Jayné Heller is feeling pretty alone in the world. She’s estranged from her intolerant family. She has just dropped out of college, and her friends have moved on without her. The only dependable person left in her life is her black-sheep uncle Eric … and he’s just been murdered.
When Jayné travels to Denver to settle Eric’s accounts, she learns two things:
1. Eric was filthy rich and left it all to her.
2. He was killed by Randolph Coin, an evil magician.
Jayné is not so sure she believes in this magic stuff, but she knows Coin and his goons are bad news, and she reassembles Eric’s evil-fighting team to deal with the situation.
M.L.N. Hanover does some interesting world-building here. In this universe, most supernatural nasties (vampires, werewolves, many magicians) are created by means of possession. A spirit from another plane, called a rider, takes over a human body and uses it for its own ends. Some characters see this through the lens of religion and think of it as demon possession; others come from a scientific background and view it as a parasitic relationship. It’s implied that both are valid ways of looking at it. There’s also a hint of Qabalistic cosmology that I found fascinating, and I hope to learn more about how it works as The Black Sun’s Daughter series continues.
As for Jayné’s new friends and colleagues, the characterization is a little thin. I loved Midian, and eventually grew to like another of the guys, but for the most part, they’re not as fleshed out as I’d have liked. I’m not sure how much of this is intentional. For example, there’s one character that I thought I was supposed to like, but I kept hoping Hanover would develop him a little more, because as it was, he reminded me of an ex-boyfriend of mine who was lying by omission about something really important. Turns out the character had a very similar secret, and so I wonder if I was picking up on an evasiveness that was intentionally written into the character. It may be that the characters who remain ciphers will turn out, later in the series, to be concealing big secrets.
The “let’s go kill Coin” plot is pretty simple and without twists. Also, it felt like the magic worked when it was convenient to the plot, and failed when that was convenient to the plot, rather than flowing naturally from the internal logic of Hanover’s universe.
The real story here, though, is Jayné’s growth from burnout to badass. I really liked her voice. Hanover did a great job of writing a young woman, filled with doubts and feeling adrift, then coming into her own.
Unclean Spirits is a quick, fun read. Jayné’s character development is compelling, and the humorous dialogue keeps things from getting too heavy. I look forward to Darker Angels.