Urban Shaman by C.E. Murphy
This is a book that I’ve had my eye on for quite a while. It kept popping up on recommendation lists and in conversations about genres I enjoyed, but I never picked it up for one reason or another. It was that fateful trip to Dallas to Half Priced Books that I finally found this sucker…well, for a price I was willing to spend. Books are expensive and I have a habit to feed.
I know, I know. What about the library? I have this thing with libraries. They are fantastic, beautiful, fascinating places. Two issues for me though. Issue the first, they want the books back. When I like the book, I don’t want to give it back. It is mine. I want to hold it and squeeze it and call it George…or something like that. Second, when I am given a time frame in which I have to do something, I immediately procrastinate until the very last minute. It is a failing. Then I end up having to give back the book that I don’t want to give back, but I never actually got a chance to read because I put it off too long. Oh yeah, it is stupid. (Every time I say/type/read “stupid” I hear it in Debra’s voice from Empire Records.) Luckily, used book stores will let you buy used books for half off the cover price, and then buy them back from you if you don’t want to keep them (Like I ever don’t want to keep a book, pfftt). This would be why I had to buy two new book cases this month. (There are two bags of books to go to the used book store…probably…maybe…most likely.)
Urban Shaman is about the merging of cultures in an individual at its heart. Joanne Walker (legally, Siobban Joanne Walkingstick, see what I mean about merging cultures?) She has an Irish mother and a Cherokee father and she gets dumped into the deep end of being a shaman in Urban Shaman. By trade, she’s a mechanic for the police…she also attended the police academy, so technically we discover she’s an officer although she’s never spent a day in the field and she doesn’t think of herself that way. In her mind she’s a mechanic. Then again, good old Joanne doesn’t think she believes in things like “gut feelings” either. All of that changes when she sees a woman being chased, and just knows that she has to help her. According to her she feels like she’s “going to puke” if she doesn’t help this mystery woman. The catch is, Jo sees her from the window of a landing airplane, so location is an issue.
This book was really enjoyable. I like Joanne. Maybe because female, native american mechanics in this genre remind me of Patricia Briggs’s character, Mercedes Thompson. Mercy has long been a favorite of mine. Maybe because I just like strong female characters. Whatever the reason, I like Jo Walker. She’s smart and sassy. Joanne rolls with the punches in this story, maybe a little too much though. She takes a near death experience that awakens her shamanistic powers, healing herself as she’s discovering said powers and conversations with a Celtic god in stride with very minimal doubt or freak out. Now, she’s told up front that doubt is going to get her killed, but hey, human here. I’d have more than a passing acquaintance with doubt and a major melt-down or two if any of that happened. This is only the first book though, so maybe the breakdown and freak out stage is coming. Strength and sass can only get a character so far, at some point they have to be vulnerable and human too. Otherwise, I’m not going to be nearly as invested in the next stage of the story. Ms. Murphy hints at plenty of vulnerability, but we never really see anything other than the cracks in the windshield that Joanne patches over.
I can certainly see the tie between shamanism and the vocation of a mechanic. Both of them are healers in their own ways. The first deals with the spirit and the second deals with something physical and outside of the individual. It makes sense for someone who has tried to move away from anything dealing with her culture or upbringing to be drawn to a profession like mechanic. It is as far away as Joanne could get from healing the spirit, mind or body and still fix things. Not just fixing anything, but repairing something that requires attention to detail, patience, experience, and knowledge. Not coincidentally, fixing up cars doesn’t leave a lot of room for introspection either. (Not that I actually have any personal experience with this, mind you. I can’t even change my own oil.)
Part of the appeal in this novel is the melding of cultures too, and that is a purely personal thing. My father’s family background is Irish and Cherokee while my mother’s is Greek and a mix of a bunch of other things including Osage. There is a rich religious, mythological, and mystical culture in all of those. It is fascinating to read something that pulls in parts of my own heritage and uses it as plot points. Part of me finished the book then sat back to think. Wow, could you imagine throwing a couple of Greek gods in with all that madness? (Hmmm…..interesting thought there.)
The plot felt forced in places though. I don’t want to give away any more spoilers than I already have, so I’m not going into great detail here. Let’s just say the plot has some holes that you could drive a Mack truck through. There could be great explanations and fills in the next books though. The characters are flat in spots where there could have been a lot of depth. With Joanne, I gave some examples, but this is true of the supporting cast as well. Some of it could be mystery. There’s this Gary dude, and I think there is a lot more to him than meets the eye…otherwise he makes no sense. Another thing, for a world in which, normal people don’t know about this, they sure are accepting of it, and there sure are a lot of people in her circle who do believe in…supernatural thingamajigs. As I said, this is the first book, the depth could come in the subsequent books. It certainly did with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. All the reviews of this book have indicated that the next two in the series Thunderbird Falls and Coyote Dreams are much more engrossing novels.
Even with all the holes, I didn’t want to put this book down. I needed to know what was going to happen next. The action moved at a quick pace with no real sense of lagging, and the reader stays intrigued and needing to find the answers right up to the end. I loved the fact that C.E. Murphy has obviously done her research on Celtic mythologies, because her depictions of the pantheon and elements completely sync up with everything I’ve read. There were no discordant notes there. (Believe me, I’ve read a lot on this subject. I’m not an expert, but I know when something doesn’t fit with all the other stories!) I wish the same could be said for the Native American side of things. Joanne does point out that things seen/mentioned aren’t even Cherokee and questions that. I found it interesting that the character has more knowledge of the Native American side of her heritage, although she’s ignored it since she was 15, and yet that rich heritage isn’t explored in this book. Joanne doesn’t really know much about her Irish heritage, but everything is focused around that history and mythos in the novel. I found that odd considering the title of the book, Urban Shaman.
This series has eight books that I can find, and possibly some spin offs. The author’s site is a bit disorganized. I couldn’t actually find a list of books that she’d authored under any of her pseudonyms, but it was fun. Even though I didn’t find what I was looking for, I poked around for a while. There are definitely chuckles to be had. I also discovered that she does comic books and there are pseudonyms. Since comic books are quickly becoming a new interest of mine…hmmm, there are thoughts again…dangerous!
Has anybody else read this author? Please let me know what you think in the comments below!
‘Til next time,
The reading order I’ve been able to find goes thusly: