26 July 2018

Review - Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw

Cover by Will Staehle and
Lisa Marie Pompilio
Dreadful Company (Greta Helsing, 2)
Vivian Shaw
Orbit, 26 July 2018
PB, 399pp

I'm grateful to Orbit for an advance copy of Dreadful Company.

The Palais Garnier.

The Catacombs.

An underground lake...

A follow-up to last year's Strange Practice, which introduced Greta Helsing, physician to London's population of monsters, Dreadful Company sees her off to Paris to present a paper at a medical conference - and to catch a little culture at the Opera.

But Paris, too, has its share of monsters - and one of them sees Helsing as the perfect way to settle a score with her friend, vampire Edmund Ruthven. For Greta, it won't be a quiet trip...

If you enjoyed Strange Practice you'll certainly go for this sequel. Shaw has a smart, acerbic style, well suited to Greta's level-headed, patient-first approach to life (and undeath). Greta does this work because it needs doing. She's not trying to save the world or to rid it of evil, simply to relieve suffering. It's not her fault that the masters sometimes have other ideas, but despite that, she still keeps her well developed moral sense, for example intervening here to help a young vampire who has been carelessly "turned" by a coven and left with no advice or guidance about her new life.

Shaw is also good at evoking the strange world and society of the monsters, together with the bureaucracy of Hell which, for reasons not yet given, is especially dedicated to preserving reality (we don't see much of the angels). With whip-sharp dialogue, coolly observed characters (I loved Grisaille, the guilt-ridden old vampire, and the "remedial psychopomps" Crepusculus Dammerung and Gervase Brightside) and no end of clever allusions, focussing, but not limited to, classic horror literature (I spotted Les Mis as well as Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and MR James) the author seems to be having great fun here and it can't help but rub off on the reader.

The story has, perhaps, slightly lower stakes than Strange Practice and is more focussed than that book on vampires in particular with fewer other monsters (though I adored the well monsters - I will never read MR James's The Treasure of Abbot Thomas in quite the same way again). This means we find out plenty more about the vampires, and their several ways of living among us, which Shaw has worked out very carefully, as well as seeing the relationship between Ruthven, Varney and Helsing develop (I have to say that while enjoying the book overall I found Ruthven's almost proprietoral attitude to Helsing a bit creepy - overall, I prefer Varney...)

We do though get a chance to see Greta coping with an extremely dangerous situation on her own, using those same medical and "people" (if I can use that word of the undead!) skills, perhaps a bit in contrast to the violence of Strange Practice (though this book does also have plenty of violence).  Overall i loved revisiting Greta'a world.

The book is, again, furnished with a wonderfully evocative woodcut design by Will Staehle and
Lisa Marie Pompilio. I hope they'll be back for Grave Importance, the third book in the series, due next year, which I'm already looking forward to.

For more about Dreadful Company, see the publisher's website here.

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