Monday, February 08, 2010

Review: Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald

I call it the new urban fantasy – not to be confused with old school urban fantasy or paranormal romance. But what is it? To me this new urban fantasy is basically chicks kicking paranormal ass (sorry to use what is a derogative term, but for whatever reason it seems to fit in this case). The setting is generally urban, and there are usually vampires, werewolves, demons, or some other sort of magical beasties that need some ass-kicking – and the woman who ultimately does this ass-kicking often has some sort of supernatural powers herself.

The way I describe the new urban fantasy above probably leads you to conclude that I’m not the biggest fan of the sub-genre that is taking over the SFF-world with its huge popularity and corresponding sales figures. That conclusion is at least partially correct – as a result it’s not something that I read all that often. However, I do believe that it can be done well just as I believe an exploration of why it’s so popular in this post-911 world is something I’d like to see more of. But I digress.

I picked up Spiral Hunt by
Margaret Ronald (Book Depository, Powell’s Books , Indiebound) for a few reasons – I wanted something that could be a short and entertaining read while I was waiting for another book, Spiral Hunt is intriguing to me because of it’s grounding in Celtic mythology which I’ve always been fascinated by, it’s set in a city (Boston) that I’m not too familiar with, and because I am making an effort to read more books authored by women this year. And let’s be honest, as a reviewer of SFF books, I need to read the occasional new urban fantasy book to keep up with things.

Spiral Hunt follows the new urban fantasy rubric fairly closely – Evie Scelan is a relatively young, single woman, is fiercely independent with few friends, haunted by her past, and somewhat down on her luck. Evie also has the ability to magically track the scent of people and things. She makes ends meet with the day job of courier, and moonlights as a finder of people and things for which she utilizes her gift/curse. A call from her past brings her into the middle of a conflict within the dark, dangerous, and magical undercurrent of Boston where a gang of magicians seeks to gain power by feeding off of the magic of gods that have faded a bit from the world.

Spiral Hunt got off to a slow start. Maybe this was due to my own preconceptions about the new urban fantasy that hint at above, but Evie doesn’t start out as a particularly likeable or even interesting person – which can be a real problem for a book told from the first person. The few supporting characters we meet don’t feel fleshed out enough to add any interest. The Boston that we see feels more like a cliché than the unique city I’d hoped for. The plot was slow to get started and rambled aimlessly at times – though this is probably more a result of Evie’s point of view than anything.

But once the novel gets going, Sprial Hunt gets interesting. Once the cast has been introduced and the setting established, Ronald is free to get things rolling. Evie’s conflicted loyalties become compelling and I began to care about Evie’s coming to understand herself and her place. Through this Ronald lays out a wonderfully subtle and ultimately powerfully cathartic resolution for Evie involving her dead mother.

As I mention above, I find Celtic mythology fascinating and with Boston’s long ties to Ireland, there is an obvious connection to be explored (or exploited). And that’s just what happens – the Celtic gods are indeed exploited. I would have loved for more exploration, yet I’m willing to admit that Americans exploiting ancient Celtic gods is probably much more appropriate.

I don’t read enough of the new urban fantasy to really know if Spiral Hunt sets itself apart from the pack. But it did satisfy what I was looking for – it was ultimately a short and entertaining read. At times disappointing, at times addictive, Spiral Hunt left me interested enough to want to know what’s next for Evie – and the adventures of this latest urban heroine do continue in Wild Hunt (
Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), a book that I imagine I’ll look into the next time I need something short and entertaining. 6.5-7/10


Bryce L. said...

I think "chicks" is actually the technical term in the new urban fantasy genre.

Fence said...

I'm not a huge fan of this sub-genre either. Strikes me as chick-sff; with all the not very good things that go alone with that. But as a light read every now and then they're grand. I quite enjoyed Kelley Armstrong's werewolf book, for example.


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