Normally fantasy books about vampires and other supernatural beings cast them as the hunters. Not so with Vivian Shaw’s novel Strange Practice. In this one, it’s the supernaturals who are being hunted by strange men or creatures wearing monk’s robes. Shaw introduces a fantastic crew of characters in the first book of her Dr. Greta Helsing series.

I quite love everyone in this squad, and plan to tell all my supernatural-fantasy-reading friends about them. We start with Dr. Greta Helsing, human doctor to sanguivores, ghouls, and monsters of all kinds. Her late father’s best friend Fastitocalon watches over Greta. He’s not quite of Heaven or Hell but is seen most recently as a slovenly 50-something accountant. Their friend, Lord Edmund Ruthven, a vampire, whose stately manners and London home are the center of much action. The vampyre, Sir Francis Varney, a melancholiac recovering from an unfortunate incident. (I’m not entirely clear on the differences between vampires and vampyres beyond age and general scariness.) Rounding out the squad we have young August Cranswell, a museum curator and historian whose family has known Ruthven for generations.

Shaw fleshes out each of these main characters just enough. They all have a bit of back story, but Shaw never runs off the track into unnecessary detail. None of them are cardboard cutouts of typical supernaturals. Shaw infuses her whole squad with a new and creative fantasy mythos.

Greta’s thought process and actions drive the story’s forward movement, and she’s clearly its main character. Shaw’s Greta is a knowledgeable scientist, caring clinician, and altogether brave soul. In other fantasy series, doctors for supernatural beings are side characters. They’re also often supernaturals themselves. Casting Greta as human, and the main character, is a stroke of genius. She’s just so likable.

In terms of the adventure and mystery, Shaw builds a great story. The villains are creepy, the action captivating, and the ending satisfying. And you already know how I feel about the good guys. This is a wonderful fantasy read. I wouldn’t call it horror because it’s just not gross or scary enough. It’s a fun and quirky new fantasy series. 

My review of the rest of the series, Dreadful Company and Grave Importance is here.