Soul Hunt by Margaret Ronald

Soul Hunt
Margaret Ronald

The Evie Scelan series one I’ve been following for a little while now. It’s a urban fantasy set in Boston and it centers on Evie, a bike messenger with a side business: finding lost things with her abilities as a Hound. What keeps me coming back is the true-to-life characters and the Boston setting.

The reading order is:
Book 1: Spiral Hunt (my review:
Book 2: Wild Hunt (my review:
Book 3: Soul Hunt

*****  This review contains spoilers for earlier books in this series ******

The Premise: After Evie’s last tussle with supernatural forces in a battle to protect her beloved Boston, she’s left with the price of her endeavors. Firstly, Evie’s talent just doesn’t work the way it used to: it’s unreliable, starting and stopping unexpectedly. Scents can be hard to find, and Evie feels drained by a simple tracking. Secondly, Evie has something that doesn’t really belong to her — the Horn of the Wild Hunt. She has to return it to its rightful owners, who will not like that she sounded it. While this is going on, strange things are afoot in Boston. A mysterious fire on a yacht and bystanders paralyzed by fear is the first sign in a wave of disquiet in Boston’s Undercurrent.

My Thoughts: I have to admit, it’s been a while since I read the second book in this series. I seem to jump back into the Evie Scelan books every couple of years, so I remembered the ending and some very big plot points of Wild Hunt, but I was fuzzy on some of the details.  I could fudge it, but I really wish I remembered some more of the details or that they were spelled out to me a bit more. This is not the first time in the series where the previous book’s events has had an impact on the plot, so I don’t recommend reading Soul Hunt without a least reading Wild Hunt, and I don’t recommend reading Wild Hunt without reading Spiral Hunt. Basically, you need to read these books in order.

The big plot points from the earlier book are these: Evie has the Horn of the Wild Hunt and needs to return it to it’s rightful owner or owners. Due to her possession of the horn, she brings the the hounds of the hunt with her wherever she goes, and the hounds are quite willing to give her their two cents on her life. Also, ever since she rescued rescued boyfriend Nate, she has noticed that her power has gotten weaker. She isn’t sure why, but she suspects it has to do with an exchange she had with the water spirit who had him. In the meantime, Evie’s relationships continue as before: she and Nate are in a serious relationship and his young sister is someone Evie has taken under he wing. Her friend Sarah is as optimistic as ever and is trying to organize the Undercurrent for future outside threats – a neighborhood watch with an emergency phone tree if you will. And Evie still is on the outs with Rena, a cop who was once a close friend, but got blames Evie for bringing her trouble and “bruja shit”.

While Evie has the remnants of her latest adventures to deal with, another issue springs up. An associate in the Undercurrent asks for her help and that leads Evie to a strange occurrence: a burning yacht. This isn’t that strange, but the behavior of other members of Boston’s magic community is. People tell Evie that they feel fear, but they cannot tell her what is causing it. Then the man whose boat burned down asks Evie to find something for him, something stolen generations ago.

With everything going on in Evie’s life: the Horn, her relationships, Nate’s curse, Nate’s sister’s Sight, the budding Undercurrent organization, her fatigue, issues with her talent, and her work (both as a bike messenger and a finder), the plot of Soul Hunt felt very fragmented. There were too many disasters vying for attention and Evie spends the story flitting from place to the next in order to deal with them all. I wasn’t sure what was the most important: the repercussions of having the Horn, fixing the problem with her talent, or this new mystery that has the Boston Undercurrent with its hair standing on end. When the story ends, one of these three becomes the main focus while the other two, dragged along for most of the book, are resolved very conveniently. There was something very dissatisfying about that after watching Evie trying to juggle it all throughout the book. I wanted something less pat for those two threads.

What I did like is that Evie is now part of a family in this story and she has support that she did not really have before. I think what did work with the tumbled mess of troubles Evie has, was the sense that Evie shouldn’t be trying to fix everything herself and there are people willing to help her. I loved the relationships, but didn’t love that the plot got too scattered while trying to prove this point.

