Title: Darker Angels
Author: M.L.N. Hanover
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Pocket (Simon & Schuster)
Publication Date: September 2009
Paperback: 368 pages
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in The Black Sun’s Daughter series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: I recently read & reviewed Unclean Spirits, the first book in this series – and I enjoyed it. Naturally, I had to give Darker Angels a read to see where Jayné story went next.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
In the battle between good and evil, there’s no such thing as a fair fight.
When Jayné Heller’s uncle Eric died, she inherited a fortune beyond all her expectations — and a dangerous mission in a world she never knew existed. Reining in demons and supernatural foes is a formidable task, but thankfully Jayné has vast resources and loyal allies to rely on. She’ll need both to tackle a bodyswitching serial killer who’s taken up residence in New Orleans, a city rich in voodoo lore and dark magic.
Working alongside Karen Black, a highly confident and enigmatic ex-FBI agent, Jayné races to track down the demon’s next intended host. But the closer she gets, the more convinced she becomes that nothing in this beautiful, wounded city is exactly as it seems. When shocking secrets come to light, and jealousy and betrayal turn trusted friends into adversaries, Jayné will soon come face-to-face with an enemy that knows her all too well, and won’t rest until it has destroyed everything she loves most….
Jayné Heller’s life has been changed forever following the death of her beloved Uncle Eric – first she finds out she’s heir to an unfathomable fortune, and then she discovers her Uncle was murdered because of his entrenchment in the hidden supernatural world of riders. Jayné takes up the cowl, assuming control of the family business even after her Uncle’s murder is avenged, because for once she feels like she has control and direction in her life – and with the help of her friends and teammates Aubrey, Ex and Chogyi Jake, Jayné finally has a home. While she and the team are working on cataloguing all of Eric’s information and traveling to his extensive properties across the globe, Jayné receives a call on her Uncle’s old cell phone from and old acquaintance of Eric’s, the former FBI Agent Karen Black. The beautiful and charismatic Karen has discovered a girl in danger from a determined rider in New Orleans, and needs Eric’s – or now Jayné’s – help. Eager to jump back into the ring and take on the dangerous task of fighting riders, the team heads down south to Louisiana. Working with Karen Black, Jayné and her friends soon realize that they are in way over their heads. As danger closes in, separating and making enemies of teammates, Jayné must use her wits and strength to save her friends and stop a rider hellbent on their destruction.
While Unclean Spirits introduced readers to an intriguing new world of riders (things humans know as vampires, werewolves, fae, and other supernatural creatures), Darker Angels takes a closer look at a specific type of rider: the loa. In itself, this is pretty cool – most modern Urban Fantasy centers around the usual preternatural suspects, and Darker Angels immerses readers in the not-so-prevalent realm of voodoo. Using Louisiana voodoo spirits and myths like those of opposing loa Rada (including Legba and her ilk) and Petro (Carrefour and his), and historical figures like Marie Laveau (iconic Voodoo Queen of New Orleans), this book delves into New Orleans’s rich past, creating a compelling world of magic and tradition. Too, Mr. Hanover looks at a post-Katrina New Orleans, with its slums and water-rotted homes, the many missing people presumed dead or permanently evacuated, juxtaposed with the old splendor of tourism, grand luxury and spicy food. There’s an understanding of the city and its unique history that comes across beautifully in the novel, in an atmosphere of respect and mystery.
While the setting was fabulously done, equally well-executed was the concept of “magic” in this second book. Building upon what readers learned in the first novel about riders, Darker Angels even further blurs the line between “Good” and “Evil” – are all riders, by definition, “Evil”? This is a question touched upon in Unclean Spirits that is examined even further, and with much more ambiguous results, in Darker Angels. Former professor Aubrey’s analogies for Riders as different kinds of microorganisms (parasites that can be predatory or symbiotic) add a nice visualization to this particularly interesting take on the supernatural. Also under scrutiny in this second book are Jayné’s particular powers, which she and her team have assumed were result of her Uncle Eric’s protections – but this is an explanation that looks increasingly unlikely. Jayné discovers that not only does she have an unconscious skill for self-defense through combat, but she also finds new magical quirks that set her apart from her friends and teammates. This isn’t exactly a subtle plot thread, and it’s probably a safe bet to say Jayné has some dark family secret that has resulted in her particular brand of magical skills. (Anyone with two brain cells to rub together will be able to see where ultimately Mr. Hanover is headed with Jayné’s powers, her past, and the ever-present theme of Good vs. Evil Riders.)
Which brings me to my next points, regarding writing and character development. In Unclean Spirits, Jayné Heller is introduced as a well-meaning but aimless twenty-two year old. She’s just dropped out of college, and if it weren’t for the timing of her Uncle’s death, she’d have nowhere to go and not a cent to her name. With Eric’s passing and his substantial bequeathments on his niece, however, Jayné discovers a purpose and direction, as well as some latent magical abilities she probably never would have realized otherwise. While this makes Jayné a flawed and realistic character, it also means she’s tough to like as she’s kind of a drab, well, loser. In addition to making many too-stupid-to-live decisions, she doesn’t really earn or seem to deserve the bounty thrown in her direction. She’s sweet enough as a character, but lacking in the smarts or significance department. In Darker Angels, Jayné grows on you a little – she still makes appallingly bad decisions (really, flashing lights “THIS IS STUPID!” decisions) and is not too quick on the uptake, but she’s got a lot of heart and is sympathetic, which comes across nicely to readers. Aubrey and Jayné’s relationship is a little vanilla, though I do like that they are both extremely flawed characters who don’t exactly have their stuff together (Aubrey in particular has a lot of baggage).
