The third novel in the Black Sun's Daughter series, following Unclean Spirits and Darker Angels, Hanover continues the themes set up in the first two novels of the series, bringing things further to centre-stage and, towards the latter half of the book, making our characters question much of their knowledge and many of their assumptions.

Janyé is still growing into herself in this novel, questioning her decisions and uncertain about both actions and motivation, but she's clearly maturing; whilst we are told she's still questioning her role as leader - and indeed, are shown it - and whilst she is still 24, and not wholly mature, she's growing into her new responsiblity and importance, as well as developing her own leadership-style.  Her decision-making is more mature and her vulnerabilities explored in further detail, especially in relation to Eric.  Aubrey, Chogya Jake, Ex and Kim all remain as important, indeed central, characters to the mix of interpersonal and supernatural dramas that form the plot of the novel, remaining in their roles but growing into more complex people as Janyé sees them more and more clearly; and Eric finally starts to become a real character of his own, in absentia, rather than a 2D role model for Janyé to look up to.

The plot of the novel is very different to the previous pair; for a start its much darker, and secondly its more complex.  There's a whole level beyond the previous set-up of riders possessing individuals revealed in this novel, and that problem - and the powerful rider that forms the problem that the novel revolves around - is really well dealt with by Hanover; indeed, he keeps the plot fast-paced and balances the emotional and rider-based plots incredibly well, mixingt and blending them to perfection in Janyé's mind and decisions.  The reader is always slightly off-balance, on the verge of being uncomfortable with it but never quite there - Hanover keeps us in our seats and watching, fascinated and caring about what happens.

The revelations and twists that form this book in the series are also really well handled.  They've been hinted at before, but not telegraphed; they're not coming out of the blue, and as Janyé says at one point, "we see what we expect to see." That gives the revelations that extra punch as they change preconceived notions and mix things up a lot, to the point where by the end of the novel things are in a completely different light and there's been a whole paradigm shift with it.

This is a fantastic novel, and given that the fourth in the series was recently released (at least in the States), I'm itching to get my hands on it.

Hanover's sequel to Unclean Spirits is a fantastic urban fantasy adventure, combined with a coming-of-age story; as the second book in a quadrilogy, however, it hardly comes to a conclusion in the latter form, and as an urban fantasy story it comes to something of a conclusion but there are a number of loose ends left to be picked up in the sequels.

The characters are growing stronger and better as the series goes on, becoming a more cohesive group with interesting inter-relations; this is especially true of Jayné and Choygi Jake, though the introduction of the brilliant character of Karen Black - throughout the novel a hidden ace with various different elements never quite made explicit and hinted at throughout the novel, vital information about her character concealed (as it is written from the perspective of an older Jayné, there are many hints of what's to come in the final twists of the novel) and a great character in conjunction with Jayné's slightly immature figure.

The plot's also pretty good; whilst some of the twists and turns are predictable, especially as the novel goes on and hints are dropped in a more and more heavy manner (to the point of basically being a neon sign saying "Look! This is what is really going on!" in large letters), there are elements that are unpredictable and unexpected - never out of character, but often manipulating or changing the characters slightly in such a manner that things are going to be interesting in future books, with the implications of this book being long-lasting.  There's a lot of action, and some espionage, revealing the skills and knowledge of the various characters; indeed everyone gets a moment of being awesome, and a moment of being very much themselves, here.

Finally, as a middle book in a series, this is successful; it continues developments from the first book and maintains continuity whilst avoiding alluding to intermediate events that Hanover hasn't written, whilst still giving the reader a sense of time passing.  It also sets up enough hints and interesting comments about the future books in the series that one wants to continue on, and read all four books just to find out what happens to Jayné et al.

So, all in all, Hanover's continued his innovative Black Sun's Daughter urban fantasy trilogy with skill, style and panache; a really good novel.
Once more on the trail of good urban fantasy to shake preconceptions of the genre, I'm tripping over authors who've written in other fields - in this case Dan Abraham, author of the Long Price Quartet (beware spoilers!), writing under the pseudonym of M. L. N. Hanover.  Hanover's novel of Jayné Heller and her discovery of her supernatural heritage along with the supernatural world is another example of the genre in a different way; here a troubled college dropout finds out about a whole new world and has to fight to survive in it from the moment of her entry.  Another trope, another brilliant and well-done example of it.

The cast of characters - Jayné, Aubrey, Midian, Ex, and Chogyi Jake - are all different kinds of people, are differently motivated and differently written with their own distinctive style; it's that strong characterisation which The Long Price led me to expect of this book.  The voices, thoughts, opinions and styles of each character - how they move, act, react, think - are all so different and individual, so carefully drawn, as to provide incredible differentiation and humanity to all of them; it's a brilliant cast which gives so many different reactions to an extreme set of situations.

That set of situations is the plot that forms the novel.  It's a relatively simple plot of revenge and self-defence in the same act, and fighting the bad guys; it's also a coming of age for Jayné, drawn convincingly and well despite the difference between the character and the author.  The developments of the story and the character of Jayné work together to form a cohesive whole, a set of events that play off each other and build to a logical climax that works incredibly well; the story has a couple of moments of deus ex machina written in that are explained away with a version of handwavium, but the plot is generally coherent and well-written.

The plot's a great one too, with it's new take on UF; the ghosties and ghoulies and so on are drawn interestingly and, for that matter, the mechanism of their existence is one that has roots in many traditions - Abraham's work seems characterised by its tendency to reach beyond Western tropes - and it is put across in such a way as to convince the reader and make them a little jumpy, including about some characters in the novel because of how they act.  The setting influences the reader to such a degree in reading the novel that it changes how whole scenes seem and feel brilliantly.

All in all brilliant urban fantasy which incorporates many of the tropes, and even the sex, and makes them fresh, new, and exciting. Really good work, and I want to read the rest of the series.

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February 2012

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