Review: Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw (Dr. Greta Helsing #1)

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Orbit Books on July 25, 2017

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

Meet Greta Helsing, fast-talking doctor to the undead.

  

Vivian Shaw’s STRANGE PRACTICE is urban fantasy meets classic Gothic literature, a striking combination that makes for a unique and compelling read. Throw in a cast of lovable misfits and fascinating world building and this is a sure winner.

Dr. Greta Helsing (her family dropped the “Van” from their name ages ago) inherited a highly specialized medical practice from her beloved father: one that caters to the unique needs of the supernatural community. There are only two such practices in the entirety of London, so Greta’s a very busy woman — unfortunately, it’s not exactly lucrative despite the brisk business. Turns out that banshees don’t have much in the way of traditional currency. Thankfully Greta has rich and powerful friends to help her out, ones who are notable in the supernatural underground. Supernatural-adjacent Greta may not have any special powers of her own, but her abilities as a doctor and her empathy for those considered monstrous even by non-human standards are highly valued by her clients. So when Greta and those she holds dear are threatened by the revival of an ancient religious cult targeting the supernatural, the entire community is thrown into an uproar.

It is Greta’s relationships with her friends and clients as much as the mystery behind the cult murders that carry STRANGE PRACTICE forward. Unlike many urban fantasy protagonists, Greta is far from socially isolated and has strong network of true – if unusual – friends. After her father’s death, the once-demon Fastitocalon (Fass to his friends) took up the role of parent and mentor to Greta, guiding her through the fraught world of the supernatural. But Fass has little care for his chronic health issues, and Greta finds herself constantly trying to treat his ailments even while the two run headlong into danger. She also treats her friend Edmund Ruthven, the posh vampire who suffers from chronic depression and ennui after a few too many centuries of living.

Shaw does a commendable job of incorporating characters and supernatural creatures from classic Gothic literature into her story without making it feel derivative or gimmicky. The differences between vampires and vampyres are explained by comparing Ruthven and Varney  (of Varney the Vampyre fame), the particularities of ghoulish culture are explained, and even a mummy from a famous Pharaoh’s tomb makes an appearance in the story in a very natural way. Greta may be a medical doctor, but it’s clear that anthropology also holds a special place in her heart, a fact that made me rejoice because of the richness it added to the world. A private detective certainly wouldn’t have the same curiosity about the composition of poisons targeting the supernatural. Three cheers for unique protagonists!

Greta’s an unusual protagonist for urban fantasy not only because of her profession, but also because she’s a solid 15 years older than your average UF leading lady…and she’s much more earnest. For a story about ritualistic killings and creatures of the night, STRANGE PRACTICE is a very heartwarming and affecting book. Greta and her friends took me completely by surprise and I found myself very invested in their lives. A strong debut from a promising new voice in fantasy, STRANGE PRACTICE by Vivian Shaw is a delight from start to finish.

Have any books taken you by surprise this year? Do you plan to read STRANGE PRACTICE? Let me know in the comments!

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  • I’m starting this over the weekend, hopefully! So glad to see a positive review, and I’m happy that there is humor as well:-) Thanks for sharing, I can’t wait to get started!

    • I hope you love it, Tammy! It really took me by surprise — I was expecting a very different tone (and a snarkier sense of humour) but I ended up really liking it.

  • I didn’t read too deeply into the details in the middle of your review, because I hope to be reading this one very soon! I’m so glad you enjoyed it though, it makes me excited to start!

    • Ooh, I’m excited to see what you think of it! I loved the writing, and I was especially impressed because it’s a debut; but apparently Vivian Shaw is a famous fanfiction writer under the name “Coldhope,” so that explains her assured style.

  • This sounds really cool! I love it when books incorporate some classic mythos with some unique twists to it — it gives me a chance to go, “hey wait something sounds familiar here!”

    • Yes, me too! Normally the classic characters from Gothic literature that get incorporated into these stories are all the same (Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, etc.), so it was a nice surprise to see some less conspicuous characters in this one.

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    This book’s premise intrigued me quite a bit when I first learned of its existence, but I was somewhat hesitant to commit: now that I’ve read your review, and especially in light of your comment about “a delight from start to finish”, my doubts have disappeared 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!!

    • It was kind of the opposite for me: I requested this one based on the cover and a brief scan of the description, so I wasn’t completely prepared for what this would be about. I ended up loving the unusual take on urban fantasy and Gothic conventions, though!

