RogerBW's Blog

Spiral Hunt, Margaret Ronald 27 May 2016

2009 urban fantasy. Evie Scelan isn't a magician: she just has a knack for tracking things by scent. But staying out of the way of the magical rulers of Boston isn't as easy as simply keeping her head down.

The best thing about this book is its treatment of Boston. Even more than in Red Equinox, the city and its people are significant to the story (though it's a very different Boston from that book's depiction, as most of the big-name landmarks go unmentioned): what neighbourhood you grew up in matters, partly as a socioeconomic thing, but also as a cultural grouping, and for magical purposes it can be really important whether you're standing on old ground or recent infill.

Boston had been a city like any other, with its own skeletons in the closet from the time before the Brotherhood. Sometimes they were literal skeletons, things like why it's not safe to go digging in certain parts of Charlestown. What's in the stones where the Boston Massacre took place. Why Josiah Quincy renamed Dock Square as Odin's Block, and who he put underneath it to seal the deal.

The downside of all this is that Evie, our first-person narrator, knows vastly more than the reader does about the difference between what she does and what adepts do (which mostly seems to be the standard magic-as-addition metaphor), and the nature of the world she lives in. There's nobody for her to infodump to, as she tries to keep her mundane friends out of her dangerous magical life, and so the opening chapters largely passed me by while I was floundering for clues.

On top of the heap of mail at the foot of my door was a flyer about a neighborhood blood drive (I'd been giving for several years now; if someone tried to perform sympathetic magic against me using my blood, they'd find their target split between three blood banks).

But there's one particularly good point, especially if you've read a fair bit of urban fantasy: there's a guy who turns up in Evie's life who's too good to be true, and just for once he is. Without giving away details, what seems like a setup for a very standard romance plotline of Big Misunderstanding and Reconciliation is comprehensively derailed, largely by characters being true to themselves.

They may be awkward cusses, but they're all trying to do the right thing as they see it, even the villains. Evie's characterisation is sometimes a bit flat, as she pretty much does what a generic kick-ass urban fantasy heroine would do, and doesn't always narrate her backstory enough to distinguish herself.

I didn't wait for this man to complete his spell. The easiest way for an untalented person to fight a magician is hard and dirty: you get in close and you don't stop hitting them, don't give them a chance to call on whatever allies they might have.

There's a fair old whack of Celtic myth here too; I'm not qualified to say whether it's been got right, but it feels like the sort of original narrative that might have given rise to confusing and contradictory fables, rather than the pat approach of one story in one book having all the answers.

I heaved a dry sob, raised the knife, and brought it down with the inevitability of gravity.

It's not a great book, but it's a good one. And there are no sexy vampires or werewolves. Followed by Wild Hunt, which I certainly intend to read; recommended by Tim Emrick.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

See also:
Red Equinox, Douglas Wynne

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