Warning: this review contains spoilers for the first four books in the series THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER.
M.L.N. Hanover’s urban fantasy series, THE BLACK SUN’S DAUGHTER, gets better with every book. Graveyard Child has extraordinary depth of character and a plot that takes the series into ever more complicated waters. The voice of Hanover’s viewpoint character, Jayné Heller, is happy, angry, sad, confused, disappointed, frightened, determined and resigned in turn, but always clearly Jayné. Any reader who has stuck with her through this fifth tale feels like she or he has a friend — a friend who is possessed, constantly dodging occult forces that mean her ill, and manipulated into a life she never chose, but nonetheless unswervingly loyal to her friends regardless of the cost or circumstances. Jayné isn’t perfect or infallible by any means, but she’s the one I’d want in a foxhole with me.
And Jayné is headed into the equivalent of a foxhole: she’s traveling “home” to see her family for the first time since she escaped out her bedroom window to attend the University of Arizona. She had made up her mind to attend a secular college, a decision that her family — or more precisely, her father — considered an abomination. The occasion for Jayné’s return to the nest is the marriage of her brother to his pregnant girlfriend (the pregnancy being another abomination, premarital sex being strictly forbidden), but she intends to use the visit to find out more about her Uncle Eric, the man who left her his fortune when he died. Since then, she’s discovered a lot about spirits and possession, including that she herself has a rider — a spirit, or a god, or at least something that protects her from danger. Most riders are not beneficent, and Jayné and her companions spend much of their time battling them. Jayné has also discovered that her uncle was not the exorcist she thought he was, but rather in league with the demons and unclean spirits she now fights. She hopes to figure out exactly what he was up to with new information from her family.
Not surprisingly, given the circumstances of her leaving home, her parents do not exactly greet Jayné with open arms. Her mother is cold but civil; her brothers are happy to see her; but her father has nothing but hatred and sorrow in his face when he sees her. He begins their conversation by telling her, essentially, that she is no longer a member of the family, and asks her to please leave his family alone. She made her choices, he tells her. He seems to be talking about something much deeper and more fundamental than her choice to attend a secular college. But before they can really get into it, the family is attacked, Jayné is injured, and Carla, her brother’s pregnant fiancée, is kidnapped.
That attack operates like the starter’s pistol at a horse race, and the novel is off at a gallop. It’s hard, if not impossible, to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and we figure that out along with Jayné. We find out who and what Uncle Eric really was, and what he got Jayné involved in when she was just a young teenager, and what Jayné and her employees, Ex and Chogyi Jake, are fighting. We also learn what role Jayné’s mother played in her uncle’s plans, and why she is the submissive, seemingly unhappy woman she is today.
As for Jayné’s father: he had his part in the events of the past that shaped Jayné, but her relationship with him has more to do with family and religion than with the oddities of Jayné’s past and her current role as a demon fighter. Some of the strongest portions of this book aren’t about the supernatural at all, but about family. Hanover twines the two threads of his plot into a single strong story that makes one’s heart ache for everyone involved, an ache that doesn’t end with the book. The intensity of the characterization and the examination of the family dynamics make this a more intricate novel than the typical urban fantasy. At the same time, the increasing complexity of the demon world with which Jayné has an ongoing fight keeps the reader’s attention riveted.
This urban fantasy series is easily one of the best being written today, with a depth of plot and character that goes far beyond the average. I wish I didn’t have to wait a year or so for the next one, a feeling that has grown with each new book.