by C.E. Murphy
Published by Luna Books
416 pages, 2006
Reviewed by Andi Shechter
The risk in using real places in fiction, even fantastic fiction, is that it adds a layer. The author has to ensure that your fill-in-the-name-here is truly the right stuff. Authors run the risk of encountering readers who know the real thing -- the city, the town, the neighborhood. Why does that matter? Should it? If the author gets it wrong, the reality of the story is damaged. It can result in the dreaded complaint from a reader that "it threw me out of the story." And even though, in fantasy, readers accept gods, visions, magic and life on more than one plane of existence, if you use a real setting, you still must get the details right.
Thunderbird Falls is a windstorm of a book. There is so much action that I tired toward the end. Readers with more patience than I have will enjoy the plentiful descriptions of terrifying battles with spirits and beings not of the earth. I could have used more down time.
Joanne Walker -- a.k.a. Siobhan Walkingstick -- is a cop who is also a shaman. She's not thrilled that she has powers, but it's not something she can ignore. It's cool to be able to help heal someone, but she's acutely conscious of the burdens of those talents -- not to mention the headlines she'll get if someone finds out. What a mess.
Walker lives alone, but is almost never truly alone because of the spirit world she needs to learn about. Early in the story, on her beat, she encounters a dead woman and the woman's life is intertwined with hers. Before long, she's recruited as part of a coven that's working to bring a spirit across to the physical world. This will, it's been promised, fix the horrid weather that has made the city intolerable and may -- the coven believes -- fix the planet.
Walker's strengths as a character are her sense of humor, her true understanding of friendship and her skepticism, which really helps her at times. Her best friend is a cab driver named Gary, a much older man who understands and likes her. She's had sorrows in her life and is still learning what all of her talents mean. When she needs to visualize something, she relies on her expertise with cars, not something ethereal. She uses what's there. Smart.
Joanne is often too hard on herself, blaming herself for things she simply could not fix, but she's been given an awesome ability. The scenes of her quests into other realms are interesting but they come too thick and fast. I wanted chapters of, if you will, just plain story -- maybe a day in the life of a Seattle cop -- because the encounters, the changes into other creatures, the otherworldly happenings were relentless. Other stories were started but not finished, like the exact relationship between Walker and her superior officer, Morrison. And I got impatient after what felt like the seventh or eighth encounter with this other-worldly being.
I wasn't familiar with many of the myths and legends Murphy borrowed from a number of different cultures, but she made it work. Several cultures have raven myths, coyotes figure in lots of mythology as do serpents; purists might find it aggravating.
But the reality part? The author had the bad luck here of a reviewer who not only lives in the city where the book is set, but in the North Seattle Precinct where Joanne Walker is a cop. A reviewer who used to volunteer at Northwest Hospital.
Murphy, it's clear, did lots of research. But Northwest Hospital does not have a "cancer ward." Nor does the hospital require patients to be discharged in wheelchairs by nurses. It's a small thing but given the ending of the story (not a giveaway, here just a comment) it was a distinct flat note to me, since the ending scene required that information. It's a nuisance being thrown out of a book's narrative by a stopper, no matter how small that stopper may be. This is unlikely to bother most of you out there. If as a writer, you don't know how things work, make it up completely. Then you won't get whines from readers like me who want to stay within the parameters of the story. | April 2006
Andi Shechter has been a publicist, chat host, interviewer, convention-planner, essayist and reviewer. She lives in Seattle with far too many books, an old-but-cute purple computer, not enough soft toys (including a small but select hedgehog and gorilla collection), many figure skating videotapes and an esoteric collection of hot sauces. There's a Hugo Award on her mantelpiece which belongs to her partner, cartoonist and artist Stu Shiffman.