Book: Extreme Medical Services by Jamie Davis (2015)

Reviewer: Bethany

Age/Genre: Urban Fantasy

Reading Accoutrements: Halloween decorations and a spooky soundtrack

Content Notes: Prejudice against marginalized people, Injuries/violence/gore, Medical trauma

It’s October and I am SO EXCITED because it means that spooky season is in full swing! I’ve had my house decorated for Halloween since Labor Day and I am determined to enjoy all of the awesomeness that this fall has to offer. So, of course, my book choices are going to reflect the time of year. I’m not much of a horror person – I leave the gruesome and macabre to Jeriann – but I loooooooove me some fantasy. Especially urban fantasy. Since the sequel to Hypnos hasn’t been released yet (dangit) and the next Patricia Briggs book isn’t out until March 2021, I went with something new.

Extreme Medical Services is told from the perspective of Dean, a newly graduated paramedic who gets his first work assignment at the beginning of the book. Dean is disappointed that he, the top student in his class, was not assigned to his first choice station: Station 1 located in downtown Elk City. Instead, Dean is given an assignment at the seemingly low-key Station U on the outskirts of town.

His first day on the job, Dean is shocked to learn that the “U” in Station U stands for “Unusual.” His job is not much different from what he expected, except that he will be expected to treat “Unusuals” – vampires, werewolves, sirens, nymphs, faeries, and various other supernatural beings, who prefer to be referred to as Unusuals in this world. Station U responds all over the city to reports of Unusuals in need of emergency medical attention. The semantics of this are slightly complicated: it’s unclear how dispatch is made aware of Unusual status, who in the city bureaucracy is aware of Unusuals, and a whole bunch of other questions I assume are answered in subsequent books in this series.

One of the reasons I love urban fantasy is the unique twist that each author employs to build a believable world where supernatural creatures exist in tandem with humans. Davis’s take is that, in our world today, there could be communities filled with supernatural beings unbeknownst to the humans residing there. The only people who “need to know” are certain public servants and the occasional spouse. Dean lived his entire life completely unaware of the existence of Unusuals until he was assigned to treat them.

Davis created an awesome opportunity to highlight how a population other than the majority can be marginalized by systems that do not understand them. In fact, one of Dean’s major hurdles to doing his job well at Station U is his tendency to get caught up in figuring out what each Unusual he encounters on a call actually is instead of figuring out how to help them. Is it necessary to know that the man with the terrible allergic reaction to body glitter is a vampire to know how to treat him? Or that the severely dehydrated woman is a water nymph? Not particularly. You probably want to be aware that the man with the dangerously low blood sugar is a werewolf who often loses his control when his blood glucose drops, but it isn’t necessary to know that you treat the low blood sugar by getting him to consume carbohydrates or by starting him on dextrose.

Dean struggles to see beyond the differences between himself and his patients, despite the fact that his mentor and every other co-worker at Station U stresses the similarities. It’s one of his more annoying traits. The book is entirely from Dean’s perspective, so it doesn’t portray him as problematic, but it does seem to encourage taking the time to learn about something new before passing judgment.

Speaking of annoying things! Let’s talk about the writing for a minute. It was glaringly obvious from the prologue that Davis has worked in the medical field – the author bio at the end said he’s a “nationally recognized medical educator.” The medical terminology and treatment is accurate throughout the book – that’s not what irks me. The annoyance can be divided into a couple of different parts: 

1) The narration is needlessly technical throughout the book. This is a simple example, but why do you continuously call it blood glucose when colloquially it could be referred to as blood sugar? Honestly, that wouldn’t have bothered me if Davis hadn’t used “blood glucose” several times in the same paragraph. That’s the beauty of language: You. Can. Change. It. Up.

2) It gets irritatingly repetitive. I get that every time a paramedic arrives at a call, they go through the same steps to prepare to treat a person. BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO WALK ME THROUGH IT IN DETAIL EVERY SINGLE TIME. That is aside from the redundant nature of stating the exact same technical language and phrasing over and over again. There are unique interactions with the Unusuals, but very little fun.

3) It is pounded into Dean’s head (and thus, the reader’s) that, except for rare cases, every Unusual should be treated the same as a human. I would have appreciated more commentary on the differences, though. Make it interesting for the reader and show one of those rare cases! I got so very tired of reading Dean’s partner say, “How would you treat this if the patient was human? DO THAT!” I think partially because I was sick of Dean’s resistance to accepting this new information about the world he lives in. The guy is supposed to be in the medical field and science is all about change! Get. Over. It. Already!

By the end of this book, I had a hard time accepting the story as fantasy. Yes, there were supernatural characters kept secret from the humans. But the emphasis was overwhelmingly on the mundane similarities and I was just…bored. Plus, there was very little relationship-building that took place between the Dean and other characters of the book. The overarching plot seemed to be entirely focused on whether Dean would continue to work at Station U. Davis focused so hard on the technical aspects of Dean’s job that all the dude did was work, occasionally grab food at a diner, and sleep.

Anyway, Extreme Medical Services is the first in a series I will not be continuing to read further. Book one read too much like a book someone might recommend to a new EMT to give them an idea of what a job in their field will look like.

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