Reviews

DREADFUL COMPANY (Dr. Greta Helsing #2), by Vivian Shaw – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in Vivan Shaw’s Urban Fantasy series, and did not wait long to add this second volume to my reading queue: Dreadful Company proved to be an even faster and more entertaining read, adding further depth to the characters I already knew and presenting a few new ones that spiced up the mix in a very interesting way.

The story opens with Greta traveling to Paris for a symposium of supernatural medicine in the company of her vampire friend Lord Ruthven. What could have been a pleasant, if slightly boring, diversion from her work in London becomes first a puzzle when Greta finds not one but two weird critters in her room – beings that are magically summoned rather than being born – and then turns into a harrowing experience as she is kidnapped by a local vampire coven whose ruler, the dangerously capricious Corvin, intends to use her as bait to exact vengeance on Ruthven, with whom he clashed, and lost, in the past.

The situation is further complicated by some weird ghostly manifestations pointing toward a lessening of the barrier between the mundane plane and the afterworld, which require the summoning of two licensed psychopomps and the intervention of a demonic overseer in the person of Greta’s special friend Fastitocalon, who had been recuperating his health in Hell.  As it becomes clear that the critters found by Dr. Helsing and the vampire coven are tied into these “reality hiccups”, the guardian of Paris, werewolf St. Germain, joins forces with Ruthven, Varney and the rest of Greta’s friends in what turns into a mixed rescue & restoration enterprise that kept me turning the pages with highly amused enthusiasm.

Not unlike what happened in Strange Practice, Greta often cedes the limelight to the other players and while this might look somewhat odd, it also allows them to gain more substance and provides a welcome balance to the story. Still, the distressing situation in which she finds herself here puts Greta’s personality into sharper focus and we see how it’s made out of equal measures of kindness, dedication and common sense: being a prisoner does not exempt her from being a doctor first and foremost, so that she has no reservations in treating one of her captors’ wounds, or in feeling deep pity for the youngest member of the coven once she realizes that the girl has been turned without permission and then left to her own devices to face the transformation into a vampire.  If I wrote, in my review of the first book, that Greta looked less substantial than the other characters, I have come to understand that her reserved attitude hides a core of strength and cleverness that comes to light when need arises, and which in this particular circumstance leads her to take matters in her own hands without waiting for rescue to come her way.

It is of course interesting to see Lord Ruthven shaken out of his usual aplomb as he realizes that Greta is in danger at the hands of an old adversary, or to witness the blossoming closeness between Varney and the doctor – while not a fan of romantic entanglements, I’m quite curious to see how this vampire/human relationship will progress – but this time around I truly enjoyed getting to know the new characters on the scene. The overseer of the Parisian supernatural population, Alceste St. Germain, is one of my favorites: a werewolf with a penchant for historical studies, he’s gruff but hospitable – I loved seeing how he turned his house into a command center for the rescuers without batting an eyelash; the two psychopomps are a source for tongue-in-cheek humor and oblique references to horror and gothic themes, their names also an indication of the main facets of their personality – where Gervase Brightside was fun, Crepusculus Dammerung was downright hilarious.

The vampire Grisaille is an interesting study of the bloodsucker mentality from a different perspective than that offered so far by Ruthven and Varney, while the other members of the coven – particularly their vile leader Corvin – manage to appear dangerous and ludicrous at the same time: lacking the kind of moral foundations at the roots of Ruthven’s psychological makeup, for example, they seem more inclined to follow a behavioral template taken from folklore and so tend to dress with flamboyant bad taste and cover themselves with body glitter, in a pathetic – if weirdly entertaining – imitation of a certain vampire saga. Still, they are nonetheless dangerous: partly in fear and partly in devotion of their leader, they prey on hapless humans that are drained and discarded as nothing more than… food rations, and the scenes of their blood-and-drugs orgies represent the more serious and shocking side of the story.

To balance these dreadful narrative elements there are the delightful callbacks to several gothic myths, mainly that of the Phantom of the Opera, one of my all-time favorites, and the appearance of these furry critters, summoned from a different plane of reality, who are unabashedly cute and offer a few rays of light in the darkest sections of the story, without forgetting the intangible entity that Greta summons at some point and can become visible only while covered in cloth – try to imagine a helpful, cuddly ghost as an improbable but precious ally…

At the end of this second novel in the series much has changed for the main characters and they seem destined to walk some different paths than the ones they were traveling when we met them for the first time: given the entertaining mix of adventure, drama and humor that’s typical of these books I know I can look forward to the next one with great anticipation.

 

My Rating:

 

Image by Tanantachai Sirival @ 123RF.com

23 thoughts on “DREADFUL COMPANY (Dr. Greta Helsing #2), by Vivian Shaw – Wyrd & Wonder 2020

  1. It looks like a really entertaining series and this is a fabulous review – as ever! I’m sorely tempted, but I have rather lost my head during lockdown and requested faaar too many books! So I need to get through at least some of them before diving into yet another series!

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          1. Lol… I’d love to blame Netgalley for insisting on displaying all those tasty books – but I think it’s actually my fault for having the impulse control of a sugar-stimmed toddler, where books are concerned:)).

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    1. Luckily for me I enjoyed book one and that’s what spurred me to move quickly to the second volume and to already acquire the third. I must say that the lighter tone – despite, in this case, the dreadful vampire angle – helped a great deal 🙂

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  2. This is such a great series! I enjoyed this one too, though probably less than the first and third books because of the different shifts in perspective and the fact Greta was spent a good part out of commission because of what happened to her. The critters though, were my favorite part! I can’t wait to hear what you’ll think of the third one 🙂

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    1. Book 3 is already lined up for one of my next reads, and if you liked it better than this one, I’m certain I will love it. Yes, strangely enough Greta is not always in the limelight, despite being the serie’s focus, but the other characters make up for that in a very interesting way 🙂

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    1. Greta is interesting – and in this book I liked her more than in book 1 – but I much prefer the supernatural beings, mostly because they are not what I expected from the genre. I would never have imagined I would root for a vampire or become fond of a demon… 😀

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  3. Fantastic review as always, Maddalena! I think it really is the cover of the first book that deterred me from looking into it but your reviews of the first two books are making me want to try these out so much! I do like how enthusiastic you are about these characters and the whole take on vampires! 😀

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    1. The vampire myth is one that never fails to attract my interest, and here it’s presented in different declinations, which makes it interesting. The covers are slightly weird, I will grant you that, but in this case my “book vibes” were strong and I decided to listen to them… 😉
      I hope you have fun with these stories once you start reading!

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