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Literature / Shaman Blues

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Shaman Blues is an Urban Fantasy novel by Aneta Jadowska and a Spin-Off of her previous work, Dora Wilk Series. On September 13, 2017, a sequel called Shaman Tango came out, and the series was officially confirmed as a trilogy.
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Throughout the first forty years of his life, cop Piotr Duszyński - called Witkacy by everyone, including himself - thought that his need to try one drug after another was just his self-destructive tendencies. Not really - as it turns out, he's a shaman, capable of contacting the dead and sending them away. This adds a whole new layer to his life, as he's now the official ghostbuster for the supernatural council running the magical underworld of his city, the ghosts can be malicious little things and he can't tell his superiors about what he truly does. Things get even more complicated when his ex, now working at a local hospital, comes to him for help. The newborn children there are dying at an alarming rate, and there seems to be no natural explanation.

The answer seems obvious: there's a ghost haunting the hospital halls. An extremely powerful, extremely dangerous and murderous ghost who has no qualms killing children and enough power to affect physical world.

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Tropes present in the book:

  • Action Fashionista: Katia. She's off to a fashion con in Bonn throughout the first half of the story, and later goes to put some empowered dead to rest in elegant dress and matching rubber boots, even making a point of jumping over puddles so that they don't get muddy and ruin the effect.
  • Addled Addict: Bulwa, a fellow spirit-seeing magical. In contrast to Witkacy, he never had anyone to help him with this and never found out about magical world, so he tried to shut his Sight down with copious amounts of alcohol. By the time Witkacy gets to meet him, Bulwa's a beggar living in gutters and babbling incoherently.
  • A Dog Named "Dog": Vulture spirit is named Vulture.
  • Adult Fear:
    • You entrust your newborn child to your hospital's neonatal unit, only for it to be suffocated by a force you can't see, you can't stop and you don't understand. And by the time Konstancja goes to Witkacy, the ghost has already claimed three victims.
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    • For Witkacy, having his daughter inherit his powers and going into the same self-destructive spiral of depression and drug abuse. Preventing this is the very reason he decides to become involved in her life.
  • Advertised Extra: The friedlier of the hospital ghosts is featured fairly prominently on the cover (it's the one on the left), but in the story itself, he makes only three very brief appearances, one of which amounts to little more than a glimpse.
  • A Glass in the Hand: Witkacy breaks the glass he's holding in his hand when Vulture starts making distasteful comments about possibilities of romancing fifteen-years-old Wiktoria.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Discussed with Vulture. Apparently vulture spirits don't have the best reputation, at least among the Old Ones.
  • Ambiguous Situation: In-universe, the nature of relationship of Katia and Witkacy is an absolute mystery for the latter. She finally states that they are exes, but of amicable kind.
  • Amicable Exes:
    • Definitely averted with Witkacy and Konstancja. While the latter wants to make amends, the former is still rather cold after the way she had left him. It morphs into this trope with time, though, and by the end they're a pretty well-working duo.
    • Katia and Witkacy. He bears her no ill will, and she threatens to declare open war on Konstancja if the latter hurst him in any way, not to mention that the two work together like a team.
  • And I Must Scream: The ghosts the villain of the latter half of the story drew in to create her abominations. They're mashed together into beasts that must always follow their creator's order, and she wants them to attack and kill while all they wanted was some extra power to break free of their Haunted Houses.
  • Arc Symbol: The spiral that draws the ghosts in.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Katia. Necromancy generally falls more into the realm of black magic, due to low power levels of most necromancers making them go for animal sacrifices and animation of the dead upsetting natural balance of things. Katia, however, mostly puts the dead back in, uses only her own magic and is definitely one of the heroes.
  • Big Bad: Tadeusz Dzwon is the one who sicced the wraith at a hospital full of children.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Vulture shows up at the last minute to save Witkacy from the Great Old Ones.
    • Bulwa appears to aid Witkacy and save Katia when they're assaulted by dozens of ghosts.
  • Big Eater: Witkoria. Over the course of one dinner, she eats ten slices of large-size pizza and a giant cup of ice-cream as a dessert.
  • Bigger on the Inside: Róża's house is much bigger than its outside appearance may suggest, leading to Witkacy getting severely lost.
  • Black Magic: Anything involving ritual sacrifices and drawing energy from negative emotions is downright poisonous to auras and Ley Lines, and so is called black magic.
