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Monday, May 23, 2011


Author:  C. E. Murphy (Catie)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher and Titles:  Luna     
     BOOKS: This is the author's reading order for the books.   
           Urban Shaman (1/2009)
          “Banshee Cries” in Winter Moon anthology (10/2009)
           Thunderbird Falls (6/2009)
           Coyote Dreams (6/2009)
           Walking Dead (9/2009)
           Demon Hunts (6/2010)
           Spirit Dances (3/2011) 
           Raven Calls (2/2012)     
           No Dominion: The Walker Papers: A Garrison Report (1/2013, Gary's history plus series-related short stories)
          Mountain Echoes (2/2013)
           Shaman Rises (6/2014) (FINAL)

     Free on-line stories:
           "Magic Hath an Element" (the first chapters of Urban Shaman from Gary's point of view)
           "Rabbit Tricks" (comes after Coyote Dreams)
           "Forgotten But by a Few" (events in Spirit Dances from Gary's POV)

     Cross-Over Novella:
           "Easy Pickings" (11/2012, e-novella by C. E. Murphy & Faith Hunter in which Joanne Walker and Jane Yellowrock have an adventure in an alternate New Orleans.)  

     This post was revised and updated on 7/10/14 to include a review of Shaman Rises, the eleventh and FINAL book in the series. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and brief reviews of books 7, 8, and 10:

            BOOK 11:  Shaman Rises            
     Murphy does us all a huge favor in her "Author's Note" by providing a one-paragraph summary of each book in the series. I wish all authors of lengthy series would do the same! Joanne herself provides the following summary of the past two weeks of her life, which have been covered in the past few books: "I'd been running nonstop for two weeks, ever since a dance performance had caused me to accidentally turn Morrison into a wolf. And that had been the least of it. I'd also quit my job, stopped a sacrifice, gotten bitten by a werewolf, been to Ireland, made amends with my dead mother, defeated an avatar of evil, flown to North Carolina, reconciled with my estranged father, met the son I'd given up for adoption, and released an evil angel into the world." (p. 27) Joanne now has three spirit animals: a raven, a snake, and a walking stick (insect).

    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 AddressEventually, 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
   Cyrano Bia (aka Coyote): Joanne's mentor and ally
   Gary Muldoon: the cab driver who befriended Joanne back in book 1
   Annie Muldoon: Gary's supposedly dead wife
   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

     As the book opens, Joanne and Morrison are still in North Carolina when Joanne gets an urgent call from Gary Muldoon, who claims that Annie, his long-dead wife, has turned up alive but unconscious in a Seattle hospital. Joanne and Morrison immediately head back to Seattle, and just as they are making their first visit to Annie's hospital room, two seemingly unrelated events occur: 

     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.  

     Siobhan Grainne MacNamarra Walkingstick (aka “Joanne Walker”) is a six-foot tall, half-Cherokee, half-Irish police officer in Seattle. She is also a trained and experienced auto mechanic, which was her first job with the police department. Although Joanne has changed her Native American name and repressed her heritage for most of her life, a near-death experience triggers her abilities as a shaman, and she begins to use trances and dreams to move back and forth between astral realms, trying to solve both human and immortal problems. As the series progresses, Joanne's powers become quite strong—strong enough, in fact, to cause an earthquake and create a waterfall.

     Joanne's sidekick is cab-driver Gary Muldoon, who drums Joanne into her trances (he's away on a trip so he doesn't appear in Spirit Dances); her partner is Billy Holiday, a medium whose wife (Melinda) is a witch. Joanne’s nemesis (and possible love interest, she hopes) is her boss, Captain Michael Morrison, who tries to ignore Joanne’s magic but keeps being drawn into it. Her magical, mystical mentor is Coyote, who can take three different shapes: his namesake furry animal self, a red-skinned man, or an actual human. Joanne also has two other mystical helpers (Raven and Snake) who assist her in her magic and help her get out of the jams into which she constantly puts herself.

