Dec 15, 2009

YetiReview: Darker Angels

21 Words or Less: Another well-written series installment set in voodootacular New Orleans that balances the normal with the bizarre by utilizing relatable characters

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.

As notable as Hanover's cast of characters is the location he places them in. From the fairly nondescript Denver setting featured in Unclean Spirits, Jayne and Co end up in New Orleans, LA. New Orleans is undoubtedly one of the most supernaturally charged cities in America and Hanover does an excellent job meshing the character of the city into the book without betraying the first person perspective of Ms. Heller. Some books only make token references to the setting, enough to ground the action and little more. Other stories lay on the detail a little too thick, trying to work their research into the story where it doesn’t belong. Darker Angels presents the city and its mysteries as Jayne sees them. As she journeys through water-logged ruins and the re-emerging tourist district in a hunt for voodoo cults and lost children we witness New Orleans through her eyes rather than some omniscient out of place narrator. I would say that the voice has improved from the first book in which Hanover (actually Daniel Abraham) seemed to have the occasional difficulty writing from the female perspective. While the majority of the narration is clear and consistent, there are a few places where it feels out of sync with the rest of the story. At times Jayne makes references to things people said that she misunderstood at the time of the story but that she now understands clearly in the future world from which she narrates her adventures. These points feel more like teasers than natural extensions of Jayne’s voice.

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.


  1. Greetings Patrick - First time here, but I enjoyed your comparison review between Unclean Spirits and Darker Angels. I thought the first book was stronger (love those clueless newbie stories), and I dearly missed Midian's presence in the 2nd book.

    You think the DA cover sucks though? I've gotta tell you, as a female UF fan, it appeals to me greatly. I've noticed that male reviewers tend to scoff at the tattooed, black pleather pants clad heroine covers, but I bet they work on their intended audience - me! I like reading the different perspective though. Makes me stop assuming that everybody loves the same things I do.

    Anyway, I very much enjoyed reading through your recent posts, and I highly recommend the Joe Pitt Casebooks for your 2010 reading pleasure. One question though... why only 'completed' series? Do you hate the wait time between books in a work-in-progress series? I'm just curious.

  2. I am looking forward to reading the Joe Pitt Casebooks.

    I typically only read completed series because I read so much that I tend to forget what happened mid series and as some book series (Wheel of Time, ASOIAF, etc) take decades to release its easier to keep everything straight if I wait until the series is complete. It's also easier for formulating an review as subsequent books can change your understanding of early books.


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