  • Blood Magic: Blood carries magic power, so sacrifices are made to obtain it.
  • Body Horror: What the Old Ones want to do to Witkacy as part of his "initiation". Witkacy mentions boiling his own body, being forced to eat it and divining the future from his own naked bones as just few attractions awaiting him.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Wiktoria, to boot. She's quick-talking, insults her dad on their first meeting and refuses to refer to him as "father". Though to be honest, he's rather relieved.
  • Cats Are Mean: The Old Ones have a giant cat who loves to toy with Witkacy before catching him and dragging him around by his leg.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • Katia is alluded to at the start of the story and joins Witkacy in his quest halfway through.
    • The ghost in the hospital, who aids Witkacy in figuring out the identity of the wraith, comes back to clue him in about recent events.
  • Cold Open: The story starts with Witkacy coming home and quickly recounting to us how he has just dealt with a very annoying ghost.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The events at the end of Dora Wilk Series, with Dora upsetting the entire power structure of the Council, are why Gardiasz is going full Da Chief on Witkacy.
    • The more questionable actions of the Thron Council throughout the previous series are what stops Witkacy from going to them with Wiktoria.
  • Creepy Cemetery: Katia and Witkacy visit one when following the trail of mysterious power source.
  • Creepy Child: The wraith was one, and retains the appearance after the death. Even putting aside the fact that she's a murderer with ten victims to her name, she would also mentally torment fellow children and adults. She was seven.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Vulture acts like an annoying and disgusting lazy bum who likes to curse and watches MTV only, but in the afterlife, he's one of the most powerful spirits - enough to give the Old Ones a pause and make them decide that perhaps leaving would be a better idea.
  • Da Chief: Gardiasz, in a non-police version, has recently decided to keep much closer tabs at his agents (that is, shamans and other magicals dealing with afterlife), which means he's eternally suspicious of Witkacy and wants him to "keep low".
  • Darker and Edgier: Than its progenitor series. While Dora Wilk had hell and Fantastic Racism, she also had really powerful allies, she lived in World of Badass and aforementioned afterlife was a pretty pleasant place to be, all things considered. Here, the story opens with a wraith having already killed three newborn children, and the main character is under-trained, tired of life and with very little knowledge of the supernatural.
  • Dark Is Evil: Róża's house, where she commits ritual sacrifices and has a ton of Black Magic energy flowing through, is all dark on the inside, with no windows and a pitch-black basement.
  • Dark Secret: Konstancja has one that pushed her to run away from Witkacy. She got pregnant with him and they have a daughter. Konstancja only returned to Witkacy when she realized that the kid inherited the "something" Witkacy has.
  • Death Glare: Gardiasz's default expression when interacting with Witkacy.
  • Did Not Think This Through: While cutting himself with wraith's focus object certainly lured it in, Witkacy did not consider blood's magical potency connecting him and pulling him into the afterlife with her.
  • Dramatic Shattering: The gutsies first show that they're more than just creepy-looking ghosts when they shatter a few windows in Witkacy's car.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Witkacy sometimes complains that apparently, despite being one of the very few ghost specialists Thorn's Council has, they believe he should be paid with little more than thank-yous and the warm and fuzzy feeling of being a hero.
  • Elephant in the Room: The spirits that follow Gardiasz. They never speak and Witkacy doesn't know who they are and why they accompany lord of the afterlife. The one time he tried to ask Gardiasz about them, things got sour between the two of them and haven't recovered as of yet.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Konstancja calls her daughter "baby chick". When Witkacy uses it, he's quickly told that he's in no way allowed to say it ever again, and if Wiktoria could stop Konstancja from calling them like that, they would.
  • Embarrassing Old Photo: Witkacy treats his old photo with Konstancja this way, especially when she comes in an he cringes inside, realizing that she's just about to notice it.
  • Emotion Eater: Ghosts gain energy and power from emotions of people around them, although apparently it doesn't hurt the mortals the ghosts happen to "feed" from.
  • Evil Is Not Well-Lit: Róża has her Black Magic labs and sacrifice sites in total darkness, in basements and rooms with no windows.
  • Evil Is Petty: Róża reveals years of hiding her Black Magic practices, risking life imprisonment, so that she can stick it to Witkacy, who ruined her Phony Psychic business.
