Publication Date – 24 July 2018
Those looking for an entertaining, intriguing and different take on the horror genre should investigate Dreadful Company, the latest book from author Vivian Shaw, which contains a thrilling story based around the doctor to your favourite fictional monsters.
Greta Helsing is London’s medical practitioner for the undead, providing specialised treatment to the city’s hidden community of ghouls, vampires, mummies and zombies. After being called to Paris to attend a supernatural medical conference, Greta’s plans to enjoy a stimulating discourse and debate on monster medicine is ruined when she is suddenly kidnapped off the street. Her abductors turn out to be a coven of young and murderous vampires led by the unhinged Corvin, who bears a particular grudge against Greta’s vampire friend Ruthven. Even more concerning, a member of Corvin’s coven is using magic to summon small and friendly magical creatures. While the creatures may be harmless, the ripples they are causing in reality are not, and represent a significant threat to our world.
While Greta is trapped in the tunnels and catacombs below Paris, her friends arrive in the city to save her. Legendary elder vampire Ruthven and Greta’s vampyre boyfriend, Sir Francis Varney, team up with Paris’s guardian werewolf, two immortal paranormal investigators and the city’s resident demon to free Greta and put an end to the dimensional instability. But Greta and her companions are about to find out that there are weirder and more dangerous things than a collection of bloodthirsty vampires in the tunnels underneath Paris.
Dreadful Company is Shaw’s follow-up to her 2017 debut novel, Strange Practice, and is the second book in her Dr Greta Helsing series. Dreadful Company returns several of the protagonists from the first book while also adding in a healthy number of new and exciting characters. A third book in the series is already planned; I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Grave Importance next year.
Shaw’s latest book contains a fun and electrifying adventure that pits several ancient beings and their doctor against a coven of vampires and the magical catastrophe they have created. The author tells her story through a range of characters to show many different perspectives of the adventure taking place. Not only is every single protagonist – including returning characters Greta, Ruthven and Varney, as well as new characters the werewolf St Germain, the remedial psychopomps Brightside and Dammerung and the demon Irazek – a point of view character, but so are several of the young vampires who serve as the book’s antagonists. This allows Shaw to tell a much wider story. Not only is the central adventure explored in greater detail from a several angles, but the motivations, shared histories and the underlying thought processes of the story’s key players are presented to the reader.
Shaw has made a smart decision to change the book’s main setting from London to Paris. Many writers can get bogged down in one location during their series, but Shaw did a fantastic job adapting her story to a completely new and unique cityscape, a trend that she will apparently continue to follow in her 2019 addition to the series. Shaw makes full use of several iconic Paris locations, particularly the catacombs and tunnels underneath the streets, which are the perfect setting for a horror story. Overall, Dreadful Company contains a rather exciting adventure story that makes spectacular use of its horror and fantasy elements, while also making use of the humour and history of its many point-of-view characters to lighten the darker tone of the book and create a unique and entertaining read.
I was extremely happy that Shaw included more examples of monster medicine within Dreadful Company. The examination of the medical techniques used on supernatural characters was one of the best features of Strange Practice, and was a very unique and compelling element of this first book. There are a number of wonderful general monster medicine scenes throughout the book, including a supernatural medicine conference where topics include ‘An overview of the various treatment modalities for tissue degeneration in Class A revenants’ (how to stop bits falling off zombies). Readers will really enjoy Dreadful Company’s interesting focus on the medicine of vampires. Shaw did spend a little time exploring the biology and treatment of vampires in the first book, which is expanded upon in Dreadful Company. There are several discussions about vampire anatomy and physiology, including some of the features of the different vampire subspecies. There is also a detailed look at the effect of certain substances on vampiric characters, including drugs and garlic, as well as the surprisingly devastating absinthe. The protagonist is also forced to treat a number of different vampire characters for a variety of different conditions, including an overdose, stab wounds and an infection caused by a ghoul bite. Once again, Shaw’s inclusion of monster medicine was an amazing part of this book, and I am looking forward to the third novel in the series, Grave Importance, which will focus on the care of mummies.
Aside from the examination of vampire biology, Shaw has also included a fascinating look into the different vampire mentalities, particularly when it comes to the old school versus the young bloods. The two elder vampire characters, Ruthven and Varney, are reformed from their violent past and are instead trying to live normal and peaceful lives alongside humans. The younger vampires, on the other hand, are bloodthirsty creatures who don’t follow any rules, kill indiscriminately and indulge in drugs and wanton behaviour. The differences between the behaviours of these two different types of vampires are quite noticeable, especially when the younger vampires try to live up to all of the vampire stereotypes, such as sleeping in coffins, wearing elaborate clothes and makeup, making up dumb names for themselves, developing a superiority complex and trying out various ways to make themselves glitter. While these inclusions are extremely fun, the readers will really experience chills when they see how angry the usually calm characters Ruthven and Varney get when they encounter these younger vampires and realise what taboos they have broken.
In addition to the creative and captivating use of vampire characters throughout the book, Shaw has referenced several other classic horror creatures and villains. There are several allusions to Frankenstein and The Phantom of the Opera, with the protagonists actually visiting the Phantom’s underground lair at one point. There are also other creatures, such as magically summoned hair monsters, well monsters and a whistle-summoned spirit, all of which play an interesting role in the plot. Some great humour also comes from the inclusion of several ghosts, many of whom can be found having a lively party in Paris’ iconic Père Lachaise cemetery. Highlights of this scene include a snarky Oscar Wilde and a musical Jim Morrison, both of whom have some great interactions with the new characters, Brightside and Dammerung.
Dreadful Company sees new author Vivian Shaw return with another fun and thrilling horror novel that contains a fast-paced adventure and a light comedy enhance tone. Shaw has invested in a range of new characters, a fresh setting and some appealing fantasy and horror elements. The author’s clever and memorable inclusion of monster medicine once again shines through as the book’s best feature, as well as the detailed examination of the vampire psyche. An absolutely amazing second outing from Shaw, Dreadful Company is a fantastic read that will prove to be both unique and captivating to a huge range of readers.