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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Underground" by Kat Richardson

Official Kat Richardson Website
Order “Underground
Read An Excerpt
Read Reviews via Darque Reviews

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Awarded a BA in Magazine Editing from Cal. State Long Beach, Kat Richardson is the author of the Greywalker urban fantasy series which includes “Greywalker”, “Poltergeist” and the new book, “Underground”. She also dabbles in other text forms and media including: RPGs (Moon Elves); Film (The Glove); Computer Games (T2X); and Comics (Dangerous Days). Upcoming releases include the “Wolfsbane & Mistletoe” (October 7, 2008) anthology edited by Charlaine Harris & Toni L. P. Kelner, and the “Mean Streets” (January 2009) omnibus with Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, and Thomas E. Sniegoski.

PLOT SUMMARY: Harper Blaine was your average small-time P.I. until she died—for two minutes. Now Harper is a Greywalker, treading the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm. And she’s discovering that her new abilities are landing her all sorts of “strange” cases…

In the cold of winter, Pioneer Square’s homeless are turning up dead and mutilated, and zombies have been seen roaming the streets of the Underground—the city buried beneath modern Seattle. When Harper’s friend Quinton fears he may be implicated in the deaths, he persuades her to investigate their mysterious cause.

Harper and Quinton discover in the city’s past a pattern to the deaths that points to an inhuman killer stalking the modern citizens of the Underground and raising the walking dead in its wake. But when Harper turns to the city’s vampire denizens for help, they want nothing to do with the investigation.

For this creature is no vampire. Someone has unleashed a monster of ancient legend upon the Underground, and Harper must deal with both the living and the dead to find the creature and put a stop to it…unless it stops her first…

CLASSIFICATION: Following the same template used by many authors in the urban fantasy subgenre, Kat Richardson’sUnderground” has detective/police procedural elements mixing it up with the paranormal in a contemporary urban setting. The book also utilizes a first-person POV, and has horror, romance, and sarcastic humor thrown into the mix, although the latter two are notably low-key while the novel’s supernatural aspect is surprisingly dark and violent at times. Of course, compared to
Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels, “Underground” is quite tame overall and warrants more of a PG-13 rating. In short, if you’re a fan of Kim Harrison, Carrie Vaughn, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Tanya Huff, et cetera, then Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series might be up your alley…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 344 pages divided over twenty-two chapters, a prologue/epilogue, and an Author’s Note. Narration is in the first-person via the protagonist, Harper Blaine. Story is self-contained, but “Underground” is the third novel in Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series after “Greywalker” and “Poltergeist”, with more sequels to come. Currently, the author is working on book four, “Vanished”.

August 5, 2008 marks the North American publication of “Underground” via
Roc Books and is actually Kat Richardson’s Hardcover debut. The UK Paperback version (see inset) will be released August 7, 2008 via Piatkus Books. The US cover art is provided by Chris McGrath, another favorite :)

ANALYSIS: Normally I hate starting a series in the middle, but I decided to make an exception with Kat Richardson’sUnderground”. Part of the reason is because the publicist personally requested a review, but it also has to do with meeting the author at
Norwescon 31, the fact that she lives in Seattle, Washington—which in a way has become my new home—the positive comments that I’ve heard about the Greywalker series, and also because I was in the mood for some urban fantasy :) So, I plunged into Harper Blaine’s world, and while the novel had its fair share of problems, I didn’t regret my decision…

Starting with the good, Kat Richardson’sUnderground” has several positives going for it including the Seattle backdrop. What I like about Seattle in the book is that the city is treated like an actual character and is a three-dimensional creation complete with “real-life geography” and historical details such as Pioneer Square, Occidental Park, the Great Fire, the 1949 earthquake, Prohibition, Bartell Drugs, etc. Plus, it’s refreshing to read a story that is set somewhere besides New York, Los Angeles, London, or whatnot.

Also refreshing was how little romance or humor there was in the novel in contrast to the supernatural angle. To me, it seems like a lot of urban fantasy series these days want to be sexy, funny, or both—which is all fair and good if done right—but sometimes I wish the authors would concentrate more on the paranormal aspect and approach the material with a darker, more serious attitude. “Underground” isn’t perfect in this regard as the book has sex, banter and so on, but the book is a little grittier than many of its counterparts, and it’s a characteristic that I really appreciated.

My favorite part of “Underground” though was the author’s use of the paranormal. At first glance, the idea of a person “treading the thin line between the living world and the paranormal realm” didn’t seem very original. Nor the ghosts, zombies, vampires or witches that show up in the novel. But Kat brings a fresh perspective to these concepts such as Harper’s Grey-sensitive senses which allow her to see, smell and taste the world in a whole new light, or being able to shift backwards in time through pockets of memories. Additionally, the vampires in the book are hiding some dark secret—a creature that possibly hunts vampires—Harper is educated on the different types of zombies and monsters out there including the shaggymen; ghosts also come in different forms; and Kat even uses the law of physics to explain shape-shifting. Which is all interesting stuff, but it’s with the Native American mythology like the legend of the monster Sisiutl and its master, Qamaits, that Kat really outdoes herself, injecting some much appreciated freshness into the urban fantasy genre…

On the negative side, the writing—while competent—lacks personality and is boring. This includes stiff dialogue and wooden characters who are one-dimensional and hard to care about. In fact, the city of Seattle possesses more individuality and is better developed than any of the actual characters in the book. Of the novel’s romantic and humorous elements, Kat is not very good at either one. Humor in “Underground” is dry and forced, while the romance is underdeveloped and far more annoying than it is sexy, so it’s a good thing that there is so little of it in the book. As far as the story, the central plotline/mystery is intriguing, but it takes a while to get going, and the twists toward the end aren’t difficult to decipher.

As for starting the Greywalker series with the third book, it wasn’t an issue for me. Sure, I missed out on the previous interactions between Harper and such returning characters as William Novak, Quinton, Edward Kammerling, the necromancer Carlos, Cameron, the Danzigers, etc., as well as references to the previous books including Blaine’s ‘origin’, but “Underground” works well as a standalone novel and does enough to bring the reader up to date.

CONCLUSION: Using the urban fantasy that I’ve read as a measuring stick, Kat Richardson’sUnderground” rates a little above average with supernatural creativity, atmosphere and setting the book’s strengths; and prose, characterization, dialogue and romance/humor its weaknesses. Basically, “Underground” is the kind of book that I would check out from the library for a fast-paced, entertaining time, but would never read again. Still, the novel displays potential and if Kat Richardson can improve her writing so it’s on the same level as her strengths, then the author’s Greywalker books could become something really special. Until then, “Underground” is worth a look, but there is much better urban fantasy out there to be enjoyed…


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