s unpredictable and often surprising. I was never quite sure where it was going to go, but I couldn’t wait to see where that would be.
The story is told in the first-person by Joanne. She’s a strong character who faces all the bizarre events thrown in front of her with an admirable composure and wry wit. I liked how unconventional she is. She works as a mechanic for the Seattle Police Department. Technically she’s a cop herself, having attended the academy at the behest of her supervisors who wanted someone with her diverse background on the force, but she’s always been content to stay in the garage. Her knowledge of cars and the way she breaks down some of what she has to deal with into automotive terms is a nice touch. She’s surrounded by an engaging group of supporting characters, like the cabbie she pulls into her quest early on and a cross-dressing cop who’s her closest ally on the force.
This isn’t a perfect book by any means. The plot is sprawling and messy. The storytelling isn’t always as clear as it could be, and there are several aspects that could be explained further or developed more. I would be lying if I said I understood what was going on 100% of the time. But it’s also endlessly fascinating and compulsively readable. This is the kind of book where I immediately thought of little things that bothered me about it as soon as I finished it, but while I was reading it, it was just a fun, fast ride I tore through as fast as I could.Urban Shaman is the first in a new series, and it’s a most promising start for these characters and the world the author introduces. I can’t wait to see what happens next.