Reviewed: May 14, 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Walker Papers, Book 6
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 368 Pages
Formats: Print, eBook
Disclosure: This book was provided to me free of charge through the Amazon.com Vine program for the purpose of an honest review. All thoughts, comments, and ratings are my own.
It's been fifteen months since cop mechanic and cynic Joanne Walker became warrior shaman and Seattle detective. In those fifteen months, she's been stabbed, hung, strung out, strung up, wiped out and beat down. She's done battle with creatures that aren't supposed to exist outside of grim horror stories or fantasy books. She's had crises of faith, been riddled with self doubt and guilt, and gotten several close friends almost killed just by associating with her. But she ain't dead yet.
And for Joanne, born Siobhán Walkingstick, that's practically a victory in and of itself.
There is one thing that Joanne's never done; she's never shot anyone. Until the night her and her partner Billy Holliday were sent to respond to a domestic disturbance call and walked into a murder scene. While clearing the house, the suspect surprises them and takes a swing at Billy's head with a nail-studded baseball bat. Joanne takes her down, and suffers a psychic backlash that lets her know in no uncertain terms that there is a bit of a conflict brewing between the cop she wants to be and the shaman she is.
Even six months ago that sort of emotional fallout and short blitz of her shamanic powers would have freaked Joanne out or seriously disrupted her confidence, but Joanne's lived a lot in a short amount of time and she's both growing into her powers and growing up. Still, police regulations puts her on a mandatory three day suspension following the shooting, and she's okay with that, really. It's not like trouble won't find her anyway. It always has. It probably always will.
Of course it did.
A psychic murder, a touring troupe of spirit dancers, disappearing homeless, an abrupt incidence of shapeshifting...yeah, those are bad problems, but none of them are what has Joanne most discombobulated. No, that top prize is awarded to perhaps the most bizarre thing Joanne's ever dealt with, including the craziness of her life the last few months: a date with her boss, Captain Morrison.
Say what you will about Joanne Walker, her life is definitely never boring.
This sixth installment of The Walker Papers is a streamlined, pared down actionfest with a more poised and confident Joanne at the helm. It's hard to believe that the character who once annoyed me with all the whining about the general suckiness of the shamanic side of her life has blossomed into this slightly jaded, world-weary yet valiant warrior who is starting to finally grasp the big picture of her destiny. She's evolved into a character that I thoroughly enjoy and one I find comfortably easy to relate to for all her very normal and believable quirks and foibles.
The plot of Spirit Dances is far more cohesive than its predecessor, and either I'm getting used to the world or there just wasn't so much of the woo-woo stuff that normally makes my brain hurt, because I found this book far easier to follow and never felt overwhelmed by the magical aspects. I've always loved the first person point of view narration, because Joanne is the sort of sarcastic, self-effacing, honest-with-herself type that I find caustically humorous, but I've never been all that clear on some of the more esoteric scenes in the books in this series. There were blessedly few of them here, and the Big Bad was much easier to wrap my head around than some of the others have been.
The flip side of that coin (because obviously, I'm never satisfied) is that in this instance it felt a little too much of the depth and complexity had been stripped away, with a plot that was relatively - and surprisingly - one-note. The shaman crime solving was pretty cut and dry, the perpetrator revealed without too much fuss, and the ancillary plot threads were fewer and more widely spaced through the book.
There was far more Morrison than in any previous book, though, so I certainly can't complain overly much, as their scenes have always been my favorite part of this series, but beyond him, Billy, and Billy's wife Melinda, there was hardly any of the secondary and ancillary characters that we've previously met. I felt Gary's absence most keenly, as he was away from town when all the shenanigans started kicking up, but there wasn't much of anyone else we know, nor much in the way of new characters that look like they might stick around for awhile.
On the character development front, we got a few pretty massive upgrades for Joanne. She seems to be on the precipice of something significant and life altering and I'm looking forward to seeing where her journey takes her. There were also some great moments between Joanne and Morrison that I've been waiting for, hoping for, and praying for since the first book, but like everything else in this Murphy-created world, satisfaction goes hand-in-hand with frustration. I just don't trust that there won't be the one-step-forward-three-steps-back tango in even more detail the next go 'round.
The smooth, conversational writing style and the ever-growing confidence, increased competence, and complete likability of Joanne are strong attractors for this series, and significant changes and happenings in this book make it a must-read for fans. I sincerely hope book seven will be out later this year, but wouldn't be surprised if it's not available until early next. I'm torn between anticipation and nerves over the next one, because the Spirit Dances conclusion seemed a bit open-ended and took me by surprise. I'd say that this almost felt like a transitional book in the series, but honestly, some of the weighty importance in several scenes make me think it could be even more than that. A true turning point has been reached. I look forward to the new direction.
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