Dec 15, 2009
YetiReview: Darker Angels
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Good: Strong first person narration balances the paranormal with the mundane, Well written characters that feel like old friend; New Orleans setting/culture intrigues without being overwhelming or unnatural
The Bad: Lack of over-arching plot movement; Subplot is fairly predictable (and spoiled by back cover); Some awkward foreshadowing disrupts an otherwise seamless voice; Cover still sucks
My experience reading urban fantasy is a lot like my experience with family reunions. It’s not so much what you are doing but who you’re doing it with. If you don’t get along with your family you aren’t going to have a good time, regardless of what vacation spot you choose. On the other hand, the right group of people can make even the most mundane of destinations memorable. But what happens when you get both? In Darker Angels, the second novel in M.L.N. Hanover’s Black Sun’s Daughter sequence, Jayne, Aubrey, Ex, and Chogyi Jake make the trip to New Orleans, Louisiana for some rest, relaxation, and just the slightest bit of hunting for a serial-killing body-switching voodoo demon. There may be more of the latter and less of the former but that doesn’t make Darker Angels any less fun.
The strongest part of this series so far has been the characters. One of my favorite aspects of the Unclean Spirits (Book 1) was how real the characters felt. Unlike many Urban Fantasy series (Dresden Files, Felix Castor, etc), Hanover made the decision to start Jayne's story at the beginning. Rather than starting out as the experienced guide to the supernatural world for the reader, Jayne is as clueless as the rest of us. So many times you see characters make the transition into the larger fantastical world behind their own mundane lives with little hesitation. So it's a relief to read a character who asks the same questions and has the same doubts that I imagine any normal twenty something would have when placed in the same situation. Even the little things like looking for a good wifi connection, making small talk over dinner and drinks, and seeking familiar comforts at a coffee chain work to normalize a cast of characters that are immersed in an otherwise abnormal world of possession, magic, and monsters. The absurdity of the supernatural elements balanced with the normal problems of maintaining relationships and mixing work with life reminded me of some of the best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
At the same time, that may have been my frustration with the overall arc of the series. While I appreciated Hanover’s skill at balancing his characters and his world-building, I couldn’t help but be irritated with the lack of answers to questions presented in Unclean Spirits. The plot itself feels light and somewhat predictable (especially if you read the back blurb) and the majority of the novel deals with fleshing out Jayne’s character rather than moving the bigger story forward. There are a few more tantalizing hints to a larger story involving her uncle, her tattoos, a vast fortune, innate magically ability and a possible destiny but little follow-up.
I drew parallels earlier to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and if I had to provide an analog for Darker Angels, it would be to the early episodes of the classic genre show. The characters have been introduced and hints at a larger story have been provided but the second or third episodes always seem somewhat stand-alone, serving as an additional jumping on point rather than aggressively pushing the story forward. There isn’t anything wrong with this per say. In fact, it’s more realistic than every episode dealing with the same evil force lurking in the background and single-mindedly building toward a season finale. But when you’re dealing with books, it’s not a matter of days or weeks until the next installment; it’s a matter of months. When you get to the end of the last chapter and you don’t feel like you don’t know any more than you did at the beginning of the book, it’s difficult to call the book a complete success. I’d like to see a better balance of subplot and superplot in future volumes.
Despite the disappointing lack of revelations regarding Jayne’s strange inheritance, this installment was another fast-paced fun read that returned to the enjoyable, relatable characters introduced in Hanover’s 1st work. I eagerly anticipate the release of Vicious Grace, the next book in the sequence. If you are interested in the series, I’d recommend picking up all three books and mainlining them like your favorite TV series on DVD.
Posted by Patrick at 12/15/2009 11:50:00 PM