Title: Urban Shaman
Author: Lyn Gala
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel / 360 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
A guest review by Kassa
New York City cop Miguel Rassin’s life is going downhill fast. He’s got a spotty record from the Army, a one-night stand who won’t go away, and a flock of reporters trying to crucify him for shooting a civilian waving a toy pistol. Now kids are turning up missing in the Bronx, and he’s partnered with by-the-book Detective Rob Jackson, a man with problems of his own. Their first suspect is a local shaman, Nikolai Adleman, who is either the strangest holy man ever or a con working his own angle.
Miguel’s trying to navigate a baffling case that has more questions than answers, caught between a surprising physical desire for Nikolai and his new partner’s suspicions about a shaman who claims supernatural forces are at work. Miguel has always tried to avoid relationships out of guilt and fear, but Nikolai sees the darkness in Miguel’s heart—and the fortitude Miguel has hidden deep inside, a strength that will help him solve the case and reclaim his life.
Urban Shaman is a breath of fresh air in the m/m genre. The story is fabulously unique, immediately engaging, and very interesting despite the heavy mysticism and philosophy leanings. It isn’t really a romance though and it definitely isn’t an erotic romance. There are hints of romance but the story is really about relationships in general in a vivid urban setting. The writing and depth of characterization carries the story from start to finish and there are a few very mild hanging threads at the end. If you’re looking for a great book with well defined characters, a fascinating topic, a dash of mystery, a dash of romance, and a graphic urban setting, hopefully you’ll love this as much as I did.
The story starts off with the kidnapping of a young child in NYC. Miguel Rassin is a cop with a bad history in the community and he’s partnered with a hard nosed, take no prisoners detective to investigate the disappearances. With seven children missing, the community is scared and not talking leaving Miguel and his partner frustrated and anxious. The community is watched over by a local shaman, Nikolai Adleman. Nikolai seems totally out of place with his contradictory appearance, confusing way of speaking, and complete belief in magic, but he’s just as determined to find the missing children. When Miguel is ordered to listen to Nikolai instead of dismissing him as insane rambling, Miguel slowly finds that maybe all of Nikolai’s talk of magic and shaman rites is not so crazy.
The plot is character driven with the missing children mystery as the vehicle to look at different relationships between people. The resolution to the police case is actually one of the weaker aspects and is resolved in part by police work and in part with mysticism. But the resolution is almost not important by that point and just a way to close up that loose thread. Really the story is a study and look at how people relate to each through the eyes of a total skeptic, Miguel, as he views a complete believer in Nikolai. The story follows Miguel’s third person point of view as he sees those around him from his by the book, bull in a china shop partner to the community with drug dealers and poor tenants and finally Nikolai in all his confusing and intriguing glory.
Miguel is good character as a cop with a past. He had a traumatic end to his military career and is plagued with endless guilt, shame, and anger at the events that happened around him in Iraq. He’s angry at his own fellow soldiers who took advantage of the people and actually identifies with a young child suicide bomber. He feels a lot of guilt and shame at siding with the child and his feelings are a complicated, intricate mix. He also is dealing with severe negative backlash from a recent shooting incident which he was cleared for but the media won’t let die. Miguel is skeptical and frequently wonders if Nikolai is a conman, on drugs, mentally unbalanced, or simply touched in the head. His slow discovery of understanding the man, who he is and why he does what he does forms the real driving force of the story.
This understanding is really fascinating and it ties in a wealth of topics. Nikolai is a genuine believer and practitioner of magic. He calls himself the shaman of the tribe or his community. He is also very complicated and interesting as he understands the dark side as well as the light. He doesn’t consider himself a good person but he knows he’s a good shaman. He can help people but often in ways that leave him battered and unpopular. Despite this, his community comes together to help him and protect him. Everyone from the drug dealers to the religious respect Nikolai and his abilities and the story shows Miguel slowly starting to understand why. Their relationship is often tense and uncomfortable when their views clash, yet a mutual respect forms that eventually leads to romance.
The issues brought up from mysticism to religion, philosophy, community dynamics, race relations, and more are all handled very well and never seem to preach or teach. Instead it feels more like a glimpse into a community with all its ups and downs, the relationships people have with each other as they revolve around the characters of Nikolai and Miguel. Nikolai is a very intelligent, capable man that makes some surprising choices. I found myself on the same journey as Miguel, since I can’t say I believe in magic, so I really loved watching Nikolai explain – in his totally confusing, circular way of talking – why he believes so deeply. All the while Miguel is trying to figure out if Nikolai should be locked up or treated like a treasure. I will say some of these conversations felt repetitive and a little long winded, but thankfully there are only a few like that.
Unfortunately for all the wonderful things going on in this story, it’s a little weak on the romance aspect. In fact the slow friendship forming between Miguel and Nikolai during the story never feels romantic until the very end. By this I mean the last 30 pages of the book get slightly romantic with one brief sex scene. It’s also not a very explicit scene either with some minor frottage. So those who go into this wanting an erotic romance may be disappointed. I personally didn’t mind and found the story fascinating on a lot of other levels, although I would have liked the romance to be more obvious earlier. There are also a few minor threads not entirely wrapped up.
This is not a paranormal story though but a contemporary that deals with magic in the world. It has an incredibly vivid, gritty urban NY setting that leaps off the page. Combined with the wonderful characters, truly intriguing and interesting story, and solid writing delivering a book that stands out as totally unique and really refreshing. It has a lot of complexity that even this long winded review can’t do justice to but it’s not hard to read and actually the pages fly by pretty quickly. The relationship between Nikolai and Miguel and the characters themselves are easily some of the most interesting I’ve read and would recommend the book based on that alone. But thats just one of many reasons why I think readers will like this. Considering the publisher, I think most people will assume more erotic romance content than actually there so if you know going into the story it’s a very small part, hopefully no one will be surprised and disappointed.