I will keep quiet, you won’t even know I’m here; you won’t suspect a thing, you won’t see me in the mirror. But I’ve crept into your heart, you can’t make me disappear… at least, not without some Killing Rites, by M.L.N. Hanover.
Jayné Heller has discovered the source of her uncanny powers: something else is living inside her body. She’s possessed. Of all her companions, she can only bring herself to confide in Ex, the former priest. They seek help from his old teacher and the circle of friends he left behind, hoping to cleanse Jayné before the parasite in her becomes too powerful.
Ex’s history and a new enemy combine to leave Jayné alone and on the run. Her friends, thinking that the rider with her has taken the reins, try to hunt her down, unaware of the danger they’re putting her in. Jayné must defeat the weight of the past and the murderous intent of another rider, and her only allies are a rogue vampire she once helped free and the nameless thing hiding inside her skin.
Damn, this one kicked ass.
So, from the very first book, it’s been kind of obvious to us, the readers, that Jayné is possessed by a rider – titling the series The Black Sun’s Daughter kind of tipped the hand on that one. However, it is only now that Jayné herself is forced to face that fact herself, to come to terms with the Black Sun inside of her. And it is wonderful.
Of course, Jayné’s first thought is not to deal with Sonnenrad on equal terms, but to treat it as a squatter to be evicted just like any of the other riders she’s faced. So, naturally enough, she goes to get an exorcism. And that’s where this book really won me over, by flipping the traditional script upside-down. You see, I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable about books and movies and so on with exorcist heroes. The protagonists are always cast as righteous heroes fighting absolute evil; but I can’t help seeing that there is another side to them, a dangerous zealotry. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, for instance, is based on a real-world incident where priests basically murdered a mentally ill girl; and so it makes me uncomfortable that there’s a movie casting them as heroes for doing it. But this book is willing to jump head-on into the darkness: the exorcism going wrong, the priests imprisoning and torturing Jayné in the sincere belief that they’re doing it for her own good; and Jayné, deciding that Sonnenrad is actually the lesser evil, is finally forced to reconcile with her dark passenger.
What else is great about this book? Midian Clark, the affable vampire who helped Jayné against Coin and the Invisible College, shows up again. Oh, I was waiting for this – he was just too great a character to ride off into the sunset at the end of the first book and never be seen again. Midian provides the perfect counterpoint to the priests condemning Jayné as unclean: someone in a moral position to look up to her rather than down, to acknowledge and accept the darkness within her and yet also praise her very real virtues. Plus, someone to give a rider’s point of view on the world, explaining what the experience is like from the other side.
And what else is great about this book? Dolores, the inevitable girl sidekick. I have mentioned, have I not, that it is a law of urban fantasy novels that the badass female protagonist will end up adopting an adorable orphan girl as a surrogate daughter in order to show off her feminine and motherly side? I really need to coin a catchy term for it, like “Ellen Ripley Syndrome” or something. Well, Jayné can’t permanently adopt Dolores, because she isn’t actually an orphan – she just can’t go home for a while due to her sister being demonically possessed – but they certainly have that dynamic. And, even though their time together is brief, it nevertheless manages to be meaningful, as Jayné struggles to strike a balance in helping Dolores recover from the trauma of possession: on the one hand, she wants Dolores to feel strong and empowered rather than like a victim; but on the other, she can’t push too much responsibility or weighty decisions onto a young child.
And, while I’m talking about everything great about this book, might as well throw it out there: awesome climactic battle sequence, when the hundreds of Akaname the priests have unwittingly spread among those they’ve tried to help converge on the heroes for a dramatic final showdown. “I’m the hammer now, bitch!” indeed.
The Black Sun’s Daughter series is the best it’s ever been – and the climax is still to come. Can the final installment maintain this level of quality? Tune in to my review of the last volume, coming shortly, to find out.
Final Rating: 5/5