  • Fantastic Caste System: Ghost have one based part on level of intelligence retained, part on power. The elder ghost powerful enough to have entire cities as their haunting sphere are on top, with their own council, and the "gutsies", who, while powerful, have barely any intelligence, are at the bottom.
  • Femme Fatale: Witkacy compares Konstancja to one, noting that her looks and bearing make her seem like one of those deadly women from Film Noir.
  • Film Noir: Witkacy's snarking aside, we've got a detective past his prime with a bunch of problems on his own, visited by his beautiful, but suspicious and troubled ex to get a mysterious job that's clearly more than meets the eye and can't be entrusted to the police. The story was clearly inspired by the genre.
  • First-Name Basis: Konstancja is the only person seen in-story to refer to Witkacy by his given name - likely because they'd had their falling-out before he'd acquired the nickname.
  • First-Person Smartass: Witkacy sure gets some mileage from being able to speak directly to the reader.
  • Geometric Magic: Banishing ghosts apparently requires geometric figures such as pentagrams and circles.
  • Ghostly Chill: Konstancja can feel ghostly presence as cold.
  • Golem: They're made from grave dirt and controlled by a necromancer or a person willing to make animal sacrifices, with their intelligence and life-likeness depending on how much magic power was put into them. Katia and Witkacy have a run-in with a woman who's made a dozen of those.
  • Graceful in Their Element: Vulture is very elegant and graceful while in the great beyond, but on earth, he moves like a dizzy duck.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Witkacy is fighting with depression, and it rains pretty much perpetually throughout the novel.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: While nowhere near Miron's levels, Witkacy takes a few levels in nasty when Konstancja implies having a partner.
  • Guardian Entity:
    • In theory, Witkacy should have one, but he hasn't found it yet. It's Vulture who finds him.
    • Also how Curse of Cain works - every illness, bad luck, malice and so on that would befall one member of the curse strikes the other instead.
  • Haunted Fetter: Wraiths have "focus objects" they're bound to and which they must follow, although they can walk quite some distance away from it.
  • Hospital Hottie: Konstancja is a nurse with the looks of Femme Fatale.
  • Humanoid Abomination: The Old Ones. They're humanoid, but are ancient, know really powerful magic and reside on the other side, not to mention that they can make shamans do some really gruesome things to their bodies.
  • Human Sacrifice: Implied; there are dozen skeletons found in Róża's house, with characters confident that she sacrificed those for power.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Witkacy, to boot:
    If there was a way for me to throw all the supernatural genes out of my DNA, I'd do it.
  • Immortality Immorality: The motif. The purpose of the killings, both in the past and the present, is to obtain some form of immortality, whether as a wraith or as a human.
  • Intoxication Ensues: Witkacy bribes one of hospital ghosts to tell him about the wraith by intoxicating it with joint smoke. The ghost starts laughing uncontrollably and singing.
  • I See Dead People: Shamans can see and interact with ghosts.
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: There's apparently a nursery rhyme about first victims of wraith-as-still-alive, forty years ago, listing nicknames of the victims. We never get to see it in full, but the sheer idea is creepish.
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet: When looking around a hospital, Witkacy notices that despite the fact that the place like this should be teeming with ghosts, there's nary a spirit in sight. He later discovers that the wraith has scared them away.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: The "gutsies", as Bulwa nicknames them, looks as they did in the moment of their death, spines sticking out and all, which is weird, to say the least, because ghosts are usually idealized versions of themselves in life.
  • Junkie Prophet: Witkacy. Large part of his powers can only be accessed by getting him drugged.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: This is apparently something that could happen to Konstancja and Witkacy if he told her the truth.
  • Know When To Fold Them: When the three Old Ones hunting for Witkacy see the Vulture and his power level, they wisely decide to take their leave.
  • Lady in Red: Konstancja, for whom Witkacy still pines, is nearly always seen wearing red, and she has a few secrets of her own.
  • Ley Line: The entire world is criss-crosed by those. They're filled with magical energy which makes casting spells easier on them and puts ghosts in predictable paths, as it's always easier to use a ley line than waste precious energy on making the few steps beyond it.
  • Luke, You Are My Father: "Baby chick", as Konstancja calls her, is Witkacy's daughter whom the mother's been hiding from him for fifteen years.
  • Magic Music: Death magic is described as working this way. Katia hears "Earth's song" and the dead raise from their graves when she sings back, while Witkacy catches ghosts by figuring out their tune and music and entwining it in the greater rythm of the afterlife, also using bells to do his magic.