This is the third book in the series and it ends in a satisfying place, but with enough leeway for more books. I don’t know if there will be any more though, as Soul Hunt was published in 2010 and no other books have been announced.

Overall: OK plot-wise, solid everything else. I recommend this one for urban fantasy fans who like a down-to-earth, working girl kind of protagonist who has relationships that are nuanced and true-to-life. This is the type of series where I care more about the characters and their developing relationships than the current disaster to be averted.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Calico reaction – 8 (Excellent) ” Frankly, this whole series is a must read for urban fantasy fans who want more female relationships in their stories and, if there MUST be romance, then said romance must be balanced with the story and not become the story”

Readercon Report, 2012

Readercon was just held this weekend in Burlington, MA. According to their website it is “an annual conference or convention devoted to ‘imaginative literature’ — literary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable works often called ‘slipstream.'” and “A typical Readercon features over 150 writers, editors, publishers, and critics, attracting prominent figures from across the U.S., and from Canada, the U.K., and occasionally even Australia and Japan. They are joined by some 600 of their most passionate and articulate readers for a long weekend of intense conversation.”

I found out about Readercon through Lunacon‘s program book (these cons seem to advertise at other cons), and since it was relatively near me (4 hours away isn’t too bad), the husband and I made a weekend road trip out of it – leaving Friday night and coming back Sunday afternoon. Husband spent his days on his bike and watching the Tour de France, I spent my days at the con. Unlike Lunacon, this was a convention that was distinctly all about the books, so everything in the program was on a bookish track, although I did see some panels that looked to be more for writers, and some panels that were more for readers (there was overlap of course). I went for the panels that interested me as a reader.

The first cool thing after registering was that I got to meet Chelle from Tempting Persephone! Oh so very lovely in person, she was. We got to spend a good chunk of the day together, and it was really nice to have someone else to go to panels with and talk to about what we sat in on.

I suspect there were other bloggers there because I spied the Penguin classics bag (that I had too) that was given out at the Book Blogger Con at least twice, but maybe that’s just a popular bag? I was too chicken to ask people about it. 😛

Here are the panels and readings I went to. CAVEAT: I didn’t take any notes and it’s been a couple of days so these are going to be simple overviews of my general impressions. I was planning on posting to my blog, but I took a casual approach and just enjoyed what panels looked interesting without any real blog-y agenda.

Book Learning (Gregory Feeley, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Katherine MacLean, Kathryn Morrow (leader), Ann Tonsor Zeddies) – This was a panel discussing a 2008 article in the Guardian by James Wood about the nature of characters in books. I hadn’t read this article prior to the panel so I was a bit out of the loop for some of the discussion, but it was interesting. They talked about the idea of flat/cardboard characters versus well-rounded characters, and it wasn’t what you would expect. It was more about whether someone’s idea of well-rounded or flat was valid. At one point they talked about if people in real life ever grow or change. It was a very different approach than I as a reader take because I do like characters that feel like they have more depth (well my idea of depth that is). Felt like an interesting window into writing, and how some “flat”, “one-note” characters are used in the story versus characters that “grow” or “change”. (Here’s the link to the Guardian article).

[Interlude] This is where we popped over to the dealer’s room (aka Heaven) and wandered for a bit and had lunch.

Un/Orthodox Genre (Jeanne Cavelos (leader), Michael Dirda, Yves Meynard, Robert V.S. Redick, Peter Straub, Gary K. Wolfe) – This was a panel about genre conventions. The jumping off point was about how some books fit squarely into a genre, and other books don’t seem to quite fit inside a genre and that on one hand Lev Grossman says “Conventions aren’t a prison that genre writers are trying to escape” and the other Peter Straub: “I dislike the sense of necessary limitations lots of people go for. I don’t want to live in a dollhouse”. The talk sort of flowed around writing and working with conventions. What conventions were, how to write something original if you have these conventions, approaches by different writers and so on. I liked the way this one was organized, with questions from the leader and everyone in the panel putting in their two cents. Another interesting panel. My opinion as a reader: I always love the books that tweak at genre conventions or straddle more than one genre.

