Let’s start with the characters. Our protagonist, Anna, is a complicated person with whom you develop empathy almost immediately. This never wallows down into syrupy sympathy because she’s quite capable and she does some crazy stuff. At numerous choices points, she opts to take, at least on the face of it, both brave and unwise paths. The interesting part is that she knows it’s unwise but, because of her feelings of obligation, does it anyway. So, not only does she have this challenging special ability where the dead communicate with her, she’s also had a pretty cruddy life floating between foster homes all of her days due to that very same ability. I also love how Ms. Walker brings in a tight-knit set of family and friends whose interactions are real but not completely dysfunctional. Then there’s Anna’s extended family of Deo and Kelsey. Deo is like the younger brother she’s never had with whom she’s navigated the foster world for many years and Kelsey is the counselor who has helped her come to grips with her strange abilities in a world that can’t accept them.
[Full disclosure: I received an advanced reviewers copy from Netgalley for an honest review.]
The storyline itself is a fast-paced thriller that sucks you in but is always more than just a ride. You feel embedded in the piece which comes at you with multifaceted furor: from internal conversations with Anna’s dead hitchhikers and herself, the hunt and chase, the bits of dug up research on Delphi and dialogue with extended family and friends. There are no twists for twist sake, but there are surprises and turns that season the story and keep it fresh. Now you are hooked. Not simply into a desire to discover of what happens next but also into knowing these people more fully and seeing their relationships flesh out. Ms. Walker makes you care about the main characters. Let me warn you now, there are some really ugly characters and event brought out by them, but never gratuitously described. She doesn’t wallow in the ugliness even as she paints a clear picture of man’s depravity.
Often in discussing speculative fiction, we talk about world building. In The Delphi Effect, there isn’t world building in the sense of creating a whole universe but there is world setting. Ms. Walker is quite detailed and vivid in providing the backdrop to her story. Her literary set making skills are spot on and help paint, what I’ll describe more fully next, a plausible alternate world in which the paranormal seems real.
I’ve indicated that one of the aspects that sets this novel apart is how real the non-real feels. As you go through the process of finding out more about these paranormal abilities, the more it seems like “yeah if we had those this is how it would go down.” How so? Well, when we are introduced to a number of people who have said abilities, it becomes clear that for most, it’s a burden. They tend to whack you out mentally and emotionally to some degree, make you a social pariah, and in general much of your energy is taken up with attempting to cope with these abilities. You tend not to have the kind of control over them that you would desire and some come with limitations that are maddening. Ms. Walker takes all these elements of character, relationship, narrative, the world setting, and makes them into a quite plausible and intriguing whole.
The inevitable comparison to X-Men will come to mind. This is grittier, with no Professor Xavier or estate to save the day (at least, not yet). Their abilities are not writ large with any purely physical differences – this is a largely mental game with some physical consequences. So no bright spandex outfits or funky hairdos (OK, there’s Deo but he’s “normal”), but lots of inner turmoil.
I’ve previously reviewed Risa Walker’s Chronos Files series, and as you can see from my reviews, they were outstanding. I honestly think her writing has become even better. There’s a sense in which I feel enveloped in the story. I’m not outside of it, enjoying the story but as a spectator. Somehow, I feel like I’m a part of The Delphi Effect. It’s like Anna, if not a friend, is at least an acquaintance for whom I care.
In The Delphi Effect, we have a gripping story with an empathetic heroine, a well-done setting, with the compelling characters and powerful, wicked bad guys. We also have a well-completed phase of this series, but it’s definitely a series, which is to say there’s a bit of a cliffhanger at the ending. I highly recommend The Delphi Effect for your reading pleasure. It’s available tomorrow, October 11th! [A note about the audiobook version: while I haven’t heard the book yet, Kate Rudd is one of my favorite narrators, who always give an admirable performance. So, if audiobooks are your thing, I’m confident in recommending this one despite not having heard it yet.]
I’ll end with a little bit of hubris; Haiku inspired by Anna:
Hitchhiker’s burdens released