  • Magnetic Medium: Witkacy's aura naturally attracts ghosts to him, although it's less supernatural compulsion and more the fact that he can lead them over to the afterlife.
  • Mind over Matter: More powerful ghosts can interact with the mortal realm, which is implied to be more of their mind influencing things rather than them actually physically moving them, such as the ghost girl taking control over cars with her mind.
  • Muggle Born of Mages: Discussed when Witkacy and Katia wonder if Wiktoria has inherited any of her parents' abilities.
  • Mundane Solution: Rather than with magic or spells, the villain is dispatched by several bullets to the chest.
  • Mysterious Mist: It hides strange lights and the spiral that gives power.
  • Near-Death Experience: Witkacy has one when he's pulled out of his body after the wraith.
  • Necromancer: Katia is one, although she spends most of her "working hours" putting the dead back to rest rather than raising them.
  • Nightmare Fuel Coloring Book: Wraith's journal, containing gruesome depictions of murdered children, complete with pictures, coloured with much detail with crayons.
  • No Immortal Inertia: After the wraith is sent away, Tadeusz dies the very same day.
  • No Name Given: The hospital ghost, as he doesn't trust Witkacy not to use it to send him away.
  • Old Flame: Konstancja is this for Witkacy, and he keeps on flirting with her throughout their reunion.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Witkacy is almost never referred to by his given name - Piotr - throughout both Dora Wilk Series and this novel, though Konstancja breaks the trend.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • Ghost start to act weird in the latter half of the story - they shatter glass despite not being powerful enough, they stumble around and fall into objects, they don't follow ley lines and suddenly jump several power ranks within days. Pretty much everyone agrees it's foreboding.
    • Katia realizes something's off when Earth starts to sing out of harmony.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Spirits of dead people who for one reason or another remain "anchored" to physical realm (violent death is implied to be a factor). With time, they can amass more power from intense emotions around them, to the point that they can influence physical objects in Mind over Matter fashion. They're tied to the place of their death until they become powerful enough to break free of it. There are also wraiths, which are tied to objects and have much more freedom of movement, as well as malicious intent.
  • Parental Favoritism: What the wraith accuses its mother of doing. When she heard about Anna threatening Tadeusz, she put the Curse of Cain on Anna, which makes everything bad that would befall the latter go to the former instead. The wraith mockingly notes that even if it wasn't sure before, that made it quite obvious who was the desired child.
  • Phony Psychic: Róża can actually see ghosts, but can't hear them or send them over to the afterlife. She nevertheless used to make a ton of money as a medium, "conveying" the deceased's "final words" to their families (read: making stuff up) and then "sending the ghost away" (banishing it from the house). This ended when one of the ghosts banished came to Witkacy with a complaint and made the shaman reveal the whole scam to ghost's living family, who in turn demanded the money back and spread the word.
  • Poltergeist: More powerful ghosts can manifest this way.
  • Psychopomp: Part of Witkacy's responsibilities is leading ghosts to the afterlife.
  • Pygmalion Plot: A golem animator Katia and Witkacy meet attempts to invoke this - she makes golems hoping that one of them will be perfect enough to be her true love.
  • Random Power Ranking: Apparently the "border-creatures" are ranked by stars from one to five, with the ghost Witkacy has fought before the story starts ranking one star and the wraith clocking in at three. Seeing how five stars is supposed to be pretty much a deity who got lost in our world, one may ask just how big of a range do four stars have.
  • Removed from the Picture: Defied; when Konstancja asks Witkacy why he didn't cut her out of their picture, he says he'd never find a frame of the right size if he did so.
  • Ritual Magic: Ghost-banishing involves Geometric Magic, candles and other trinkets, although Witkacy's teacher claims that it's just a bunch of Magic Feathers and when Witkacy gets proficient enough, he'll need none of it.
  • Running Gag: Witkacy never misses an opportunity to comment unfavourably on hospital security. It's terrible.
  • Safety in Muggles: Witkacy feels safe defying Gardiasz on an open street in the middle of muggle world because he knows the man won't kidnap him or use magic on him there. He's proven right.
  • Salt Solution: Salt seems to have Anti-Magic effect: salt circles can stop ghosts, and at one point Witkacy downs a phial of salty water to stop a cursed house from messing with his mind.