     Story lines in earlier books include an evil banshee who kills several humans in a quest for power, an ancient Celtic god who leads the Wild Hunt in search of a missing Rider, a coven of witches who try to reanimate an ancient spirit, and a zombie invasion of Seattle. Plots are mystically labyrinthine at times—particularly during Joanne’s frequent dreams and trances as she visits other planes of existence. The author doesn't provide much background information for Joanne's forays into various mythological pantheons, so it's easy for the reader to feel a bit lost at times.

            BOOK 7:  Spirit Dances            
     In book 7, Joanne's powers have advanced to an astonishing degree, and that development proceeds even further in this story. As usual, the disparate incidents in which Joanne gets involved seem unrelated, but no—they're all connected. they are: A woman whose life was saved by Joanne's magic presents Joanne with tickets to a Native American dance program; the lead dancer of the dance troupe is magically murdered (while Joanne and Morrison are in the audience on an actual date—hurray!); Joanne cures a woman's breast cancer; and a homeless man has his throat torn out on the streets of Seattle. Yes, indeed...they're connected, and Joanne and her magic are at the center of it all. Once again, the plots are outrageous in their inexplicably, but the action never stops, and Joanne's adventures are endlessly entertaining. I guarantee that you will gasp out loud at what Joanne does to Morrison in this story.

     As the book ends, Joanne and Morrison have taken a small step forward in their relationship, but Joanne is off to Ireland on the heels of a vision that is in some way related to her mother.  

            BOOK 8:  Raven Calls            
     To be absolutely alliterative about it, the plot of this book is confusing, chaotic, cryptic, and convoluted. As the story begins, Joanne is boarding a plane to Ireland in hopes of finding a cure for the werewolf bite she received the night before (at the end of the previous book). When she arrives, who should turn up at the Dublin Airport to meet her but her buddy, Gary Muldoon, who was ordered by Joanne's boyfriend/boss, Michael Morrison, to fly to her aid. Joanne and Gary head for the magical Hill of Tara, and this is where the madness begins. The plot seesaws its way back and forth in time as Joanne meets, converses with, and/or battles a series of supernatural beings. This is, unfortunately, a plot that is totally driven by immense quantities of Irish mythology and uncontrolled time travel. We get all of Joanne's Native American shamanism (her spirit animals, magic Garden, and magic sword) plus an overdose of Irish mythology (see below). Even Joanne's buddy/nemesis, Cernunnos, shows up to make another leering pass at her while he helps her win a battle or two. Due to the time travel situation, Joanne fights some of the mythological bad guys and gals more than once—in the far-past, the near-past, and the present.

     Here are some of the mythological beings Joanne meets. Click on the pink links for more information. Maybe if you read that information first, the plot will make more sense:

  > Meabh (aka Maeve): Queen of Connacht, wife of Aillil, The Morrigan's daughter, and a distant relative of Joanne's. She's one of Joanne's supporters. 

  > The Morrigan: Goddess of battle and strife, she's sworn allegiance to the Master and is Joanne's primary foe in this book even though she is also a distant ancestor. 

  > The Banshees: Fairy women who are the harbingers of death. In this book, the Banshees are sworn to the Master and are bringing death rather than foretelling it. Joanne's mother is one of the Banshees. 

  > Brigid: Another Irish fairy woman who shows up a few times to converse with Joanne in a friendly manner. 

  > The Master: He is apparently the god of Death and Destruction and The Morrigan is his assistant. Joanne has been battling him and his minions for many months. Other than "the Master," no other name is given. Is he Satan? We don't learn his true identity until the climax of the final novel, Shaman Rises.

  > Lugh and Nuada: Mythological Irish high kings who show up to move the story along. Both are friendly to Joanne. Nuada crafts Joanne's necklace—the one her mother gave her. That necklace keeps showing up around various necks throughout the story, depending on what time period they're in.   

  > 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.

     Along with her search for a cure for her werewolf bite, Joanne is also trying to save her late mother's soul. Throughout the book, Joanne behaves like an obnoxious adolescent, just the way she did in the early books of the series. Whenever she meets—or re-meets—one of the goddesses, she immediately begins the dialogue with wisecracks and rude remarks. Only at the very end does she have a face-to-face encounter with her younger "self" and finally puts that younger side of her to rest, hopefully forever.

