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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

“Unclean Spirits” by M.L.N. Hanover (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official M.L.N. Hanover Website
Order “Unclean Spirits
Read Excerpts
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “An Autumn War

AUTHOR INFORMATION: M.L.N. Hanover is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham, author of The Long Price Quartet (A Shadow in Summer, A Betrayal in Winter, An Autumn War) fantasy series. He has also written numerous short fiction that has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology and The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror. Among his published stories, “Flat Diane” won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story and was nominated for the Nebula, while “The Cambist and Lord Iron: a Fairytale of Economics”—collected in 2007’s Logorrhea, edited by John Klima—was nominated for a 2008 Hugo Award for Best Novelette.

Daniel is also the coauthor of “Hunter’s Run” (Reviewed
HERE) with George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois; contributed to “Inside Straight” (Reviewed HERE), a mosaic novel in GRRM’s Wild Cards universe; and wrote the Wild Cards comic book miniseries, “The Hard Call”, which will be released as a collected graphic novel on March 31, 2009. Upcoming releases include “The Price of Spring”, the final volume in The Long Price Quartet.

PLOT SUMMARY: When her uncle Eric is murdered, Jayné Heller travels to Denver to settle his estate, only to learn that it's all hers—and vaster than she ever imagined. And along with properties across the world and an inexhaustible fortune, Eric left her a legacy of a different kind: his unfinished business with a cabal of wizards known as the Invisible College.

Led by the ruthless Randolph Coin, the Invisible College harnesses demon spirits for their own ends of power and domination. Jayné finds it difficult to believe magic and demons can even exist, let alone be responsible for the death of her uncle. But Coin sees Eric's heir as a threat to be eliminated by any means—magical or mundane—so Jayné had better start believing in something to save her own life.

Aided in her mission by a group of unlikely companions—Aubrey, Eric's devastatingly attractive assistant; Ex, a former Jesuit with a lethal agenda; Midian, a two-hundred-year-old man who claims to be under a curse from Randolph Coin himself; and Chogyi Jake, a self-styled Buddhist with mystical abilities—Jayné finds that her new reality is not only unexpected, but often unexplainable. And if she hopes to survive, she'll have to learn the new rules fast—or break them completely…

CLASSIFICATION: Straight up, “Unclean Spirits” is an urban fantasy novel with all the familiar trimmings: Female heroine, first-person narrative, a contemporary urban setting, paranormal elements, humor, romance, et cetera. Aside from some profanity though, “Unclean Spirits” is fairly lighthearted and might appeal more to fans of Kim Harrison, Carrie Vaughn and Patricia Briggs than of darker series like Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels. Just a warning to Daniel Abraham fans though—“Unclean Spirits” is nothing like The Long Price Quartet, “Hunter’s Run” or his other works. In fact, it doesn’t even feel like you’re reading a Daniel Abraham novel which is why the pseudonym makes perfect sense :)

FORMAT/INFO:Unclean Spirits” is 336 pages long divided over twenty-six chapters and an Introduction, and is dedicated to John Constantine of
Hellblazer fame. Aside from the Introduction, the narrative is in the first-person exclusively via the protagonist, Jayné Heller. The book can be read as a standalone story, but is the opening volume in a series titled The Black Sun’s Daughter. December 2, 2008 marks the Trade Paperback publication of “Unclean Spirits” via Pocket Books. Cover art provided by Cliff Nielsen.

ANALYSIS: In his short time as a published author, Daniel Abraham has displayed impressive range including his unique Asian-influenced fantasy series The Long Price Quartet, coauthoring a science fiction novel, penning an awarding-winning horror short story as well as an economic fairy tale, and tackling superheroes in both comic book and mosaic novel format. Now with “Unclean Spirits”, Daniel Abraham—under the pseudonym M.L.N. Hanover—takes on urban fantasy . . . with mixed results…

Unclean Spirits” starts out impressively enough with a brief, but engaging Introduction that offers readers a tantalizing glimpse into the world of riders—or ‘unclean spirits’—(spiritual parasites that have magical powers and take over peoples’ bodies) that we were about to enter, and continues to impress with Jayné’s (pronounced zha-nay) likeable narrative voice and spunky attitude, the story’s fast pacing, and some wonderful first impressions like Jayné’s first meeting with the 200-year-old cursed Midian Clark and a pulse-pounding encounter with a group of demon assassins. Unfortunately, after the main players—Aubrey, Ex and Choygi Jake—are introduced and the main plotline established which involved taking out the leader of the Invisible College, Randolph Coin, the book starts to lose its luster.

