Written by Anne C. Petty
Published by Journalstone
I’ve never been of the subscription that an author needs to reinvent the wheel in order to tell a compelling story. The devil is in the details, after all. Anne Petty’s Shaman’s Blood is, on the outside, a fairly standard story about a young woman with some pretty nasty skeletons in the proverbial family closet. As such, museum curator Alice Waterston finds herself in a race against time to uncover the circumstances behind her father’s mysterious disappearance in the Australian Outback in order to defeat a deadly demon.
It sounds like well-worn territory and, to a certain degree, it is. Where Shaman’s Blood really works, however, in the way it spins its yarn. It takes the Godfather part II approach, if you will, by weaving two separate narratives of past and present together in a way that unfurls the plot at a nice, measured pace. In addition to Alice’s quest for the truth, there’s a parallel narrative set in 1960s focusing on a cursed boy and his struggle for survival. Sure, it’s all a bit predictable (the prologue sort of tips its hat to the direction of the story) but the characters are thrown into such interesting predicaments that it becomes difficult to put the book down. For example, one of our protagonists is forced to murdering a loved one who has become possessed by the supernatural. And it’s hard not to become invested in someone’s plight as a result of where the story goes.
Shaman’s Blood happens to be a sequel to Petty’s previous novel Thin Line Between, which also saw Alice Waterston as a main character. I haven’t read the prequel, but getting into this one wasn’t affected by that oversight. It’s still an easy read and Petty makes a few callbacks to what I have since learned were events in the first novel. Here it help fills the gaps so new readers can effectively jump into the story here without missing a beat.
Petty handles her characters with a deft touch, illustrating her ability to imbue these people with unique and interesting voices. No perspective is written in exactly the same way, giving off the illusion of living, breathing people populating this horror story. And while her exploration of aboriginal superstitions and legacies is admittedly well-researched, it does trip over the story from time to time. It’s a common trap for authors to want to include as much of their research as possible in a story, but Shaman’s Blood crosses the line of authenticity, treading instead on the laborious.
It’s also not scary. When dealing with demons and forgotten evil creatures, there’s a tendency to expect unsettling moments. While there are some doses of suspense along the way, it never realizes its full potential. Petty successfully crafted a very easy read here, but one can’t help but feel the missed opportunity at times.
It’s that missed opportunity that also helps sink the ending. In all likelihood, we can expect a third part to conclude this series, but that doesn’t give Shaman’s Blood the right to conclude like someone ripped the last chapter right out of the book. This is an ever-increasing trend in horror fiction and it’s one that should be stomped out ASAP. Authors shouldn’t try tempting readers into waiting for their next book at the sake of diminishing the impact of THIS one. As it stands, there’s enough to enjoy about Shaman’s Blood, but it might’ve worked a bit better had it gone just a bit further.
3 out of 5