The City and the Strange (Leah Bobet, Amanda Downum, Lila Garrott (leader), Stacy Hill, Ellen Kushner, Howard Waldrop) – This was a really well attended panel. The room was packed and there were people standing because they were unable to get seats (and this wasn’t a small room). Definitely the most popular panel I went to at this con. This was a panel about worldbuilding, and specifically: cities. There’s the cities that are completely made up, and then there are the cities in contemporary and urban fantasy that do exist in our world, and then, there are cities where magic is out in the open, and cities where the strange is hidden from plain sight. With the books that try to capture real cities the panelists discussed the difficulty of capturing the essence of a place so that a local would recognize it, and how it’s difficult (if not impossible) to do that because everyone sees a place in a different way, but that if a book is set somewhere, a writer should try to add something to the story that is from that place, otherwise if you don’t remember what city the book is, what was the point? There was a discussion of why cities, how urban fantasy differed from rural fantasy, the idea of neighborhoods within cities, and collaborative cities (the Borderlands). I went away really wanting to read the rural fantasy Wide Open by Deborah Coates.

[Interlude 2] This is when Chelle and I had to say our goodbyes. There wasn’t much else I wanted to sit in on (and I was pooped with being in a crowd) until 8pm, so I went back to my room, read and relaxed and had dinner and then came back.

Book Covers Gone Wrong (Daniel Abraham, Liz Gorinsky, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Katherine MacLean, Lee Moyer (leader), Jacob Weisman) – This was a panel about book covers. It had 3 authors, a couple of people in publishing, and a cover artist. The panel began with everyone contributing their own horror story that had to do with a book cover. This ran from covers that had NOTHING to do with what was in the book (the biggest complaint), to 6 different fonts used, to arguments with the publisher, to the blurb from George R. R. Martin being extremely small and hard to see. On the publisher’s side there were the problems of time constraints and artists just not producing something that they wanted. I laughed so much during this panel, especially when Lee Moyer passed around some bad covers he’d printed out from the internet and when members of the audience brought out their examples of bad covers. A lot of the examples where just really CAMPY and dated (aka, so bad they become good again).

Dancing Around Time Travel. Athena Andreadis, Grant C. Carrington, Helen Collins (leader), John Crowley, Jeff Hecht – This was the brainiest of the panels I sat in on. There was some discussion about how time travel was basically impossible (one thing everyone seemed to agree on). So everything that has time travel in it could be, it was argued, not really Science Fiction, but instead Fantasy. And then there was discussion about if you were to put time travel in a book, how would you do it. A couple panelists said you could get yourself into trouble if you added too much science to the story and this can date it, and there seemed to be a few people in favor of putting as little explanation of time travel as possible and moving on (don’t look at the man behind the curtain). There was also a lot of science discussion (about what time actually was and how it behaved) that was fascinating but I couldn’t repeat it here even if my life depended on it.

image courtesy of Michael Janairo (posted here with permission)

Sunday was a shorter day (I think programming ended around after 3pm) and I had to drive back to New York, so I only went to a couple of things before we had to check out and be on the road.

Uncanny Taxonomies (Daniel Abraham (leader), Ellen Datlow, Caitlín R. Kiernan, John Langan, Jeff VanderMeer) – This was another panel about categorizing of books, but instead of the constraints/conventions of a genre, this was more about the idea of labeling books as being this versus that. There was a lot of discussion about the need to put books into genres, and since there were a lot of writers in this panel, there were comments about the writing process and how they don’t set out to write IN a particular genre, they write the story and then it gets placed somewhere. There was some discussion on how different books placed within the same genre could be and what makes a book put somewhere like in science fiction instead of literature. Kiernan commented that she would like to see everything just shelved by author instead of genre.