For one, the plot involving the assassination of Randolph Coin is incredibly simplistic. In a nutshell, Coin is connected to a lot of bad stuff that has happened over the centuries—including Midian’s curse—and killing him “would undo everything it’s done in the physical world.” So with that in mind, “Unclean Spirits” mainly follows Jayné and her new colleagues as they try to come up with a plan to kill Coin and successfully execute that plan. That’s pretty much it. No clever misdirection, no shocking surprises, and no engaging subplots to complement the story.

Compounding the problem is a number of additional issues, one being the vastly underdeveloped and one-dimensional villains. Another is how little information is provided about riders, the Pleroma, the Invisible College and other supernatural aspects that show up in the book. Worst of all though is how the novel’s storyline and paranormal elements take a backseat to uninteresting television-like drama such as Jayné’s complicated attraction to Aubrey, Jayné’s identity/confidence crisis, Midian not being who he said he is, Ex’s responsibility issues and so on.

Now there’s nothing wrong with adding a little drama to a story. Every urban fantasy series has some, and it adds depth and personality to the characters. It’s just with this case, there was a bit too much drama going on and not enough story, action and the paranormal. As a result, “Unclean Spirits” felt like one really long prologue or TV show pilot where not much happens aside from establishing characters and setting up a few basic plotlines to be continued…

CONCLUSION: Between the novel’s energetic pacing, Jayné’s undeniable charm, and the intriguing concept behind the riders, “Unclean Spirits” is a solid entry in the urban fantasy genre. It is also a flawed entry with unrealized potential. But with a more even balance of drama, story and action; a greater emphasis on the paranormal; and perhaps a little more edge; I think the next Black Sun’s Daughter novel could be something special…


Mihai A. said...

I wonder who this reviewer is? :D Welcome back, Robert :)

Robert said...

Thanks! This is just one of many reviews I have coming out in the next month or so :D

SciFiGuy said...

Daniel Abraham doing urban fantasy - very interesting. You note that this first book is like an extended prologue setting out the parameters for a series. A lot of new startup series lately have suffered from this inevitable requirement to get the world building rolling. It would be better if publishers kick started these new series by launching the first two or even three books quickly back to back like was done with the Temeraire books by Naomi Novik. Give the readers something more substantial to buy into a series with.

Robert said...

I was actually just speaking with Daniel about the series yesterday. The second book is already done and ideally he'd like to release a new one every eight months or so with ten volumes planned :) We'll see what happens...

Anonymous said...

I thought it was an intriguing start to the series. It definitely has me interested and waiting anxiously for the next installment to see where it goes. I hope it's not eight months away.

Querent said...

I disagree with this reviewer. This is the cleanest and most elegant treatment of this type of material that I have seen in recent years. It has everything it needs, and nothing it doesn't need. I enjoyed it a great deal, and I look forward to the next installment. The only weakness in the novel is the heroine's name which is said to be "French" ( Jayne' pronounced Zhanay). Not only is it unbelievable that a rabid fundamentalist would name his daughter with a name like this, but no Frenchman would pronounce Jayne' as Zhanay. But this is a minor objection. This was an outstanding debut for a contemplated series, and I will instantly buy the follow up.

Unknown said...

I have just read both books in the Black Sun's Daughter series. I am glad he plans to publish ev eith far it seams to be a good series. Where I bought it has it as romance, I do think that is wrong.

Unknown said...

I have finished both books, and I am exited to hear that he will be publishing a book about every 8 months. This series has promise.

Stacey Matthews said...

I have read both books in the series and the second book was by far the stronger. Tantalizing hints were sprinkled throughout - Sabine mentioning Soleil Noir, the reference to Jayne's mother having a worm and an affair, and more. I am really looking forward to the next installments where we may find out about the tattoo/protection, Jayne's family, and where her special "talents" come from. Could there be a family rider involved? Is the tattoo the source of Uncle Eric's protection, or is there a deeper source? Is our friendly vampire going to make another appearance - and will he be on Jayne's side?


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