Dr. Greta Helsing, monster doctor, and her friends are back in Dreadful Company, the followup to Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw, and this book is better than the first. (You can read it without the first, as well, since only the characters continue, and you’re given what you need to know about them.)
Greta is in Paris for a medical conference about treating the supernatural. Her vampire friend Ruthven is taking her to the opera, but that’s the last bit of civilization she’ll see for a while, after they run into a coven of baby vamps, newly created. They’re led by Corvin, who wants to engage in every vampire cliche possible, from glittering to midnight drug-fueled parties with no thought to how their growing number of victims will reveal their existence. He seems to have watched The Lost Boys a few too many times, and his ridiculous posturing is both hilarious and threatening, as happens when an idiot gets too much power.
The supporting characters include Varney, another vampire and dear friend of Greta’s; the werewolf who runs the Paris community of oddities; two immortal psychopomps, who go around cleaning up ghosts in very civilized fashion; and the random demon. There are also a couple of pet-like beasties introduced, wellmonsters (who love damp places and guarding treasures) and hairmonsters, something like dogs but with no faces, just lots of hair. They add a lovely air of oddness to the events, as well as demonstrating Greta’s unique knowledge and caring for the unusual. Her job, doctoring monsters, has been well thought through and is full of details about unusual ailments that are some of my favorite parts of the books.
Shaw’s characters allow for wonderful dialogue, as they go about their rather strange business, and the disdain for the vamp wannabes is palpable and funny. Greta’s feisty, clever, and capable, making her someone worth spending time with. And Shaw’s love for the city of Paris and its storied history makes the reader want to visit. Her friends wind up getting involved in potentially earth-shattering battles, but restoring the balance of magic in the region takes second place compared to taking care of those important to you.
Dreadful Company is less creepy, more magical and personal than the first book, which is why I liked it more. I didn’t want to leave their world because I had so much fun spending time with the characters and was so caught up in their adventures. It feels like a grown-up Alice in Wonderland, with the same kind of trip through an unusual world populated with imaginative creations. I’m thrilled to see the series continuing, as well — the next book, Grave Importance, out next summer, sends Greta to a French health spa for mummies.