M.L.N. Hanover’s urban fantasy series, The Black Sun’s Daughter, gets better with every new book. Vicious Grace is the third book in the series (which is intended to last for ten books). It is an exciting, well-written example of what urban fantasy can be at its very best.
Jayné Heller remains one of the realest heroines there is in all of fantasy literature; but best of all, she continues to grow and change. She faces difficult problems head on — and not just the types of problems you expect a heroine to face, the kind that require physical prowess against a known enemy, but personal issues that are far more difficult even to acknowledge, much less resolve. She loses a great deal personally in Vicious Grace, and stands to lose even more as the book ends.
Vicious Grace takes place in Chicago, mostly within the halls of Grace Memorial Hospital, which resembles Cook County Hospital, the charity hospital on the West Side of the city (though the book is careful to differentiate its fictional hospital from Grace Memorial by stating that the two are several miles apart). Grace Memorial is an odd building architecturally; it is extremely easy to get lost in its confines, much more than should be the case absent some fantastical agency at work. There is a dream study going on at Grace Memorial, and it is turning up some very strange results. Specifically, dreamers in the study are dreaming the exact same dream at the exact same time.
Kim — the ex-wife of Aubrey, Jayné’s sweetheart — is called in to look at the study results, which the senior researcher fears are going to ruin him. Kim was heard to say something about her belief in “spirits” at a Christmas party once, and never lived it down, but the researcher remembers and asks for her help. Kim calls Jayné, and she and her group — including Aubrey, Chogyi Jake, and Ex, a former Jesuit priest — head for Chicago.
Unpleasant discoveries await the group at almost every turn. There is much that is not as Jayné thought it was, from the character of her beloved Uncle Eric to the relationship between Kim and Aubrey to the very condominium in Chicago she inherited from Eric. As all of this character and historical development is going on, the evil at Grace Memorial is growing and becoming ever more dangerous. The group has to move quickly, and at considerable personal danger — the worst danger they have faced yet.
But the goings-on at Grace Memorial seem oddly beside the point relative to Jayné’s own discovery and growth. And, in fact, it’s what is going on in Jayné’s head that’s the fascinating part of this book. There are few characters in fantasy that have grown up quite so much in the course of three books, and looked so hard at things that are hard to look at. Indeed, few fantasies have Hanover’s habit of changing everything with every book in a series. Hanover continually pulls the rug out from under Jayné’s feet, and she’s dancing as fast as she can just to stay upright. Most people would crumble under this sort of pressure — pressure on all sides, emotionally, physically, psychically — but Jayné keeps going, guided by an internal moral compass that doesn’t ever seem to lead her astray. And yet, Hanover manages to keep Jayné feeling like a real person, not a superhero. It’s an impressive achievement for an urban fantasy, and makes for compelling reading.
Readers would be well advised to begin this series at the beginning, with Darker Angels, followed by Unclean Spirits. Fortunately, they are both as thoroughly enjoyable and well-written as Vicious Grace.