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Literature / Dr. Greta Helsing

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The Dr. Greta Helsing novels are an Urban Fantasy series by Vivian Shaw (otherwise known as the fanfic author coldhope). They take place in an alternate contemporary London in which vampires, mummies, demons, and other supernatural beings secretly live alongside normal humans. The protagonist, Dr. Greta Helsing (yes, of those Helsings) is a human physician who specializes in monster medicine. While there is nothing whatsoever supernatural about Greta herself, her family's extensive history with the supernatural and the nature of her job puts her in the path of a lot of supernatural weirdness.

The series consists of:

  • Strange Practice
  • Dreadful Company
  • Grave Importance

Tropes present in the series include:

  • Alien Catnip: Absinthe may be a mere low-level Gargle Blaster for humans, but to vampires it's actively hallucinogenic.
  • Armed with Pepper Spray: At one point in Strange Practice, one of the "monks" hides in the backseat of Greta's car to ambush her. She empties her pepper spray canister into his eyes, which works better than normal thanks to the severe UV burns all over the guy's face.
  • The Armies of Heaven: In Grave Importance, the angelic armies of a parallel universe attack the Heaven of Greta's universe, deeming it "false".
  • Ascended Demon: Fastitocalon, sort of.
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: Heaven and Hell both have necessary roles in the universe's cosmology, and it isn't good for anybody if things get out of balance between them.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: Whistlers are not technically undead, but otherwise play the trope very straight. The bedsheet (or another large piece of fabric) is, in fact, essential for whistlers to manifest properly and interact with the physical world.
  • Black and Nerdy: Downplayed: August Cranswell is half-Nigerian and a professional history geek, but neither his race nor his nerdiness are dwelt on at length.
  • The Blank: Tricherpetons, nicknamed "hairmonsters", are shaggy doglike animals bred by afficionados in the supernatural community. Though loyal and affectionate, they sometimes creep people out, as a mouth (with pink doggy tongue) is the only facial feature they have.
  • Cavalry of the Dead: Invoked in the Paris Catacombs when the fight against the Big Bad Corvin and his vampire coven turns against the protagonists. Unfortunately for Corvin, the coven desecrated a lot of bodies to make their lair, and Greta's allies include two Psychopomps who offer the affronted spirits a chance to vent their displeasure.
  • Celestial Bureaucracy: Inverted, a major character used to work for the infernal bureaucracy (as an accountant).
  • Church Militant: Invoked by the Order of the Holy Sword.
  • City of the Damned: The centre of Hell is a huge, surprisingly ordinary city on the shore of the Lake of Fire, with plenty of amenities and one Doctor Faust working at a health spa. Whether any damned souls are actually tortured there is left unmentioned, but several mortal characters have a very pleasant visit.
  • Consistent Clothing Style: In Grave Importance, the billionaire Egyptologist Leonora van Dorne always wears an understated Simple, yet Opulent wardrobe, accented with a single piece of authentic ancient Egyptian jewellery. She has an extensive private collection of both.
  • Daywalking Vampire: Downplayed. Direct sunlight and strong artificial UV rays aren't good for vampires, but they can go outdoors in London in November without injury.
  • Faint in Shock: Leonora van Dorne takes a Screw the Rules, I Have Money! attitude to life's problems, but collapses when she gets her first glimpse behind the Masquerade and sees a Mummy. Fortunately for her, the mummy is of the non-malicious stripe and catches her, though not without a bit of ironic lurching.
  • Fantastically Challenging Patient: Greta's medical skills are internationally acclaimed, but as a Muggle with a Degree in Magic, she sometimes needs to bring in magical assistance for her procedures. There's cutting-edge osteopathic surgery for Mummies, but the bandages still need to be ritually reapplied.
  • Fighter, Mage, Thief: Of the main four supernatural men in Greta's life, Varney and Ruthven prove to be ferocious hand-to-hand fighters in the brawl with Corwin's coven; Fastitocalon's magic and technical knowledge of the same gets more impressive with every book; and Grisaille's professional thieving skills as a major plot point in book three. (This would make Greta herself the party cleric in D&D terms, as she's treated all four men for dire battle injuries or ailments.)
