Thursday, 29 December 2011

‘Unclean Spirits’ – M.L.N. Hanover (Orbit)

It feels like a long time since I last read any Urban Fantasy (actually, it was back in August but even that feels like a long time ago when we’re sat right on the cusp of the New Year) and it’s been even longer since I’ve read any of that kind of Urban Fantasy. You know the stuff I mean; feisty heroine should be keeping the peace but ends up falling for the local Vampire Master and the leader of the Werewolf Pack at the same time, cue lots of soul searching while the plot hangs around and wonders what to do next. I think that’s what killed my Urban Fantasy reading; it all felt very much like the same story was being told over and over again. When it got to the point where I could tell where the story was going next (with far too great a degree of accuracy) then I figured it was time to bow out and read something else instead.

And now here I am to tell you about the opening shot in a new(ish) Urban Fantasy series that I ended up quite enjoying, certainly enough to make me want to give the next book a shot when it comes out. What happened there? I’d pretty much decided that it would take something big to get me reading Urban Fantasy again and, these days, it doesn’t seem to get a lot bigger than Daniel Abraham.

If there’s a sub-genre then, more likely than not, you will find Daniel Abraham writing in it either under his own name or an assumed one. I’ve enjoyed his fantasy works and his space opera series opener (written with Ty Franck) is one of my favourite books of 2011; when I realised that Abraham was also writing as M.L.N. Hanover I knew I had to give his Urban Fantasy work a go as well. The end result? I’ll certainly be back to see how the sequel pans out.

Jayne Heller never really got on with her family; only her Uncle Eric was ever there for her and now he has been murdered. Jayne travels to Denver to settle Eric’s affairs, only to find that these are a lot more complicated than she ever realised. Not only is she the sole beneficiary of his estate (bank accounts bulging at the seams and property all over the world) but she also seems to have inherited his rather unconventional business...
Uncle Eric died fighting to rid the world of supernatural ‘riders’, parasites that possess humans for evil ends. Now it’s up to Jayne to avenge her Uncle’s death by finishing off the job he was trying to do when he died. If that job killed her Uncle though, what hope does Jayne have? Luckily she’s not in this on her own...

By the time I got to the end of ‘Unclean Spirits’ I was really into it and couldn’t put the book down until I saw exactly how it ended. I knew how it had to end, the beauty was in the details... but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Things could have been so different though. You see, ‘Unclean Spirits’ is a real book of two halves (at least for me). The good news for fans of Urban Fantasy though is that the things that bugged me are all things that I’m pretty sure you will love.

A first glance at the plot had me feeling like I could be reading any one of a number of other Urban Fantasies; there certainly isn’t a lot that makes it stand out from the rest of the pack. You’ve got the heroine (from an oppressive family background) who discovers that not only is she a heroine but she has loads of cool fighting skills that make every confrontation look like a scene from ‘The Matrix’ (I like ‘The Matrix’ but that’s not the point...) You’ve got a good looking side kick that Jayne inevitably falls for but cannot have. There’s even the cool looking ‘jealous loner’ to provide a little bit of romantic uncertainty. I looked at all this and my first thought was, ‘well, this isn’t exactly original is it?’ This setup may well appeal to you but If I’m reading a book I want it to have an identity of its own and ‘Unclean Spirits’ suffers from fitting in a little too well with the rest of the scene.

It’s a good job then that M.L.N. Hanover is Daniel Abraham as the inevitable result of this is that there’s a lot more to ‘Unclean Spirits’ than at first meets the eye.
Hanover takes a very familiar looking set of building blocks and infuses them with a little spark of difference that makes everything a lot more readable; it kept me reading and that’s saying something given how I feel about Urban Fantasy!

Jayne Heller may be just like any other Urban Fantasy heroine and that goes for her self questioning as well. Where Hanover bumps things up to another level though is that Jayne isn’t just questioning what to do about her love life; we have a lead character here who questions her reaction to coming into an absolute fortune and (more importantly) will question how her decisions affect her colleagues. Hanover makes it clear that this is a dangerous world and the wrong decision can have fatal consequences. Already, we have a heroine who is prepared to think past the end of her nose and make it about other people too; I like that. This attitude of Heller’s has set up some interesting possibilities for the sequel and I’ll be there to see what happens next.

This world of vampires and werewolves (and so on) is also familiar but with just enough of a difference (once you get into the book) to keep the pages turning while you try to find out the answers to the questions posed by this new world. I’ve already said that this is a dangerous world and Hanover emphasises this with some bone crunching fight scenes that can have your teeth jolting in sympathy. Heller’s new found skills can come across as a little too good to be true but there’s no denying that it all looks great on the page and powers along a story that is already brimming with intrigue.

‘Unclean Spirits’ isn’t an original read but Hanover’s treatment of the subject matter makes it a very entertaining book where the pages turn all too easily. I’ll be back for more and I reckon I’ll see you there with me. The series has been out, in the States, for a little while already. Anyone here read it?

Eight and a Half out of Ten


Mardel said...

I'm from over the States side; I read this when it first came out. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'm also getting tired of the love triangle thing with all the urban fantasies. It's possible to like a story without the triangle thing and I wish the publishers who push to get the triangles included would give some of us women readers some credit.

Now that I know M.L.N. Hanover is also Daniel Abraham, I'm going to look for Sci Fi by him. I like some Sci Fi. I'm glad I came across your post today, or I wouldn't have found this out.

I also have the second in the series ready to read = just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Happy New Year! and happy reading

Heloise said...

I have to admit that I haven't gotten around to reading this one myself yet, but from everything I have heard about it on various blogs, the series gets only better as it progresses and everyone seems to agree that it is one of the best ones around.

Bryce said...

I've enjoyed this series, and did a couple of reviews for the first two books back when I first read them. Looking forward to getting my hands on the newest one (I think we're on book 4 now). Good books, and it really shows how versatile Daniel Abraham can be.

Dan Smyth said...

From across the pond... This series is genius, and I'm not much of an Urban fan either. Of course, I'm a HUGE Abraham fan. :) Just finished reading Killing Rites (4th book) a few weeks ago. It was serious goodness. Book 5, Graveyard Child, is under contract, from what I hear. Looking forward to it.