Strange Practice & Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

I bought Strange Practice a while ago during an Orbit ebooks sale and promptly put it in my “read later” list. The Gods of Reading the Right Thing at the Right Time smiled upon me once again, because I couldn’t have found a more appropriate time (and mood) to finally pick it up. And as soon as I finished it, I felt compelled to immediately purchase and read the sequel, Dreadful Company, since I couldn’t bear parting with the characters.

The series is about, you might have guessed, Doctor Helsing. The Helsing family has dropped the “Van” from the surname and moved to another field of specialisation: medicine for the paranormal community. Greta inherited her father’s practice in modern-day London where she treats mummies, vampires, ghouls…the undead and monstrous, basically. In Strange Practice, Greta and her friends investigate a mysterious religious group who attacks the living and the monstrous in the streets of London. The follow-up book, Dreadful Company, is set in Paris where the characters are faced with a coven of wild and dangerous vampires.

The two books are so warm. This is the first word that comes to mind to describe the reading experience. It’s basically the perfect Halloween/fall read: monsters and cosiness. The plots in both Strange Practice and its sequel are mystery-oriented, with villains to stop and normal (well, normal-ish) order to restore. But the main focus (and the highlight, in my opinion) was on Greta and her friends. Doctor Helsing is a character after my own heart: she takes her Hippocratic Oath very seriously (or does she swear another, more specific oath? I need to ask Shaw) and treats everyone, regardless of circumstances. She is a perfect mix of brisk professional competence and compassion. Her entourage is no less endearing: her closest friend, Ruthven, is a centuries-old vampire, the paranormal guardian of London, and a gourmet cook (but no garlic, obviously). She has an “honorary uncle”, Fastitocalon, who belongs to the supernatural realm – but she’s too polite to ask what he is, exactly. There’s also Varney, a melancholic vampyre, and Cranswell, a passionate (human) museum curator. The feeling of found family is heartwarming, and even stronger and more explicitly presented in Dreadful Company.

The way Shaw plays with the paranormal tropes is refreshing. She does follow a lot of “traditional” aspects of horror literature but from a different angle. What we usually see as weapons against dangerous monsters, Greta Helsing sees as threats against her well-cared-for patients. The writing is light and often very funny; there’s banter between the protagonists and the occasional and unexpected pop culture reference.

The books are so easy and enjoyable to read (I finished Dreadful Company in one day! Unheard of for me). They left me with a feeling of…yeah, as I said, warmth and general contentment. Book 3, Grave Importance, is out in 2019 and joins my can’t-wait-for list.

I recommend the Greta Helsing series for people who:

  • want to celebrate the spoooooky season but don’t like horror
  • enjoy a different take on urban fantasy
  • like characters-driven stories
  • need a cosy, happy read

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