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: In-universe, this is considered the sensible way for blood-drinkers to conduct themselves. Draining people dry and leaving corpses around attracts all the wrong kinds of attention.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: The "monks" in Strange Practice have these, courtesy of the Light burning out their eyes and bonding with their souls.
  • God Is Good: He was missing for a long time, but he does come through and rescues the world from the apocalypse in the final book.
  • Heal It with Booze: At one point in Dreadful Company, Greta needs to treat an infected wound without access to her medical bag. When listing the supplies she'll need, she comments "you almost certainly don't have antiseptic on hand so bring me the highest-proof alcohol you can find."
  • Heirloom Engagement Ring: Defied by Francis Varney, who has plenty of heirloom jewellery lying around from a past that he's not very proud of. He dismisses it all and commissions a custom ring that thrills his fiancee, not least because it represents him moving on from the Supernatural Angst that hampered the beginning of their relationship.
  • Heel Realization: Leonora Van Dorne goes through one late in Grave Importance. As do Amitiel and Zophiel, once they actually grasp that their mission's success means genocidal slaughter of angels.
  • Historical Domain Character: The ghosts of few famous dead people (including Oscar Wilde) make cameo appearances in Dreadful Company.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Subverted with the "monks" in Strange Practice. At first, they are described in these terms, they are certainly disturbing to look at, and within the supernatural milieu the characters inhabit, they are an Outside-Context Problem, which makes them even creepier. It turns out that they are no less human than many members of the main cast, although their true origin is still very disturbing.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: All vampires are capable of "thralling" people through, which leaves them sedate and susceptible to suggestion. Varney stands out for having a thrall like getting hit by a very fluffy train, and Grisaille is able to thrall Greta into insensibility in a heartbeat without any passers-by noticing.
  • I Do Not Drink Wine: Zigzagged. Vampires can and do drink wine, other alcoholic beverages (although they'd be advised to stay away from absinthe), coffee, and tea. But they can't tolerate solid food.
  • Kidnapper's KFC: In Dreadful Company, Greta is abducted by a band of arrogant young vampires in Paris, whose leader hopes to get back at Lord Ruthven for chasing him out of London years ago. During her captivity, they keep feeding her nothing but confectionary croissants, apparently because 1) it's easy to pick them up at street cafes, and 2) the underling tasked with minding Greta vaguely recalls having liked them when he could still eat solid food.
  • Mayfly–December Friendship: Greta with Ruthven and Fass.
  • Mountaintop Healthcare: Oasis Natrun is a private medical facility high in the mountains outside Marseilles. Literally "in"; the patients are all mummies, rooms carved into a mountain are close enough to their original tombs to make them feel comfortable.
  • Muggle with a Degree in Magic: Greta has an encyclopedic knowledge of supernatural entities and their healthcare, but keeps a witch on staff and enlists outside supernatural aid when it's necessary for her medical procedures.
  • Mundane Fantastic: Zig-zagged. As a doctor to London's supernatural population, Greta thinks nothing of treating vampires' Seasonal Affective Disorder, examining fretful ghoul babies, or having her clinic door warded with a Perception Filter to protect the Masquerade. On the other hand, hearing stories about the Devil from an old friend of his does throw her — and everyone else in the room — off a bit.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: They appear to be Monstrous Humanoids rather than undead, since they reproduce in the usual biological way and are subject to some human ailments. (Presumably food poisoning is not one of them.) Greta treats a baby ghoul for an ear infection at one point.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: There are at least two subspecies - draculine (like Ruthven, and presumably Dracula), who are closest to Classical Movie Vampires with a few tweaks, and lunar sensitives, or vampyres, (like Varney), who need to subsist on the blood of virgins and have a form of Resurrective Immortality.
  • Post-Modern Magik: In this universe, sufficiently intense ultraviolet light (such as the light from a mercury arc rectifier) is dangerous to vampires. Synthetic materials and 3D printing are valuable assets for repairing damaged mummies.
  • Psychopomp: Brightside and Dammerung, a pair of remedial psychopomps who assist ghosts in search of final rest, do some of the investigating in Dreadful Company.
