April 2006


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Review: Urban Shaman By C. E. Murphy

A couple weeks ago, I stopped by the library to pick up Tolerant and I was wandering through the shelves when she grabs a book at random and hands it to me. Right there on the cover is the usual plug, this time from Jim Butcher, author of the bestselling series The Dresden Files:

“A swift pace, a good mystery, a likeable protagonist, magic, danger – URBAN SHAMAN has them in spades.”

Okay, I’d never heard of Jim Butcher, but he writes a good plug. Two things kept the book in my hands: One, Tolerant had randomly grabbed a book with “shaman” in the title, and I have always given a little credence to the old idea of randomly flipping through pages in a book for answers to life’s harder questions. Kind of like an instant Tarot reading – go ahead, try it sometime. The second is that I was also in a *shrug* “Why not?” kind of mood.

The World’s Best Girl Friend proves her worth yet again, as she handed me a gem. Butcher was right, this is a really good book.

Our protagonist was born Siobhan Walkingstick, daughter of an Irish mother and Cherokee father, but she calls herself Joanne Walker. Really, who wants to go through high school with a first name no one can pronounce and a last name like Walkingstick? As a single, twenty-something Seattle Police motor-pool mechanic, life is fairly ordinary. All that changes, of course, when she spots a woman running for her life from what looks to be a pack of dogs staright into the path of a knife-weilding Bad Guy parked in a church lot.

From a landing plane.

From there, she gets tangled up in a series of murders, the Wild Hunt, and coming to grips with the idea that the world isn’t the same as it was last week. With the help of a 73-year-old intrepid cabby of unusual talents and Seattle’s only cross-dressing detective, she may just survive the week – if she can catch some sleep.

Okay, there are a couple things that really make you stretch your belief, but Murphy does it in a way that you don’t really notice it. Like any good mystery novel, it’s written from the protagonist’s POV, and Walker spends most of her time wondering “what the hell?” just as much as you do.

The most annoying cliche about the whole thing is that Walkingstick’s Totem appears to be Coyote. This has been a bit overdone in the genre, but I suppose it makes sense – who better to walk you through the process of having your world-view turned inside-out than the Trickster?

The second-most annoying part is that Murphy has Walker visualizing her early steps into shamanic power as working on a car – it makes sense to ground the young shaman into something she can understand and visualize, yes, but I get the feeling that Murphy doesn’t really understand cars very much. For instance, this gifted young mechanic drives a muscle car – a classic Mustang. Correct, I can see that. But it’s an automatic? No.

Yes, I’m picking at nits here. Deal with it.

Nevertheless, a darned good read indeed, and I’m looking forward to digging up anything else Murphy has written.

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