BOOKS: This is the author's reading order for the books.
The entire woo-woo plot of the final novel revolves around the once-and-for-all defeat of the Master, who has been stalking Joanne all through the series. Although it has been just 15 months in real time since the events in Urban Shaman (the first book), Joanne and her friends and enemies have spent a great deal of time in the distant past (frequently due to the time-bending abilities of one of Joanne's spirit animals). Nearly every scene in this book involves a physical-spiritual-magical battle between Joanne and the Master's avatars in various realms. One of those avatars is Raven Mocker, who escaped from Joanne in Mountain Echoes. In one imaginative scene, Joanne, Gary, and Morrison actually beat back a pair of avatars by chanting, respectively, Chief Seattle's prayer, a speech from Shakespeare's Henry V, and the Gettysburg Address. Eventually, Joanne confronts the Master himself and learns his true identity.
The character list for this book contains many who are familiar from earlier adventures. Here is a list of the main characters:
> Michael Morrison: Joanne's former boss and true love
> Suzanne (Suzy) Quinley: granddaughter of Cernunnos, god of the Wild Hunt
> The Master: Joanne's arch-enemy, who speaks and acts mostly through his avatars
First, Suzy Quinley shows up, claiming to have been summoned by someone who was trying to raise an earth element. Suzy explains what happened next: "When…I came through, so did something else. And it felt…bad. And I fought it, and I won, but it, like, leaked oil inside my head. All I can see is the darkness, futures where everything has gone dark." (p. 64) (Be sure to keep this scene in mind as you continue reading the book.)
Then, Morrison gets an urgent message that there has been a mass murder at Thunderbird Falls, an important magical site in Seattle that has played a major role in past books. When Joanne reaches the Falls she discovers that its abundance of white magic has been turned dangerously black by one of the Master's avatars. From that point on, Joanne fights the Master in all his human and spiritual forms as Seattle falls in ruins around her. These battles consume more than 80% of the book.
Because the Master and his avatars can possess any human, Joanne (and the reader) never know whom to trust. As usual, Joanne makes many, many errors in judgment as she fights for her own survival as well as for her friends, for Seattle, and for the world at large, but the Master eventually gets his just due in a very unexpected manner. Murphy resolves the Master's punishment in the woo-woo manner that dominates this book (and the series in general), but for me, it was somewhat unsatisfying because it was so mystical and nonphysical. Unfortunately, the battles include the deaths of several familiar characters, and some of those scenes are quite heart-breaking.
I have to admit that this series got so deeply and enigmatically mythological and spiritual towards the end that I had trouble sticking with it. My tastes tend to run towards urban fantasy that is more realistic and less esoteric. But still, I love the primary characters, particularly Joann, Gary, Morrison, and Coyote (in both his forms), although Morrison was much more engaging in the early books when his scenes with Joanne were filled with sardonic dialogue and when their attraction to one another simmered in the background. Throughout the series, Murphy has done a fine job in her character development, giving each one (including the animal spirits) a distinctive personality and back-story. Sometimes the plots tend to drag (as is true in this book) because there are so many repetitious battles. For me, the strongest scenes are the ones that focus on the interpersonal relationships among the characters.
> Gancanagh: A male fairy who tries to help Joanne, but causes trouble the entire time he's with her because he has the ability to seduce women by taking the form of the one they love best. You can guess whose form he takes for Joanne. Unfortunately, Joanne's traveling companion at that point is Maebh, and to her he looks like her cheating former husband, Aillil. Much violence ensues when Joanne and Maebh throw some jealous fits.