  • Public Domain Character:
    • Lord Ruthven and Francis Varney are major characters, and both are rather vexed and/or embarrassed by their portrayals in literature.
    • Grisaille's musings on his past make it clear that he was Victor Frankenstein's best friend in medical school, although his reminiscing never explicitly references Victor's surname. Time-slip flashes from Dreadful Company demonstrate that The Phantom of the Opera was a real person in this 'Verse also.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The hair monsters in Dreadful Company.
  • Satan Is Good: Hell isn't so much a place of eternal damnation as a competently run administrative area for punishing sinners as well as checking for unusual supernatural activity, the Devil in this case is the fallen angel Samael and he's not only a Benevolent Boss - he actively supports Heaven and is the one to be diplomatic in contrast to Gabriel who's a dick in this story. The Devil even sends a relief force to Heaven when Heaven was being invaded.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Downplayed when Ruthven gives Greta a professional-grade makeover before attending an opera at the Palais Garnier. Although she's impressed with his work, she's ill at ease in the makeup and "Madame X dress" and is relieved to have her regular face back afterwards.
  • Shout-Out: The vampire coven in Dreadful Company has allusions to both The World of Darkness (they call themselves "The Kindred") and Twilight (the use of glitter makeup to look like they sparkle — the young vampire Emily is convinced that all vampires do this naturally and she's just too young/weak to manage it).
    • The whistler (Egredior sibilus) from the same novel is a direct lift from M. R. James 's "O, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad".
  • Skull Cups: In Dreadful Company, Corvin drinks a mix of wine and blood out of a goblet made from a human skull (sealed to prevent leaks). It's a random skull he grabbed while his coven was stealing bones from the Paris Catacombs to decorate their lair, but he seems to be trying to invoke this trope — and it would be perfectly in-character for him to pretend it's the skull of a former enemy.
  • Squishy Wizard: Fastitocalon has the most powerful and versatile set of magical powers in the main cast — and chronic bronchitis. He's recovered by the second book, courtesy of some time in Hell.
  • Super Doc: Greta's world-renowned practice covers everything from vampiric seasonal depression to mummy bone reconstruction. Justified because supernatural medicine is a small field, complicated by the Masquerade, so she needs to be versatile.
  • Supernatural Angst:
    • Varney, to a slightly comedic degree. Coming from a religious background, he's concerned about his state as one of the living dead, and is deeply guilty of some of his past actions.
    • Ruthven's issues are more like Supernatural Boredom And Mild Seasonal Depression.
  • Vampires Are Rich: Money tends to accumulate over the centuries, so Ruthven and Varney can live the life of the Idle Rich when they want to. The events of the books inspire them to put some of their assets to a more productive use and invest in Greta's clinic.
  • Vampires Hate Garlic: They're allergic to it — literally, physically allergic, instead of some supernatural effect. This still puts Varney at a distinct disadvantage when he enters a garlic-sprayed room and has an acute reaction.
  • Vampire Variety Pack: Strains of "sanguivore" include the standard Draculine vampire and the vampyre, who is rejuvenated by the full moon and is allergic to the blood of non-virgins.
  • Van Helsing Hate Crimes: The main conflict in Strange Practice stems from a cult that targets any "abomination", whatever their personal crimes or lack thereof, along with anyone they feel to be abetting them.
  • Wedding Finale: The trilogy ends with Greta and Francis Varney tying the knot on a sunny autumn day, attended by their Family of Choice and all the friends they've made throughout the books.
  • When She Smiles:
    • Varney struggles with Supernatural Angst and bouts of I Hate Past Me, but when he's reminded that his friends sincerely care about him, Greta observes that his smile is absolutely radiant:
      "...that odd, uncharacteristic, brilliant smile, like the sun rising over a fieldful of mist, turning it from blank impenetrable barrier to opalescence."
    • When the newbie teenage vampire Emily is able to get away from the Paris catacombs and settle down as a trainee monster vet, Greta offers her full support, which elicits a smile that "seemed to light up the warm dimness of the stall like a candle flame."
  • Your Vampires Suck: The Public Domain Character vampires point out that Polidori and Rymer got a lot wrong.