     You may have noticed that I haven't given you a plot summary, and that's because the "plot" is either too confusing for me to understand, or it is just plain nonexistent. This is by far the weakest book in a series that, up until now, I've enjoyed immensely. In the next book, Joanne heads back to North Carolina to search for her father, who has gone missing. Let's hope that the mythology thins out and that Joanne has a few real-world experiences—preferably with Michael Morrison, who is entirely absent from this book. Well, not entirely, there are two phone calls in which they FINALLY admit that they love one another. 

     One last warning: I highly recommend that you read Spirit Dances before you read this book. Really, you should read one right after the other. I read Spirit Dances a year ago, and many of the details of that story line have slipped my memory. Luckily, I could dredge up a few bits and pieces of that plot so I could stumble through, but I can't imagine that a reader would be able to get through this book without some knowledge of the events that climaxed  Spirit Dances.   

            BOOK 10:  Mountain Echoes              
     When Joanne arrives back in the Qualla Boundary (the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina where she spent her unhappy teen years), she runs into all sorts of problems, some related to complicated human relationships and some connected with the supernatural, particularly the evil Master who has been chasing her since she was a child. In the previous book, Joanne and Gary trounced, but did not annihilate, the Master during their adventures in Ireland. Back in her high school years, Joanne was a sullen and hostile troublemaker, alienating most people in the Qualla with her bad attitude. Even though they soon realize that she is now a powerful shaman, they don't really want her help because they remember her as a bad seed.

     To review: Just as Joanne and Gary ended their adventure in Ireland, Jane got a phone call from her former friend, Sara Isaac, telling her to come home because Jane's father has disappeared. Back in high school, Joanne and Sara were BFFs, but then Jane slept with (and was impregnated by) a boy whom Sara secretly loved, and Sara has been hostile towards Jane ever since. Sara left the reservation to become an FBI agent, and she showed up in Seattle in Demon Hunts to help in the search for a supernatural serial killer. Sara is now married to Lucas, the father of Joanne's twins, and when Joanne learns that Lucas is also missing, she has to deal with Sara's fears for Lucas's safety as well as her fears that Joanne and Lucas will somehow fall in love and leave her behind. (There's nothing like a slap of bad high school backlash to stop a pair of strong, independent 21st century heroines right in their tracks!)

     Not only does Joanne have to deal with the hostility of the folks on the reservation, she must decide how to handle meeting her son for the first time since he was born. Aidan is now 12 years old, and he has wicked shamanic powers. He was adopted by a woman on the reservation who fears that Joanne will threaten her relationship with Aidan. Then Aiden goes off into the mountains alone, and Joanne has three people to find—all with a personal connection to her past. The story follows Joanne and—shockingly!—Morrison as they figure out what's going on and try to find the two missing men. This involves some time travel, a series of battles, and some great scenes between Joanne and Morrison—the ones we've been waiting for since book 1.

     The action part of the conflict is based on the pain suffered by the land that was damaged over the centuries by the exploitations of the white settlers and how that pain is now being used by the Master to create a chaotic situation that draws Joanne and Morrison right into the grasp of his Executioner. The story has a few periods of dense mythology that are (as usual) somewhat difficult to navigate, but for the most part, it moves right along with lots of action and emotion.

     The emotional part of the conflict involves the angst of Joanne's extremely complicated family relationships. Jane gets a chance to reunite with her father and learn why he never taught her to use her magical talents, and Morrison is able to prove that he is the right man for Joanne as he steadfastly backs her up both physically and emotionally throughout the story. Adding to the emotional mix is Joanne's newly developing relationship with her son, who is now an adolescent who belongs to his adopted mother, not to Joanne. If you're a regular series reader, I'd recommend this book for the Morrison story line alone. Both the development of the action and the depth of the characterization (particularly for Lester Lee, the sheriff (who has had a long-time crush on Joanne), and Sara (the nemesis) are well done, adding just the right amount of personal conflict to an exhilarating adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Book 7, "Raven Calls" is tentatively scheduled for 03/2012.