Friday, February 22, 2008

A vampire of a very different kind

Kim has an odd ability to think in pictures - bright washes of color and shapes that she aspires to portray in her artwork. In high school she tended to keep to herself, and had no real friends until the charismatic Shaina arrived from California, and - for some odd reason - singled Kim out to be her friend. Kim's life changes dramatically - she suddenly has a best friend, other friends at school, fun and parties and a sense of belonging. Until something terrible happens, taking away her happiness, her friends, and plunging her into a deep pit of depression where not even art is appealing anymore. Kim goes away to college, hoping for a fresh start.

Jaimie arrives at college nervously hoping she'll manage to fit in. It is her first time away from her family of elemental magic users - she has never spent much time around "normal" people before, and she's been given a very long list of topics she is forbidden to discuss with outsiders. She has very little clue what awaits her at college, so when she opens her assigned dorm room door and finds Kim there already, she's very surprised to find that she is going to have a roommate. Hiding her true nature will be even more of a challenge than she thought, but if she wants to learn to live on the "Outside," she has little choice.

It doesn't take long before Kim's overwhelming sadness reveals itself to Jaimie - but unlike Kim's family, Jaimie immediately realizes that Kim's sadness is not mere depression. It is somehow being caused by something outside Kim, and Jaimie suspects the culprit is a rogue viri, a sort of vampire that feeds off human emotions. Normally viri move through the world undetected, feeding harmlessly from people's emotions, but sometimes they become addicted to darker feelings, and there certainly appears to be something odd about Kim, something that makes her especially attractive to these vampiric creatures. Jaimie knows little about viri, other than the fact that one killed several of her relatives a few years earlier. How can she hope to help Kim when she is forbidden to even talk to her about what she suspects? Before she knows it, she's broken a lot of rules, but Rugee, the Presence (in the form of a very strange lizard) who has accompanied her to college, seems in agreement that Kim must be protected. However, the elders who arrive to investigate the situation are not at all pleased with Jaimie's behavior.

This novel is narrated in turn by Kim and Jaime, which was a bit confusing in the beginning because their voices are similar. It wasn't until I became used to their vocabulary and grew to knew their personalities better that I didn't have to keep referring to the "Jaimie" or "Kim" heading for each chapter. Jaimie has appeared in other of Hoffman's novels, but although I read them so long ago that they were fairly vague in my memory, this book stands well on its own.

This is my first official book of the Mythopoeic Challenge, but I would have definitely read it without that impetus - I love Nina Kiriki Hoffman's books. I particularly enjoyed this one, with its interesting characters and powerful sense of wonder, as well as the college setting (it gave me the same feeling I remember from Tam Lin, a book with a college setting that I'll be rereading for the Mythopoeic Challenge) and the unusual elemental magic Kim's family members perform. This is the kind of book that made me resent anything and everything that prevented my getting back to it. I highly recommend it!

Spirits That Walk in Shadow by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Viking, 2006)

Also reviewed at:
Reading in the Dark


  1. Sounds like an unusual world and premise. It's nice to hear of paranormal writers tackling something other than the typical werewolf and/or vampire.

  2. I've always wanted to be able to draw what I "see" when I read a book. Too bad I can't even draw a straight line!

    Sounds like a really good book.

  3. Heather - she is an excellent writer, and yes, it is definitely not run-of-the-mill stuff. I think you'd enjoy her books!

    Ladytink - if I could draw half of what comes into my mind's eye as I read, I'd be thrilled! But yeah, not gonna happen anytime soon, unfortunately. :0(

  4. The name of the author sounds familiar...I think I may have come across some of her short stories in anthologies. The premise is really interesting, and plus a similar feeling to Tam Lin...I'm sold! I'll be looking for this one.

  5. I think that Hoffman has written quite a lot of short fiction, and I've always enjoyed what I've read. I've heard her read at SF conventions - she's great! I think you'll enjoy her novels.

  6. Such a beautiful cover. I hadn't heard of this author but I am definitely adding it to my books to buy list. Sounds like just my kind of thing! I am loving the books on the Mythopoeic Challenge list and hope to read them all someday.

  7. I'm definitely enjoying the Mythoepoeic Challenge so far - it would be fun to read 10 books a year till we get to them all! I loved the cover of this one, too. I think you'll like it - you'll have to let me know if you read it!


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