Seawitch: Trouble by land and sea for Harper Blaine

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSeawitch by Kat Richardson

Kat Richardson’s GREYWALKER series perfectly unites the classic private investigator mystery with the paranormal fantasy. The mysteries are rigorous within the rules of the paranormal realm Richardson has invented; her background research is broad and utilized well; and her characters become deeper and more interesting with every new novel. The latest in the series, Seawitch, gives us insight into the character of Detective Rey Solis of the Seattle Police Department, who has been a pain in the side for PI Harper Blaine in the past, but who becomes more of an ally and even a friend.

Seawitch begins with Harper receiving an assignment from an insurance company: why has the yacht Seawitch returned to its home port 27 years after it went missing, presumably taking all of its passengers to a watery grave? The insurance company has long since paid the resulting claim, and it wants to know where the boat has been all this time; it suspects fraud, and it wants to prosecute someone for it. The boat is unmanned, making its reappearance inexplicable, but insurers don’t believe in the inexplicable.

Harper meets up with Solis when she approaches the boat for a preliminary examination, and is surprised to see him there. This isn’t a plum assignment, after all, and Solis is pretty much entitled to whatever plums the Seattle Police Department has, having recently been promoted to detective sergeant. Harper gets the creeps as soon as she sets foot on the boat; when she is suddenly drenched with seawater — not seawater from the sea, she’s just immediately drenched from an invisible wave while below the deck — Solis is stunned. As Harper says, “it’s one thing to imagine someone you know is a little on the weird side and a different thing entirely to have it thrust upon you in a hallway the size of a Volkswagen’s backseat.” That’s only the beginning of the weirdness that is visited on Harper during her exploration of the boat, though, and Solis learns that Harper “sometimes ha[s] little disagreements with… um, with reality. And physics.”

It’s the beginning of a wild ride for Solis, as well as for Harper. Mermaids and otters play roles, though the mermaids have little in common with Ariel of Disney fame (save for beauty) and the otters aren’t nearly as delightful as those you’ll find at your local aquarium. Richardson’s plot is intricate, requiring readers to stay on their toes to try to figure out what’s going on here before Harper and Solis do, but not so complicated as to make reading a chore. The sea voyage that comprises the final third of the book makes one realize that the waters of Puget Sound, which seem relatively tame when viewed on a tranquil summer afternoon from ashore, are dangerous and even deadly. What we learn about Solis along the way makes this an even more complex work, giving him so much more shaping and shading that he has become a character of nearly equal import to Harper. Seawitch is a fine addition to the GREYWALKER series, and you’ll finish it already longing for the next one.

~Terry Weyna

Seawitch by Kat RichardsonSeawitch, the seventh GREYWALKER novel, doesn’t miss a beat. Kat Richardson weaves an engrossing story of ghost ships and native folklore, dripping with special effects.

Harper Blaine can see into the Grey, a dimension next to ours. This ability allows her to interact with ghosts and other paranormal creatures. Harper is a private investigator in Seattle. While the majority of her cases are mundane, it’s pretty clear that this one will not be. Seawitch, a luxury yacht that disappeared with all hands twenty-seven years ago, has reappeared at its slip in its old marina. There is no one alive aboard, but Harper and Rey Solis, the Seattle PD detective assigned to the case, find sigils drawn in blood in one of the quarters. They could be a spell, a curse, or part of a protection circle. Harper also finds a haunted artifact from another drowned ship, the real-life steamship Valencia, which ran aground in 1906, and the story goes full-tilt from there.

Solis has always been suspicious of Harper, but onboard Seawitch he observes her going into the Grey for the first time. His reaction is very different from what Harper expected. Solis admits to her that he requested this case once he knew the insurance company had hired her. For deeply personal reasons, he wants to learn more about the Grey.

The case leads them on a sea-chase through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, one of the most treacherous water passages on the west coast. Harper’s goal is to free human souls trapped in the artifact, but there is more than one magical entity at work, and to figure out who to trust, Harper and Solis have to piece together what happened aboard the yacht twenty-seven years ago.

Richardson knows her way around boats and Puget Sound, and the expertise shows here. She gives us a lot of information about boats without ever slowing down the pace of the book, and manages to create a sense of beauty and menace when she writes about the Sound.

Puget Sound is a strange thing — almost an inland sea full of islands and deep saltwater crevasses caused by passing glaciers eons ago. In some places the depth of the bottom has never been mapped, only guessed at, and ships or planes that fall into the underwater canyons never come back — not even as broken pieces of flotsam.

The most dramatic action scene takes place on open water, as our heroes fend off a boarding party of merfolk transported by a waterspout.

As I stared at them through the Grey, the waterspout was thick with creatures that writhed and twisted in the rising liquid. A handful of human forms spun, screaming, in the water, festooned in seaweed and trailing chain. In front of it, coils of blue energy reached and spun through the waves toward Mambo Moon. The sea-witch or her minions had come to us.

Sergeant Solis has been in several of the GREYWALKER books. It was great to see more of his character revealed here. His interest in the Grey is powerful, but he is not prepared for what he experiences on this adventure. Harper is helped by her boyfriend Quinton, a man of many resources, and by an old salt named Zantree, a grandfather who lives on a boat at the marina, knew the people on Seawitch, and loves to dress up as a pirate.
The historical part of the mystery has some comments to make about the self-indulgence of the 1980s, but the real drama takes place on or in the water. Seawitch is a riveting adventure. Even at home on dry land, Harper is not safe, because she and Quinton are facing a new threat from a ruthless and powerful man with connections to Quinton’s past. Seawitch is a thoroughly satisfying entry in the GREYWALKER series.

~Marion Deeds

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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  1. I have always loved Richardson’s sense of place, but because she lives on a boat in the Sound, I’m expecting great things of this book and that wonderful and enigmatic body of water.

  2. I really like how she takes all sorts of different legends and myths and just mashes them all together.

  3. April, yes, and makes it work!

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