Thursday, 27 December 2012

Fantasy Review: 'Darker Angels' by M L N Hanover

This is the second of the ‘Black Sun’s Daughter’ series of urban fantasies, written under a pseudonym by Daniel Abraham. The first, ‘Unclean Spirits’, was a bit spotty, overfull of angst, shopping sprees and housecleaning, not to mention a certain amount of breathless sex. This one is a lot better in all respects. I find the three blokes a bit hard to distinguish, though, and even though I know there’s an ex-priest, a calm chanting one and the love interest, it still took me most of the book to get straight which one was which.

The plot this time involves an ex-FBI agent who’s been tracking down ‘riders’ (demons of some sort who latch onto a human, inhabiting their body), and wants the gang to kidnap a child because... OK, never mind about the plot. There are some dramatic encounters which never go quite the way they’re supposed to and it makes for a solid, pacy read. There are also the beginnings of depth to the characters and their relationships, and now that Jayné (the heroine, and if you think that name is bad, the sidekicks are called Ex, Chogyi Jake and Aubrey; but the FBI agent is Karen, so make of that what you will). Where was I? Oh yes, now that Jayné has calmed down a bit, she’s beginning to show signs of intelligent life. She thinks the way to wind down after a close encounter with a ‘rider’ is a night of heavy-duty clubbing, but it’s better than break-the-bank shopping binges, I suppose. She’s still not got much self-confidence, but the author is allowing her to grow rather well from book to book, and the dynamic between her and the three sidekicks is beginning to blossom nicely.

The story this time is set in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, and the setting is beautifully realised, and feels totally real and atmospheric. I’ve only been there once, many years ago, but some of the descriptions brought back vivid memories. The voodoo background is perfect for the story, too. There is some rather heavy-handed drawing of parallels between the Katrina-wrought changes and the events of Jayné’s life, but it does give the book a bit of much-needed depth.

A small quibble. I don’t expect to see punctuation issues with a book put out by a major publisher, but this one repeatedly had lines that went: ‘Blah blah blah, I said. It drove me nuts. Hiring a decent editor is not just for self-publishers. But it’s a minor point in a book which builds to a terrific finale. Again, nothing quite goes according to plan, but (as in the first book) I like the way that Jayné doesn’t quite turn into the all-powerful kick-ass heroine, gets injured and needs help and support from a few of her friends.

To be honest, I’m not much enamoured with urban fantasy. I like the big sweep of a created world, and it seems a little odd to me for characters to battle demons and then drive off down the I10 or pop into a Starbucks to check their email. But I’m very much enamoured of the writings of Daniel Abraham, so I’m definitely on board for the whole series. This was a step up from the first book, and the more credible heroine, evocative setting, breathless finale and greater depth make it four stars.

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