Vicious Grace: What urban fantasy can be at its very best

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book review M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 3. Vicious GraceVicious Grace by M.L.N. Hanover

Have you ever been in one of those cobbled-together buildings where the 1st floor of the original structure opens onto the 3rd floor of the new wing, and you can only access the fourth floor by a staircase at the far end of that older building that got swallowed up into the whole mass at some point, and so on? I work in one, and after reading Vicious Grace, I don’t think I’ll ever see it the same way again! (Gee, thanks, M.L.N. Hanover, for making me scared of my own office building. *g*)

Vicious Grace is the third in Hanover’s urban fantasy series The Black Sun’s Daughter. This one’s set in Chicago, at labyrinthine Grace Memorial Hospital, where a sleep researcher has noticed an eerie anomaly in his latest study: all of his subjects have had the same dream of an inhuman creature crawling out of a coffin. Jayné Heller and her team are called in to help. Conveniently, Jayné’s uncle Eric left her a condo in the city, and the gang settles in to investigate.

They uncover a ghastly history, the tendrils of which reach more intimately into Jayné’s own life than she’d have ever guessed. What she learns leads her to question everything she thought she knew, and she faces some harrowing moral choices that reveal less-than-admirable facets of her personality. There’s so little I can say without spoiling the best parts of the story, but Hanover makes gutsy plotting decisions that change the reader’s perception of the whole series.

Add in huge helpings of suspense, plus plenty of character development. In particular, we see more of Ex and Chogyi Jake and how their respective faiths shape their actions. There’s also some romantic drama. Jayné is worried about losing Aubrey to Kim, and the feelings of all three characters are realistically and sympathetically portrayed.

Vicious Grace is a chilling novel on two levels: the external horror of the haunted hospital, and the internal horror in Jayné’s mind as she considers the uses — and abuses — of the power she has inherited from Eric. I couldn’t put it down. You’ll want to read Unclean Spirits and Darker Angels first (otherwise the impact of this installment won’t be as great), but Vicious Grace is the best of the series so far.

~Kelly Lasiter

urban fantasy book review M.L.N. Hanover Black Sun's Daughter 3. Vicious GraceM.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.

~Terry Weyna

The Black Sun’s Daughter — Began in 2008. Publisher: In a world where magic walks and demons ride, you can’t always play by the rules. Jayné Heller thinks of herself as a realist, until she discovers reality isn’t quite what she thought it was. When her uncle Eric is murdered, Jayné travels to Denver to settle his estate, only to learn that it’s all hers — and vaster than she ever imagined. And along with properties across the world and an inexhaustible fortune, Eric left her a legacy of a different kind: his unfinished business with a cabal of wizards known as the Invisible College. Led by the ruthless Randolph Coin, the Invisible College harnesses demon spirits for their own ends of power and domination. Jayné finds it difficult to believe magic and demons can even exist, let alone be responsible for the death of her uncle. But Coin sees Eric’s heir as a threat to be eliminated by any means — magical or mundane — so Jayné had better start believing in something to save her own life. Aided in her mission by a group of unlikely companions — Aubrey, Eric’s devastatingly attractive assistant; Ex, a former Jesuit with a lethal agenda; Midian, a two-hundred-year-old man who claims to be under a curse from Randolph Coin himself; and Chogyi Jake, a self-styled Buddhist with mystical abilities — Jayné finds that her new reality is not only unexpected, but often unexplainable. And if she hopes to survive, she’ll have to learn the new rules fast — or break them completely…

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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  1. Ooo you got to read this one. :) I’ve read the first two books and as they are good reads there wasn’t really anything that really sticks out about this series. But I am looking forward to getting this one, as I have enjoyed them. Now I am really curious to get into this one if you think its the best one yet. :)

    I keep wondering how her uncle got these powers to her. :) I always wonder if they are affiliated with that tattoo some how. ;) Thanks for the great review!

  2. This one is (a) the best one yet and (b) puts a lot of things from the series in a new light. I definitely recommend it. And there are still plenty of mysteries for future books too.

  3. Terry, I loved this one too. This series just keeps getting better.

  4. Kelly, you know that M.L.N. Hanover is Daniel Abraham, right? So you might want to check out Abraham’s books, which are also really,really good.

  5. I do! :) I really need to try the ones he wrote under his real name; I’ve heard really good things about them from other FanLit reviewers.

  6. I hadn’t realized this was Daniel Abraham. I’ve been eyeing Dragons Path waiting for it to come out and Leviathan Wakes looks good too – I love me some good space opera.
    I’ll have to check out the Hanover series. Thanks.

  7. Leviathan Wakes is a wonderful collection. One or two of the stories are weaker than the others, but for the most part they’re very well done. They also show an incredible range — from “The Cambist and Lord Iron” to “Flat Diane” is a huge leap of imagination — and those two stories alone are worth the cost of the book.

  8. OK, that threw me a little. Leviathan Wakes is a new SciFi book coming out that he co-authored under the name James S A Corey. But I went searching to see what you were talking about and I think you meant Leviathan Wept which looks really interesting and I’d never heard of. I’ll have to track down a copy. Thanks.

  9. Oops. Yes, I definitely meant Leviathan Wept. And I had it right in front of me while I was typing, too! I guess my brain is set to “weekend.”

  10. Im glad have seen this post. I’ve read book one but was okay with it. I was a bit curious as to the happenings in sequels but didnt want to spend my time on another okay read but seeing that it gets better and better I just might!!=)

    Thx for the review!


  1. Suvudu Likes: 2/5/2011 « Del Rey and Spectra - Science Fiction and Fantasy Books, Graphic Novels, and More - [...] Review: Vicious Grace by M.L.N. Hanover, read by Fantasy Literature [...]

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