Review of Unclean Spirits – Book 1 of The Black Sun’s Daughter by M.L.N. Hanover

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Urban fantasy – constantly being dismissed as by its detractors as an annoying distraction from the real deal – continues going from strength to strength. A sign of healthy popularity in a genre is when authors go on producing intriguing twists to the original template. And that is exactly what Hanover has done in this enjoyable new series. For those of you interested in such things, M.L.N. Hanover is actually Daniel Abraham, he of The Long Price quartet and in yet another authorly incarnation, he has also written Leviathan Wakes as James S.A. Corey.

When college student Jayné Heller’s uncle is murdered, she goes to Denver to settle his estate and mourn the loss of the only member of her family who has always been on her side.  She discovers that her uncle has left her quite a legacy: a string of property across the world, several very full bank accounts – and an extremely unconventional business. It turns out Uncle Eric has been secretly fighting to rid the world of supernatural ‘riders’ – demons, vampires, werewolves and all sorts of other nasty parasites – since before Jayné was born. Now it’s up to Jayné to avenge her uncle’s death, and continue his work – if she can survive her first week on the job.

And that’s the blurb. There’s a lot in this novel that feels comfortably familiar to the dyed-in-the-wuncleanspiritsool fan – a conflicted, isolated heroine with a whole suite of supernatural powers that she somehow stumbles into; a major crisis set in an American city for which she is totally unprepared…  And yet – there are also some important differences that have this series earmarked as One To Watch. Jayné, a 22 year old college dropout, gets guilty after going on a spending spree with her newfound wealth and donates a large portion of her new wardrobe to those more needy than herself. When the fighting first hots up, while she can trade blows with the best of them, lining up a baddie in the cross-hairs and squeezing the trigger is beyond her. I enjoyed the thoughtfulness and real agonising that occurred before our heroine started taking out the opposition. It is refreshing for the inevitable violence to be depicted as a big deal – something intrinsically frightening and to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. And while the mandatory love interest is still there, it isn’t the engine that runs this story – the focus is all about the evil that Jayné and her team have undertaken to eradicate. Yep, she also has a team. Complete with their own issues and personal baggage. No doubt we’ll get to know a lot more about these characters as this series progresses. I’m particularly looking discovering more about Midian, a vampire cursed by the evil Randolph Coin, which makes him – temporarily – one of the good guys.

Which brings me onto the other enjoyable twist to this urban fantasy. Humankind is being preyed upon by demonic presences that invade a body like a parasite – having more in common with threadworms or head lice than the gorgeous fanged hunks that slink through so many other books in this genre. Hanover manages to bring a real sense of tension to this adventure, despite the fact that we know right from the start that Jayné will survive.

Any niggles? Well – of all the names on the planet that Hanover had to choose, Jayné seems the most annoyingly pretentious. Along with our protagonist’s regular whining about the fact that no one pronounces it correctly – why should they, when it simply comes across as a feeble attempt to spice up that solid staple, Jane? Other than this uncharacteristic – and wholly avoidable misstep – this is a well-written, thoroughly enjoyable offering and I am eagerly awaiting the second instalment in the series.
9/10

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