C.E. Murphy,
Urban Shaman #6: Spirit Dances
(Luna, 2011)

I rarely start a series at book 6, and wasn't really expecting anything to come of it. But immediately after finishing Spirit Dances, I went out and picked up all the earlier books in C.E. Murphy's Urban Shaman series. If that's not the mark of a top-notch book, I don't know what is.

Having caught up on the series, I still think Spirit Dances is the best book so far. It doesn't pretend to be literature, but it's a furiously paced urban fantasy with terrific characters, wry humor and plenty of magical mayhem.

As the book opens, detective and reluctant shaman Joanne Walker has just (accidentally) invited her boss, with whom she has Not-A-Thing going on, to a Native American dance performance. Sounds good, except she starts turning into a coyote halfway through, and then the lead dancer ends up dead, with her heart magically eaten out. It's another exciting couple of days for Joanne as more corpses turn up, her relationship with her boss gets even more hairy and underground Seattle explodes in magical malevolence.

Plots are not really Murphy's strong point. The mystery is rather flimsy, and there's a slight everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel, but Murphy makes up for it with arresting, cinematic scenes -- both magical and otherwise -- and fully fleshed characters who grumble, make mistakes, change and come through for each other. Joanne's first-person narration is frank, a little self-deprecating and often very, very funny. And although I wouldn't consider any books in this series romances, there is some serious chemistry between Joanne and Morrison. For me, it's the characters and their interactions that really set the Urban Shaman series apart from others in the genre.

Spirit Dances isn't a bad place to start reading the series. Actually, I wonder if I would have made it that far if I'd started from the beginning, in which Joanne flails around making rather poor decisions. In this sixth installment, Joanne finally seems to be coming into her powers, and the series is definitely the better for it. Brain candy or no, I can't wait for the next installment!

book review by
Jennifer Mo

29 October 2011

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