Reading: Margaret Ronald – So this was the ONE and only reading at Readercon I went to (and in hindsight I think I should have gone to more), because I had read and liked the first two books in Ronald’s Evie Scelan books (I have reviewed them both here). Book three is on the TBR (I spent an hour looking for this instead of packing on Friday and never found it. I bought another copy).
This reading was from “The Governess and the Lobster” from the online webzine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. The story can be found online here. It was delightful – a steampunk story about a city where some automatons have gained awareness and live side by side with humans. In this story a governess has just been assigned to the Cromwell children, who do things like hand their governess jars of spiders and mechanical lobsters. From what I could tell there are other stories set in this world including one about a brain in a jar? And a Professora? There is a book written about this Professora, but no news on a publish date yet. I would like this book please Universe.

And here’s the haul:

Picked up at the dealer’s room: The Best of Talebones, edited by Patrick Swenson (I recognized a lot of the writers in the anthology so I was curious to give it a go) and Rapunzel’s Daughters and Other Tales (what happens after the Happily Ever After of fairytales – I was sold on just the description of the Rapunzel’s Daughter story – about her daughters that inherited her uncontrollable hair and the consequences of this attribute).

The Husband wanted his copies of his Scott Lynch books signed but we missed the author’s signing and reading on Friday and I still don’t understand how Kaffeeklatsches work, so I was happy I found a signed copy of Red Seas Under Red Skies in the dealer’s room. The other three books are my copies of the Evie Scelan books (Soul Hunt bought at the dealers room).

Not pictured: the signed hardcover of The Outback Stars by Sandra McDonald that I bought. I forgot to bring my personal copies of Sandra McDonald books to Readercon! Next time maybe I’ll bring them and try to get them signed. Lurved The Outback Stars. My favorite!

Wild Hunt by Margaret Ronald

Wild Hunt
Margaret Ronald

I read the first book in this series, Spiral Hunt, last year, and I liked the story enough to get Wild Hunt when it came out this year.

My review of book 1:  Spiral Hunt:

The Premise: This is an urban fantasy series set in Boston, where the protagonist is Genevieve (Evie) Scelan, a bike messenger who also has a side business finding things for people with her highly advanced sense of smell. A sense of smell that is a genetic gift from a famous ancestor, which is the reason for her nickname – Hound. In this installment of the series, Evie is called in for a special last request for a customer, and finds out about a foul family artifact and an ill-fated expedition to Boston. Another customer asks her to find out about some objects that their ancestor stole.  As Evie tries to do her job, she discovers more connections between the two jobs, and strange goings on in the city, like a call to Hunt which Evie can’t help responding to.

Browse inside Wild Hunt here

My Thoughts: The main character in this series is a working class girl with a little bit of power and a lot of responsibility. She knows some things about magic but it’s what she’s learned on the street, and it’s not very much. She has a small group of friends, who make reappearances from the first book – Rena the cop, her friend Sarah, and Nate, a graduate student raising his younger sister. You need to read this book after reading the first book in the series, otherwise you will probably be very confused about what’s going on. I had some trouble remembering things myself, which made me wish I had the first book to flip through, but I remembered the ending at least which is referenced a lot in Wild Hunt.

In this book there isn’t really a clear objective for the protagonist other than to try to do a job or two and to do the right thing.  We follow Evie in her day-to-day work, and like Evie, we know something is going on, but we don’t have an idea of the big picture until three quarters of the book is done. This is a urban fantasy where the heroine does a lot of catching up: she isn’t really investigating anything in particular, just doing a couple of jobs for customers and stumbling onto odd things, but eventually discovers connections. Despite being considered one of the big guys in Boston after her role in the last dust-up, Evie is fairly unschooled in magic. The other characters expect her to know more than she does, and then berate her when she shows her ignorance. This was an irritating thing for me – I’m not sure where people expect Evie to have gained this knowledge, and I’m not fond of this device.  Fortunately for Evie, her tenacity counts for something, and she comes out stronger than before. It’s done without fanfare and a lot of work, but I think that through no plan of hers, Evie gets more knowledge and power each time she has one of her adventures.

One of the things I enjoy about this series is that the author integrates myths I hadn’t heard of before. There’s the Celtic mythology of the first book, and in this second one there’s mythology and magical lore from other places which combine well with what Evie has learned thus far.

