Series: The Black Sun's Daughter by M.L.N. Hanover

Publication: 29,November , 2011

Jayne Heller has discovered the source of her uncanny powers: something else is living inside her body. She's possessed. Of all her companions, she can only bring herself to confide in Ex, the former priest. They seek help from his old teacher and the circle of friends he left behind, hoping to cleanse Jayne before the parasite in her becomes too powerful.
Ex’s history and a new enemy combine to leave Jayne alone and on the run. Her friends, thinking that the rider with her has taken the reins, try to hunt her down, unaware of the danger they’re putting her in. Jayne must defeat the weight of the past and the murderous intent of another rider, and her only allies are a rogue vampire she once helped free and the nameless thing hiding inside her skin.

The Black Sun's Daughter — (2008-2010) Publisher: In a world where magic walks and demons ride, you can't always play by the rules. Jayné Heller thinks of herself as a realist, until she discovers reality isn't quite what she thought it was. When her uncle Eric is murdered, Jayné 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...

M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 1. Unclean Spirits 2. Darker AngelsM.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 1. Unclean Spirits 2. Darker Angels 3. Vicious GraceM.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 1. Unclean Spirits 2. Darker Angels 3. Vicious Grace

urban fantasy book review M.L.N. Hanover The Black Sun's Daughter: 1. Unclean SpiritsUnclean Spirits

M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 1. Unclean Spirits 2. Darker AngelsJayné Heller is feeling pretty alone in the world. She's estranged from her intolerant family. She has just dropped out of college, and her friends have moved on without her. The only dependable person left in her life is her black-sheep uncle Eric … and he's just been murdered.

When Jayné travels to Denver to settle Eric's accounts, she learns two things:
1. Eric was filthy rich and left it all to her.
2. He was killed by Randolph Coin, an evil magician.
Jayné is not so sure she believes in this magic stuff, but she knows Coin and his goons are bad news, and she reassembles Eric's evil-fighting team to deal with the situation.

M.L.N. Hanover does some interesting world-building here. In this universe, most supernatural nasties (vampires, werewolves, many magicians) are created by means of possession. A spirit from another plane, called a rider, takes over a human body and uses it for its own ends. Some characters see this through the lens of religion and think of it as demon possession; others come from a scientific background and view it as a parasitic relationship. It's implied that both are valid ways of looking at it. There’s also a hint of Qabalistic cosmology that I found fascinating, and I hope to learn more about how it works as THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER series continues.

As for Jayné’s new friends and colleagues, the characterization is a little thin. I loved Midian, and eventually grew to like another of the guys, but for the most part, they’re not as fleshed out as I’d have liked. I’m not sure how much of this is intentional. For example, there’s one character that I thought I was supposed to like, but I kept hoping Hanover would develop him a little more, because as it was, he reminded me of an ex-boyfriend of mine who was lying by omission about something really important. Turns out the character had a very similar secret, and so I wonder if I was picking up on an evasiveness that was intentionally written into the character. It may be that the characters who remain ciphers will turn out, later in the series, to be concealing big secrets.

The “let’s go kill Coin” plot is pretty simple and without twists. Also, it felt like the magic worked when it was convenient to the plot, and failed when that was convenient to the plot, rather than flowing naturally from the internal logic of Hanover’s universe.

The real story here, though, is Jayné’s growth from burnout to badass. I really liked her voice. Hanover did a great job of writing a young woman, filled with doubts and feeling adrift, then coming into her own.

Unclean Spirits is a quick, fun read. Jayné’s character development is compelling, and the humorous dialogue keeps things from getting too heavy. I look forward to Darker Angels. —Kelly Lasiter

urban fantasy book review M.L.N. Hanover The Black Sun's Daughter: 1. Unclean SpiritsUnclean Spirits

M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 1. Unclean Spirits 2. Darker AngelsIn 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) 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 Spiritsmainly 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.

