Spiral Hunt (Margaret Roland, Evie Scelan #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Spiral Hunt is a contemporary magical urban fantasy adventure story. The setting borrows heavily from mythological sources and interprets their use in present day. Everything magical is, as standard, hidden from mundane eyes, and only a few magical practitioners know the true nature of the world. This is the first in a series of novels, but any groundwork the author lays here for future novels in the series doesn’t adversely affect the course of this book. The characters were fairly complex and interesting, and although I’m not fond of the technique of cribbing from ancient mythology to flesh out your setting, the author does a decent enough job of it that I wasn’t overly offended. The story progresses smoothly, and although the author has a tendency to succumb for the inexplicable urban fantasy fascination of turning their fantasy novel temporarily into sightseeing tours of their respective locations (this time it’s Boston), the pacing is generally brisk and exciting. I would recommend this as a good, although not exemplary, urban fantasy novel.

Greater Detail:
Genevieve Scelan has the magical talent to find anything by tracking it down by scent. She tries to straddle the line between the bizarre magical world and the everyday mundane. When an ex-boyfriend she hasn’t heard from for years calls her begging for help, it sets her on a collision course with all the horrors of the arcane that she has been trying to avoid for all these years.

The choice to have a character whose power is to track things down by smell was surprisingly good. Having such a narrow scope for powers makes the character a lot more interesting, rather than the more common generalist magical practitioner that can solve any problem with a few muttered words on the part of the character and a lot of hand waving on the part of the author. Although it does make the protagonist more interesting, her lack of offensive oomph hurts the action sequences a bit. I wouldn’t advise picking this book up expecting constant brawls and gunfights because you will be disappointed.

I really could have done without all the sightseeing and tour guide-like elements. I don’t know what it is about the urban fantasy genre in particular, but it’s like the authors have a fetish for constantly parading recognizable landmarks across the pages given any opportunity. It’s like urban fantasy books are all sponsored by their respective city’s tourism boards. I can understand that a few well placed subtle references to real-world locations can make the world seem more real, but honestly, there is very little any author could tell me about real life city landmarks that would be remotely interesting in the context of a fantasy story.

The landmarks aside, the setting is fairly good. The author takes the approach that magic is inherently very unstable and dangerous, so much so that magical practitioners soon find themselves withdrawing from everyday activities to focus more and more on the mystical and find themselves losing touch with mundane reality. I liked this approach; it was interesting in its implications that what appears to be some raving madman shouting on a streetcorner might actually be capable of turning you into a toad with a sweep of his hands. It breaks from the common urban fantasy convention where secret magical cabals control everything, which I have found to be tiresome.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
The setting reminded me a bit of Mike Shevdon’s Courts of the Feyre series, starting with Sixty-One Nails. Both use similar mythological source material, and I suspect someone who likes one of these series would like the other. I prefer the Courts of the Feyre series, but others may disagree.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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