Another thing I liked was the romantic relationship in this series. The love interest is a nice guy, and his relationship with Evie feels like real life. It reminded me a little of the relationship in the Kitty books by Carrie Vaughn. In fact, I would recommend this series for people who like Kitty Norville. There is interest in both sides but both people are too shy to admit it, and it’s sweet when they finally get together as we hope (thankfully the author doesn’t torture us)!

Overall: I enjoyed this one more for the characters than what Evie gets involved in. It has a more character driven feel despite the fast-paced plot, and the author left me curious as what would happen to Evie next. Not in a cliffhanger way, but I’m definitely interested in finding out more.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews/links:
Calico Reaction – Worth the Cash

The Big Idea @ John Scalzi’s blog: Margaret Ronald – the author tells us about Boston as a setting

Anti-Valentines contest and Spiral Hunt Contest

Via ReadingAdventures I found out about this Anti-Valentine's Day contest at breezing through. Which is a blog I hadn't been to before (and I like it, so on my feed list it goes)! I'm always fond of reviews that are like a conversation between two people, and that's the format used most often there. Prize is your choice of three books from three categories.

Meanwhile I also saw a post by Marjorie J. Liu about a giveaway of a copy of Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald. I reviewed that book here. Contest ends Thursday so act soon. The link for that one is here.

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Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald

Spiral Hunt
Margaret Ronald

Eos books sent me this novel to review from debut author Margaret Ronald.

The setting is Boston, where a large Irish migrant population goes hand in hand with this urban fantasy moving away from the usual werewolves and vampires, and takes it's supernatural aspects from celtic mythology. Evie Scelan is a bike messenger with a side business as a Finder. Her nickname is Hound because Evie has an ability to track things with scent. At the start of this book, Evie gets a mysterious phone call from ex-lover Frank. Despite her reservations with who he may be mixed up with, and the warning on the phone, she begins to investigate his disappearance.

"He speaks to you to say farewell. I speak to you to warn you, for I may have damned you with my words"

"Hound, watch for a collar. The hunt comes…"

When I started reading this book the first time, I made the mistake of reading it before going to bed, so I was tired. This book, like most urban fantasies, throws you in midstream and I felt confused about things hinted at in the first few pages. The phone call is the beginning and I didn't understand how Evie related to Frank, and then soon afterwards how she related to other characters she ran into. I ended up putting it down, but bogormen convinced me that things got better, and I picked it up again. This time all the references to the magic in Boston, Evie's past, and her avoidance of showing up on the radar of a shadowy group called The Brotherhood started to make more sense. By around page 100 I had enough to grasp the world and enjoy the story itself.  The city of Boston is a nice backdrop and I'm sure Bostonites would recognize many landmarks in Evie's adventures.

Evie is a relatable heroine who thankfully doesn't do overly idiotic things, she goes into situations with her eyes open, but still gets into trouble despite her best intentions. She is a no nonsense, working class gal, trying to survive on her own who has a hard time letting other's in because of her talent. Her soft spot seems to be kids and older people, which shows itself through the course of the story. Her circle of friends is small – a couple of people she knew in school, a black-market magic associate, and a brief mention of coworkers at her messenger job, but I hope that as the series continues that Evie will start to open herself up to others. I thought I saw a lowering of walls in a couple of instances in this book and the hint of a possible romance. Her character was my favorite part of the book.

I don't know much about celtic myths, but I knew enough to recognize some of the names of the major dieties, so it was a refreshing experience to read an urban fantasy that references that mythology and I wanted to know more about it after finishing the story. While the bad guys in this tale seemed to be shrouded in mystery until the second half of the book, once all the parties involved in the mystery that Evie unravels show up, this becomes an absorbing read. 

I felt that this book had a satisfying ending (I saw this mentioned elsewhere and I agree), even though it is the start of a series. I was happy where it stopped with the promise of more to come. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to Evie and her friends in book 2. I'd recommend this one to urban fantasy fans.

This book comes out on January 27th, 2009. From the author's website I see 3 books planned for now.

Bogormen's review
Mardelwanda's review

My review is for an Advanced Readers Copy so FYI I'm not sure the quotes I posted will exactly the same in the final version.

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