      You’re very welcome, Maddalena! I hope you end up liking this one as much as I did. 🙂

  • That is one intriguing premise! I like how the author has added their own bit to the myths and stories that already exist! Those are so fun to read 🙂 Great review Danya 😀

    • Isn’t it, though? I’m always impressed when an author can add new details to an already-fascinating and well known type of creature, and Shaw does a great job with it. Thanks, Uma! 🙂

  • Wow, this sounds amazing! So… non-typical! Almost instantly makes me want to read it.

    • It’s a really special, unique book! I’m really excited to see where Shaw takes these characters in the sequel.

      • Well, I ‘wished’ for it on NetGalley. Let’s hope for the best 🙂

  • Huh. I’d not heard of this book! It sounds interesting. I probably would pass because I don’t think I’d be able to connect with the protagonist. I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, Danya!

    Have a great week. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    • I hadn’t heard anything about it either — just came across it while idly browsing NG, haha. Greta’s definitely an unusual protagonist and her narration might not be for everyone, but it worked really well for me. I’m always happy to stumble upon a talented new author!

      Thanks Alyssa, you too! 🙂

  • I saw this book and it sounded interesting, but I think I was hesitant because yeah, it did sound kind of gimmicky. After reading your review though, I think I’ll have to give it a try! It sounds really fun and sweet.

    • What a relief to hear that I’m not the only one who’s kind of over the whole “chuck characters from Gothic lit into a contemporary tale” thing! Shaw does a wonderful job putting her own twist on that, and the heartfelt tone underneath a dark read was an awesome contrast.

  • I am waiting on pins and needles like this one …and now after reading your review, I NEED THIS IN MY LIFE. Unfortunately, I still have a day yet before it’s released. dammit! Wonderful review, Danya! You upped my excitement for it tremendously.

    • HOORAY! I have done my job, then. Perhaps too well…hahaha. I can’t wait to hear what you think of this one, Verushka — I think it might be one of the most surprising books I’ve read this year!

  • While this isn’t something I might have picked up your review has definitely got me thinking about adding this one to my TBR! The way the characters are incorporated sounds fantastic and I love that you said that anthropology clearly holds a special place in her heart – that just makes me want to go and get this one.

    Wonderful review and thanks (yet again) for another one on the mountain!

    • From what I’ve seen around, this book is pretty under-the-radar but it was a really great read. I love anything that includes even the teeniest hint of anthropology, particularly if it’s directed towards mystical or supernatural beings.

      Aww, thanks Di. You know it’s my sworn duty to contribute to Mount TBR. 😉

  • Karen

    Very cool! I like the cover too but it’s not something I would have picked up on my own or even thought was UF. It sounds fantastic though.

    For What It’s Worth

    • The cover art is fantastic, isn’t it? It’s a bit cheeky too, especially for those who’ve read the book. I didn’t realize it was UF either but I’m certainly not complaining! 😀

  • I love the cover on this! As a fan of anything Gothic, I’m definitely going to check this out. The whole concept sounds fun and gritty. New to me, so thanks for putting it on my radar. 🙂

  • Greg Hill

    I have a thing for the Van Helsing/ vampire hunters thing so this got my attention. And then I saw banshees? And an ancient cult? Gah gimme. I like the older protagonist too and it sounds like maybe it’s not all snark? Definitely sounds intriguing! Thanks for putting this one on my radar. 🙂

    • Oooooh yes, you definitely need to pick this one up then Greg! It’s definitely not all snark — there’s humour, and some of it is a bit sarcastic (their Brits after all, lol) but not snarky. Greta is an awesome protagonist and her fascination with supernatural creatures made for great reading. I hope you get the chance to pick this up soon!

  • Older heroine…why not 🙂

  • I love it. It sounds fun and interesting and I love seeing an older lady getting her story when UF is definitely awash with women in their 20s. I love that there’s a strong network of friends in this and it just sounds good. I want a fun read with an interesting story so I will hunt me out a copy.

    • Isn’t it kind of bizarre how young most urban fantasy protagonists are? Like are you really telling me that these 24 year old women own their own private investigation businesses? Because as cool as that would be, it seems a bit unlikely. Hooray! I think you’d quite enjoy this one — it’s urban fantasy with more heart than snark, which I haven’t really read before.

      • I know it’s so unrealistic! I’m always shocked when they’re there owning their own home and running a business and I’m like ‘where did I go wrong?’ because that isn’t how it works. And heart in UF is good I will have to check it out.