This is not a traditional review of Kat Richardson’s Greywalker. I’m going to talk instead about the technique Richardson uses to introduce her paranormal world and her main character’s magical power.
Richardson’s premise is that abutting our dimension is a transitional dimension known as the Grey. Some creatures live in the Grey; some come through it from other places. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts and ghouls move about freely in it, and can shift easily from the Grey to here.
Most (not all) urban fantasies start with a character who is already magical. Harry Dresden is a wizard; October Daye is half faerie. Richardson’s first book is an origin story. It’s the tale of how Harper Blaine became a Greywalker.
Harper Blaine is a Seattle private detective with an office near Pioneer Square. In the first chapter, a struggle with an assailant leaves her nearly dead. In Chapter Two, a few weeks have passed. Harper is back at work, but returns to the hospital because she is still having lingering symptoms. Some are purely physical, such as fatigue and headaches, but some are strange and more disturbing: images at the corners of her eyes, strange odors, dizziness, and seeing things that other people don’t see. In the hospital, for example, Harper takes a fall when she tries to lie down on a hospital bed that isn’t there.
A harried, overworked resident tells her, much to her surprise, that when they brought her in after the attack, she clinically died for two minutes. The doctor refers her to some people he knows who may be able to help her adjust. They’re not counselors, he says, and they may not be her cup of tea, but if she is having these weird symptoms they may be able to help.
His referrals are a witch and her physicist husband who also does paranormal research.
I think this is the first urban fantasy I’ve read where the protagonist gets a medical referral to magical helpers. This is refreshingly practical and has the added bonus of being witty.
Harper is still working, specifically on a missing person case. The reader catalogues the situation as Harper hears it from her client, and we make immediate assumptions. The client’s college-age son, who has always stayed in touch with her, has stopped calling or visiting. The last time she saw him he was very pale, sleeping all day, and couldn’t keep food down. He had been hanging out with a nightclub crowd who kept late hours and dressed in Goth style. We know exactly what has happened, but Harper doesn’t, not yet.
She does meet Maya and Ben, the witch and the researcher, who explain about the Grey. Harper has the ability to cross the portal and enter the Grey, and she is frequently doing this without realizing it. Harper assumes that she acquired this ability because of dying; Maya is skeptical. Lots of people have near-death experiences and do not become Greywalkers.
It is page 159 before Harper meets a vampire. Because of her training and gradual acceptance of her abilities and the reality of what she is seeing, Richardson is able to short-cut the disbelief/rationalization/acceptance cycle. Harper can see the vampire in the Grey, and knows he’s no longer fully human.
There is a fun scene where she takes the vampire to Ben and Maya’s house; Ben asks the vampire if it might not actually be a zombie since it appears to be dead. The vampire considers, then says it still has free will, so no, not a zombie.
The 158 pages leading up to this meeting have not just been filled with Luke-and-Yoda-on-the-swamp-planet training. Harper has been working another case, searching out a mysterious “parlor organ” for a strange European client. As her proficiency in the Grey grows, so does her suspicion about the client and the musical instrument.
Anyone planning to write an urban fantasy should take a look at Greywalker, just to see how Richardson does this. I thought there were a few small glitches, but Richardson lays out a textbook-caliber example of one way to introduce your magical character and the cast of supporting roles you will need later on. Greywalker is a great opening to a refreshing series.