So, 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. —Robert Thompson

urban fantasy book review M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 2. Darker AngelsDarker Angels

M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 1. Unclean Spirits 2. Darker AngelsMy inner curmudgeon nearly set Darker Angels aside at about the halfway point. "I don't get this book!" said the curmudgeon. "The voodoo's all wrong. Legba isn't an evil serial killer! The good guys' plan doesn't quite add up, and is pretty unethical besides. And the interpersonal drama just ate the plot for lunch!"

"Sit down and shut up," said M.L.N. Hanover. "I'm telling a story here."

OK, so I've never met M.L.N. Hanover, and he didn't literally say that, but he might as well have. Because just as I was about to give up on Darker Angels, he threw in some twists that made me realize I was looking at it all wrong.

I must have been led astray by the extremely linear plot of Unclean Spirits. I was expecting this plot to be similar in structure, and so I wasn't asking the right questions. I shouldn’t have been asking, "What did Hanover do wrong?" I should have been asking, "What might be going on within the plot to cause all these things to happen?" I think I also forgot that Jayné, despite being a narrator whose voice I really enjoy, is not a perfectly reliable narrator. She has biases and blind spots, and she doesn't understand everything she experiences. Jayné's preconceived notions got in the way of solving the mystery — and so did mine.

Darker Angels is much less linear than Unclean Spirits, and it's much better for it. The plot revolves around a voodoo spirit who manipulates its hosts into committing horrific murders. Jayné is hired by former FBI agent Karen Black, an acquaintance of her late uncle's, to help stop this spirit from killing a young girl. We visit New Orleans and see both the destruction left over from Katrina and the tenacity of its residents. The plot is full of great twists. Hanover yanked the rug out from under my feet at one point, and maybe I should have seen it coming, but I didn't. It's when the pieces start to fall into place that you realize just how carefully Hanover set them up.

I really enjoyed Darker Angels and I think it's safe to say I'm hooked on THE BLACK SUN'S DAUGHTER. Jayné continues to be a delight; she's no master strategist, but she has a lot of compassion, and she has more courage than she thinks she does. And to heck with the inner curmudgeon. By the end, this had become a "set the alarm early so you can read before work" kind of book, and I finished it with a smile on my face and maybe a few tears in my eyes. —Kelly Lasiter

urban fantasy book review M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 3. Vicious GraceVicious Grace

M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 1. Unclean Spirits 2. Darker Angels 3. Vicious GraceHave you ever been in one of those cobbled-together buildings where the 1st floor of the original structure opens onto the 3rd floor of the new wing, and you can only access the fourth floor by a staircase at the far end of that older building that got swallowed up into the whole mass at some point, and so on? I work in one, and after reading Vicious Grace, I don’t think I’ll ever see it the same way again! (Gee, thanks, M.L.N. Hanover, for making me scared of my own office building. *g*)

Vicious Grace is the third in Hanover’s urban fantasy series THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER. This one’s set in Chicago, at labyrinthine Grace Memorial Hospital, where a sleep researcher has noticed an eerie anomaly in his latest study: all of his subjects have had the same dream of an inhuman creature crawling out of a coffin. Jayné Heller and her team are called in to help. Conveniently, Jayné’s uncle Eric left her a condo in the city, and the gang settles in to investigate.

They uncover a ghastly history, the tendrils of which reach more intimately into Jayné’s own life than she’d have ever guessed. What she learns leads her to question everything she thought she knew, and she faces some harrowing moral choices that reveal less-than-admirable facets of her personality. There’s so little I can say without spoiling the best parts of the story, but Hanover makes gutsy plotting decisions that change the reader’s perception of the whole series.

Add in huge helpings of suspense, plus plenty of character development. In particular, we see more of Ex and Chogyi Jake and how their respective faiths shape their actions. There’s also some romantic drama. Jayné is worried about losing Aubrey to Kim, and the feelings of all three characters are realistically and sympathetically portrayed.

Vicious Grace is a chilling novel on two levels: the external horror of the haunted hospital, and the internal horror in Jayné’s mind as she considers the uses — and abuses — of the power she has inherited from Eric. I couldn’t put it down. You’ll want to read Unclean Spirits and Darker Angels first (otherwise the impact of this installment won’t be as great), but Vicious Grace is the best of the series so far.

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