Grimm- The Icy Touch by John Shirley is the first book in the paranormal mystery media tie-in series based on the show, Grimm (available November 5, 2013).
I can’t tell you how geeked I was when I first heard about Grimm. I like my urban fantasy with a side serving of mystery and since the cancellation of The Dresden Files, there hadn’t been anything on television that filled that niche. When a Twitter link offered a code for a “special preview” of the series pilot, I logged on eagerly. When the show opened with a girl in a red hoodie being abducted from a jogging path in an absolutely gorgeous Portland park, I was so there.
I continued to be engaged as a bravely bald Kate Burton showed up towing a trailer of ancient weapons and books filled with arcane lore. And when the hour ended with a twist I did not see coming—and I’m pretty good at seeing twist endings coming—I was ready to become a fan.
In the subsequent weeks though, I was often disappointed. For one thing, although the show’s writers hinted at larger backstories for the characters, particularly the enigmatic Captain Renard, most of the episodes were “Wesen of the Week” and that got boring.
Also, and no disrespect intended toward actor Silas Weir Mitchell, who’s great—the writers fell in love with their laid-back blutbad character and turned him into “Fonzie,” to the detriment of all the other characters. (Seriously, when are they going to give Reggie Lee something more to do than be comic relief? I once saw him playing a silky, sinister gangster in a Jason Statham movie and he rocked the part.)
I kept watching the show, though, because I liked the mythology and I liked the characters and I just like urban fantasy with a side of mystery. Call it a guilty pleasure.
The most satisfying episode in the first season, for me, was “Three Coins in a Fuchsbau,” written by series creators David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf. The coins of the title are powerful artifacts known as “the Coins of Zakynthos” and they’re the Grimm equivalent of “the precious” in Lord of the Rings and the Spear of Destiny rolled into one. Anyone who touches the coins is corrupted by their power and ultimately destroyed.
Which brings us to this book by John Shirley, a novel based on the characters and concepts of the television show. Shirley, a Bram Stoker Award winner, writes dark fiction in multiple genres and he “gets” the world of Grimm and reflects it back like a dark mirror.
The show’s fans will be delighted by the introduction of the coins in the prologue but the story will also engage readers who have never watched a single episode with its fantasy-history take on Napoleon’s fall from glory.
In many ways he felt it would be doing his friend a service, in the long run, if he could get the coins away from him. Once he’d lost the Coins of Zakynthos, Napoleon might lose heart. He had become dependent on them. Without them, he would likely lose the battle—a defeat that Kessler’s employer desired—and perhaps Napoleon would be saved from the madness and physical deterioration contact with the coins would inevitably bring.
When the story switches to modern-day Portland (where Shirley grew up), the novelist brings on the weird as a burned body clutching a donut box (from a place that’s clearly a shout-out to Portland’s famous “Voodoo Donuts”) leads to a much, much bigger criminal conspiracy.
“Ice.” Renard nodded to himself. “Here.” He pushed a folder on his desk toward them. “This is for your eyes only. It’s all I’ve got on The Icy Touch. Ever hear about them?” “Nope.” Nick looked at Hank, who shook his head. “Not likely you’d have heard much,” Renard said. “They were out of business, for a long time. And when they were active they were smalltime, compared to the mafia. Kind of an offshoot of the Hasslich, going way back.” “The Hasslich...” The name struck a chill through Nick. It was an organization that existed only to kill Grimms. “Great.” “Grimms aren’t an Icy Touch priority, especially now,” Renard said. “They’ve got some other agenda. I keep reading between the lines on FBI reports, and Interpol—I suspect it’s gone Wesen.”
Shirley nails the characters from the show, and in one beautifully written sequence, goes inside Monroe’s mind so readers can experience Portland through the heightened senses of the blutbad:
A misty dusk. Monroe stood on his front porch and sniffed the October air. Across the street was Forest Park, 5,100 acres of wildness on the west edge of Portland, where shadows were gathering like flocks of dark birds. The sun was going down beyond the park; the line of firs and deciduous trees broke up the reddening sunlight into a trembling coinage of scarlet-gold. Forest Park, his second home.
Monroe inhaled deeply, taking in the woodland’s damp exhalation, parsing the scents with a clarity an ordinary human could only dream of.
Overtop were the distinct fragrances of evergreens, western red cedar, Douglas fir, western yew, grand fir, all mingled with the decay-rich scents of fallen leaves from black cottonwood, bigleaf maple, red alder; piquant notes of wild blackberries and salmonberries struck through like thorns on a vine. He scented dozens of varieties of mushrooms and tree fungus; he caught the smells of Oregon Grape, trillium, Morning Glory and... Hooker’s Fairy Bells. That one made him smile.
The “guest stars” in the book are also dimensional, particularly a small-time thug named Santiago who’s recruited from an outfit called Sombre Corazon (shadow Heart) to serve the Icy Touch. It’s a matter of self-preservation for Santiago. “He did not want to be eaten. Especially not eaten alive.”
The Icy Touch offers readers the best of both worlds; for fans of the show, it provides a deeper and richer look at the characters and the legends, for readers new to the world, it’s a great introduction and a stand-alone story that has its own pleasures. It does not disappoint.
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Katherine Tomlinson lives in Los Angeles in an apartment where her TBR pile has its own bookcase. She writes dark fiction but has a soft spot for cozy mysteries, heroic fantasy, and horror novels where only bad people get killed. She is the author of the upcoming novel Misbegotten.