Vanished - Kat Richardson

~~Moved from GR~~


by Kat Richardson


Possibly due invalid expectations, I found this book to be a disappointing read. When I started the Greywalker series, I thought the books had some failings, but also quite a few brilliant moments, and I was enraptured by the notion of a female protagonist of an urban fantasy who acted like a human being rather than a heroine of a romance. In Poltergeist, my favorite of the series, the plot takes on more of the character of a whodunit than hardboiled detective, which I think fit Richardson's style and pacing much better.

However, the last two books have veered increasingly towards suspense/ hardboiled detective, and in my opinion, Richardson is ill-fitted for this genre. I found the plot of the book clumsy, the writing incredibly abrupt and jerky, and the plot holes to be so large you could jump through them.

One odd detail I found it hard to forgive was the prologue at the start of the book where Harper Blaine introduces herself, explains the Grey, and gives dire hints about the plot. After four books, I feel that Richardson should be able to introduce her characters in the story rather than depending on such an off-putting and clumsy device. I think the prologue made me less patient with the rest of the prose, which was otherwise workmanlike, causing me to pick out flaws that otherwise would have sailed by me. First, "snark" is continually used as a verb. I really only hear it as a noun, and if it is to be used in a book, it should be used sparingly. In addition, Richardson misused the term "irony" several times, a pet peeve of mine. For example, on pp. 302, she thinks it's "ironic" that a place where her boss stored stuff is close to her boyfriend's apartment. That's not irony. It's not even much of a coincidence.

I found characterization in this one to be more unnatural than in previous stories, possibly because Richardson had placed her character outside Richardson's own element. Harper's relationship with her mother stood out for me as especially flat and unrealistic. Harper genuinely despises her mother, yet apparently spent her childhood bending to her every whim. I don't think Richardson really understands destructive family relationships. I know people who say they hate and despise their parents, but everyone I know with any sort of toxic relationship with their family are secretly desperate for their parents' approbation and love. That is, in fact, where we usually feel the power and pathos of damaging family relationships:the paradox of hatred and desperate need for acceptance and approval. Harper, on the other hand...just didn't care. Other than this case, although the characters didn't feel particularly realistic to me, I didn't detest any of them.

As someone who tends to fixate on details (why I read murder mysteries), I was also irritated by the naivete in some of the logistics. For example, Harper carries around a cell phone while on the run or trying to be incognito, and routinely calls a "secret" phone her boyfriend, who is wanted by the US government, has. Anyone knows (or should know) that cell phones can be trivially tracked, and that as soon as you call an "untraceable" phone, it's no longer incognito or untraceable. As another example, when Harper plans to arrive secretly to find a missing person, she lectures the reader on the importance of secrecy...then flies business, takes a near limo car, starts asking people on the street where the person is, goes straight to his house, and invades his home. That's incognito for you. She later sends precious documents through the mail, because clearly no-one is bribeable in that system.

One of the things that attracted me to the series was how different it was than standard UF. I was intrigued by the world of the Grey and excited to see what Richardson would do with it. But in this, the fourth book, the world and its rules still feel sloppy to me, with simply too many convenient revelations or misapprehensions about the power of Greywalkers. For example, apparently even Richardson realizes that Harper's unconvincing explanations would never work in real life--so now her powers of persuasion are apparently due to her magic! Contextually, this is because Harper doesn't understand the Grey, but to me, it just began to feel slipshod, as if there were no clear foundations in Richardson's mind about the rules of the world. I also found it hard to swallow the news that, like every other UF heroine, Harper is uber-super-special and every event in her life has been due to manipulations by the Big Bads. If they are so hypercompetent at pulling the strings, how have they been unable to stop this rather incompetent girl from slipping through their clutches? I could not shake off my skepticism. How could people who have cleverly arranged so much of Harper's life be so totally inept?

One of the things I enjoyed about Poltergeist was the golden-age mystery pacing, but I feel that this story would have lent itself to more suspenseful, pulse-racing scenes. There was a confusing mixture of peaks of excitement and lows of mundane meandering. For example, at one point, Harper is on the run with a magic light show exploding around her and all of London's vampires after her in a manhunt. Then, suddenly, there's a conversational break as they stop for food and a chat. Somehow the manhunt's magically over and they're finding housing and eating out at restaurants. At another point, we are thrown into what should have been a climactic confrontation with the villains--more on that later--and suddenly it's over and the characters are (I kid you not) stopping off at Marks & Spencer's.

Basically, it's: page later...

The pacing and plot together just felt unconvincing and illogical to me. In a completely offputting and unexpected moment, there is a confrontation with the apparently uber-powerful big bads. The big bads, despite having tons of power, magic, and weapons trained on our heroine, spend the time monologuing, decide to threaten Harper with torture...and let her escape. In another totally random confrontation, the big bad is also unbelievably weak and again avoids using any of the, you know, special skills and talents that were apparently used to manipulate Harper throughout her life. The climax turned into an anti-climax and left me disgusted and skeptical as a reader. In addition, there were tons of plot holes.

[For example, it was never explained why the jars were sent to Purcell. It was also never explained why a rather weak vampire was suddenly worth all of the effort. It was also not explained how the golem of Will, who was unable to talk except monosyllabically, was able to fool anyone.].

(show spoiler)

Overall, I really enjoyed the first few installments of the Greywalker series, but it seems to be evolving into a story less to my tastes. I expect that the stories will become more enjoyable as Richardson perfects the art of writing a thriller, but despite the conveniently dropped cliffhanger at the end, I don't think I'll be reading another Greywalker for a while.