  • Sarcasm Failure: Words fail Witkacy when he realizes that the girl in front of him is his daughter.
  • Shirtless Scene: As Witkacy is just after a shower when Konstancja rings the doorbell, he opens her the door half-naked, with naught but a towel to protect his modesty.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title is a shout-out to The Doors song. Witkacy even sings it once.
    • Witkacy mockingly notes that the situation at the start of the story looks more and more like some Film Noir.
    • Witkacy himself, with his pale hair and paler coat, not to mention ability to see ghosts, looks like 'Constantine expy.
    • When chatting on the phone, Dora threatens to go full-Yoda on him, complete with anastrophe.
    • Katia is apparently a great fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has named her spade Buffy.
    • After threatening Vulture, Witkacy notes that for a moment, he felt like Clint Eastwood.
    • Upon realizing that Róża's house is Bigger on the Inside, Witkacy compares it to the TARDIS.
  • Shower of Angst: The story starts with the hero taking one, as his fight against a bratty teenage ghost didn't go as planned and he stinks impossibly.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Vulture likes a lot of low-level swearing, which is oddly endearing, given that he's a giant vulture spirit.
  • Something Blues: The title.
  • Spin-Off: From Dora Wilk Series, featuring a character who was Put on a Bus for a large part of it.
  • Spotting the Thread: Tadeusz Dzwon's behaviour quickly clues Witkacy in that something doesn't quite match in his story, and the way he tries to avoid talking about his sister only cements him, putting Witkacy on the right track.
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Witkacy and Konstancja both get an idea of entering and searching Tadeusz's house at the same time, though while he breaks in, she presents herself as a nurse to his flower-watering neighbor and gets the keys.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Witkoria inherited something of Witkacy's shamanism. Justified in that while magic genes are recessive, both parents have magic talents to some degree, though only one has full-fledged powers.
  • The Alleged Car: Everyone Witkacy drives points this out about his jeep. Among others, it lacks the hand brake, the inside lights, ventillation, sits' coverings (Witkacy uses blankets) and two windows. It's considered a good day when the engine starts at the third attempt, and the springs in the sits can cause damage. Witkacy defends it vehemently, though.
  • The Cavalry: One-woman cavalry in form of Dora Wilk, who arrives to reinforce Katia and Witkacy with some sheer physical power.
  • The Insomniac: Witkacy rarely sleeps more than three hours a night, if he sleeps at all.
  • The Masquerade: General public doesn't know about magic or ghosts, which is why Konstancja goes to Witkacy with her problem - she doubts regular police would help her. It also presents a problem when Witkacy can't tell her anything about supernatural the case is full of.
  • The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: You don't even have to know about it. Witkacy's and Konstancja's falling out came from his shaman genes pushing him into drug abuse, while Konstancja has some watered-down magic instincts and saw something around Witkacy that drove her away.
  • The Reveal: Three.
    • When the Ironic Nursery Tune mentions "Dzwon", it means Tadeusz, not, as the man claims, his sister.
    • Tadeusz is behind the murders, having pointed the spirit of his sister at the hospital.
    • Witkacy had a daughter with Konstancja. This is why she ran away from him.
  • The Thing That Would Not Leave: Vulture gains this status just after two days of living on Witkacy's couch, thanks to his often disgusting behaviour and habit of leaving trash wherever he goes, not to mention being rather unhelpful. And just when Witkacy thinks Vulture has left at last, it turns out the spirit moved into a flat right next to the shaman.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Apparently the parents of children murdered the first time around lynched a local foreigner they thought to be responsible.
  • Trash of the Titans: Vulture in his human form has very little on the way of hygiene, to the point that Witkacy starts to think of him as The Thing That Would Not Leave within hours of his arrival.
  • Trespassing Hero: Witkacy breaks into Tadeusz's house to search it. Konstancja borrows the keys instead.
  • Witch Classic: Anna's mother isn't Witch Species like Dora, but a hedge witch - czarownica - who uses spells and potions.
  • Working with the Ex: Kontancja and Witkacy must team together to stop the ghost.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The wraith specifically targets newborns.
  • Your Soul Is Mine: Wraiths can eat ghosts' energy, effectively bringing them down to less-than-a-shade.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: Invoked by the hospital ghost when he explains why it's only younger ghost who get power-high on the spiral, as he claims that they're young, stupid and impatient.

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