In comparison to Jayné’s mixture of appeal and annoying traits, however, there are some fabulous secondary characters. Karen Black in particular is a standout as the sexy and confident ex-FBI agent with a penchant for danger (not to mention, it’s nice seeing Jayné interact with another strong female character). And as with Unclean Spirits, the more interesting characters were Jayné’s team members – tortured, enigmatic Ex and the zen Chogyi Jake. Ex goes through the grinder in this second novel, emotions all over the place as he’s manipulated and challenged. A little more about Chogyi Jake and his past is revealed, and he’s a calming influence in a sea of turmoil that surrounds Jayné. Although I did catch myself rolling my eyes at some of the predictable characterizations (everyone is in love with Jayné, and the one female character that seems to have her stuff together is actually a big fat mess), this was a compulsively readable book with enough likable potential to keep me going with the series.
The only other glaring weakness with the series thus far is with the overall level of predictability. It’s tiresome and feels a tad condescending when a book seems as though it has been “written down” to its audience – and such is the case so far with The Black Sun’s Daughter books. Really obvious plot seeds are planted with the subtlety of a sledgehammer (i.e. Jayné’s heritage and the relevance of Riders in her past), and cringeworthy foreshadowing (ominous sentences like, ‘I expected that’s what she meant by saying that. But I was never more wrong. It would be much too late when I finally discovered what she meant,’ etc) is employed with reckless abandon.
With that said, however, these annoyances are minor in the overall scope of the books – and there is more than enough goodness here to merit a much longer look at Jayné and her adventures!
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
“Hey,” my dead uncle said. “You’ve got a call.”
I rolled over in bed, disoriented. A dream about meeting Leonard Cohen in a perfume factory was still about as immediate as reality. My previous day’s clothes were piled in the corner of the tile floor along with the leather backpack I used as a purse. The pack’s side pocket was open and glowing. My uncle Eric’s voice came again.
“Hey. You’ve got a call.”
I untangled myself from the sheets and stumbled over, promising myself for the thousandth time that I would change the ringtone. The bedroom was still unfamiliar. The cell phone flashed a number I didn’t recognize, but there was a name — Karen Black — associated with it, so she must have been in his contacts list someplace. I accepted the call.
“Unh?” I grunted into the receiver.
“Eric, it’s Karen. I’ve found it!” a woman said. “It’s in New Orleans, and I know where it’s going next. There’s a little girl with Sight, and she says her sister is the next target. I don’t know how long I’ve got. I need you.”
It was a lot to take in. I hesitated, and the woman misinterpreted my silence.
“Okay, what’s it going to take?” she demanded. “Name your price, Heller.”
“Actually,” I said. “That’s complicated. I’m Jayné. Eric’s niece. He’s…um…he passed on last year.”
It was Karen Black’s turn to be silent. I gave her a moment to let it sink in. I skipped the parts about how he’d been murdered by an evil wizard and how several of Eric’s old friends, along with a policeman who owed me a favor and a vampire with a grudge against the same wizard, had teamed up to mete out summary roadside justice. I could get back to that later if I needed to.
“Oh,” she said.
“Yeah. He left me pretty much everything. Including the cell phone. So…hi. Jayné here. Anything I can do to help out?”
The pause was longer this time. I could guess pretty well at the debate she was going through. I gave her a hand.
“This is about riders, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “So you know about them?”
“Abstract spiritual parasites. Come in from Next Door or the Pleroma or whatever you want to call it,” I said as I walked carefully back to the bed. “Take over people’s bodies. Have weird-ass magical powers, kind of like the magic humans can do, but way more effective. Yeah, I’ve got the For Dummies book, at least.”
“All right,” she said. “Did Eric…did he even mention me?”
“No,” I said. “Sorry.”
The woman on the other end of the line took a breath as I got back under the covers and pulled the pillow behind my back. I heard Aubrey cough from one of the bedrooms down the hall.
“All right,” she said. “My name is Karen Black. I used to be a special agent for the FBI. About ten years ago, I started tracking down what I thought was a fairly standard serial killer. It turned out to be a rider. We caught the horse, a man named Joseph Mfume, but the rider switched bodies.”
“So not so easy to track,” I said.
“No,” she agreed. “My supervisors wanted me to stop. They didn’t believe there was anything to it. And…well, X-Files was still popular back then. There were jokes. I was referred for psychiatric counseling and taken off active duty. I resigned and went on with the investigation myself. Eric and I crossed paths a few times over the years, and I was impressed with his efficiency. I’ve found where the rider is going to strike next, and I need help to stop it. I thought of Eric.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Can you help me?”
I rubbed my eyes with my free hand until little ghosts of false light danced in my vision.
“Hell if I know,” I said. “Let me talk to my guys and call you back.”
You can read the full excerpt, along with the first five chapters online HERE.
Verdict: Darker Angels is an enjoyable second novel that’s even stronger than its predecessor. Though Jayné might not be the perfect heroine, there’s enough originality and spunk to make The Black Sun’s Daughter a series to look forward to. Recommended, especially for fans looking for a different type of Urban Fantasy.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Courtesy of Simon & Schuster, we have a giveaway copy of Darker Angels available for ONE lucky reader! The contest is open to residents of the US, Canada & UK, and will run until Saturday November 21, 2009 at 11:59 PM (Pacific). In order to enter, just leave a comment here letting us know who your favorite Urban Fantasy heroine is and why. One comment per person, please (duplicate entries will be disqualified). Good luck!