What is in a name? Is a pretentious name a funnier running gag when it is mispronounced over and over again? There were two things I realized about myself while reading Unclean Spirits by M. L. N. Hanover. The first is that if you have a pretentious name for your main character, it's not a funny running gag to have them inwardly cringe every time someone says it wrong. The second is that radical honesty in print isn't an interesting plot devise.
Unclean Spirits is the first book in the Black Sun's Daughter series by M. L. N. Hanover, and trust me, it's no picnic saying his name like that. His name is actually a pen name for Daniel Abraham, a New Mexico author of some regard; best known for...well I don't quite know. I only looked up Abraham last year when I was looking for local authors to ask questions to about writing. Out of ten authors, only one actually responded, so I hold no grudge towards Abraham, but the fact remains that up until that point, I'd never heard of him, or any of his books.
Suffice to say, he's written over a dozen books, under different pen names, most, if not all, have been identified as being him. Most of the time, I have no opinion for people using pen names rather than their own, but in this case, I have to applaud Abraham. I certainly wouldn't want to have my name associated with this mindless drivel either.
The mark of a truly bad book is that you can actually finish it. You pick up a book, and usually within a chapter, you can find out that you don't like it and put it back. With Unclean Spirits, I had to read a few chapters in to realize just how bad it was, and by then, it was too late to put it down...mostly because I was in my car and there was nothing else to read for twelve hours. Therefore, I aimed to read it as fast as possible, finishing 373 pages in a twenty hours. And let me tell you, that was the longest day and a half of work I've ever had.
The main character, Jayn`e Heller, a 22 year old college drop-out, just out of a relationship, traveling to Denver to deal with the aspects of her uncle Eric's death. Eric and Jayn`e were the family black sheep, and her being the only person he actually liked after her father called him an abomination, she goes down to settle his estate. There, she finds out that he was ungodly in his wealth. He has homes all over the world, and enough money to buy and sell Apple at least twice, and it all goes to Jayn`e.
Not only does the money go to her, but all of Eric's extra-curricular activities of demon and monster hunting goes to her as well.
She, for I no longer wish to continually refer to her by her pretentious name, which I'll get into a little later, finds out that there is a world full of people being possessed by entities from an alternate dimension, and Eric was in the business of going out and killing them. In the course of his latest job, he took on more than he can chew, and gets killed. Together Jayn'e, and a Scooby group of professional demon hunters, go out to follow through on Eric's last job.
I've read two books in the Black Sun's Daughter series, and I can tell you there is a simple format to the books. Jayn`e will make several inner outbursts at how people keep mispronouncing her name, which could be fixed by saying it correctly when she introduces herself rather than just let people guess. She will make at least one comment about how she knew so little about her Uncle, other than that she thought he was gay. There will be some kind of hint about Jayn`e mysterious ability to not be noticed by riders (the things inside people who are possessed) and her tattoo she got when she was being rebellious as a teenager that she doesn't remember getting. She will kick something’s butt, even though she has no formal training in martial arts. She will try to take on something ungodly, but too soon for her to actually defeat it so that she and her Scooby gang can join together and fight it later. And at some point she will have sex with someone she shouldn't, only to realize she was foolish later.
Like I said, I've only read two books so far, but this seems to be the formula of Black Sun's Daughter. The secret plot point can be guessed by anyone with one good eye or who knows braille or a book on tape.
The only thing that was really good about the book is that the story is told entirely from her perspective, without including a bunch of different people who know more about everything than she does, so you get a clear view of her getting everything wrong right up close and personal.
The characters were diverse as well, which was interesting, but kind of a hodge-podge, because they weren't entirely sympathetic just because you know so dang LITTLE about them. Nobodies history is given outright with the exception of Jayn`e's which give a glimpse at just how little human interaction she has ever really had.
But why speak so highly of parts of this book when I have So many bad things to say about it, starting with the names.
Jayn`e's name is pronounced Zah-ney, which she is quick to say every time she meets someone, inwardly of course, because if you had a name this pretentious, you would get tired of correcting people every time you meet people, too. I'm sure that this seemed tortured and witty when it was witty, but there are only so many times you can read it before you want to put a pin on her shirt telling people how it's said, or wonder why she isn't walking around telling people, "Hi, my name is Zah-ney." and let that be the end of it. Yes, I know it's not very worldly to have a character named Jane, or Janey, but honestly, that's what it looks like, so just let it go.
When Jayn`e isn't obsessing over her name, she is de-emphasizing everyone else’s. One of the main characters introduces himself as Chogyi, an Asian-American ex drug user with a smile on his face ALL the time, and a very meditative nature. He tells her early on, his name is Chogyi, but to call him Jake. So what do they do? Do they honor his request? Do they ignore it altogether and call him Chogyi? No. They call him Chogyi Jake. And it isn't just in text, like: Chogyi Jake at a taco. They even call him that, like someone with two names like Sue-Ellen, or Joe-Bob. It really is one of those irritating things that gets old after the first chapter but continues through all the books. It actually surprises me more when they do only call him Jake.
The reverse is true for the character simply referred to as Ex. It's implied that it's either because his name is Xavier, or that he is an ex-priest, but it only gives me the feeling of Prince going to just being a symbol. Pretention abounds!
The other thing I didn't like was that Jayn`e has that diarrhea of the mouth that uncomfortably falls under the category of Radical Honesty. She has no problems saying whatever comes to her mind, telling the entirety of her young life by the time the second chapter ends to whoever asks, or sometimes just to hear herself speak out loud. It gets even older when she is constantly telling people how little she knew about her uncle Eric ("I thought he was gay") or that him and her father didn't get along.
I know, I've said it before, but I'm getting tired of religion getting the bad rap of being the ultimate evil, or just the view of intolerance. I'm not particularly religious, and I hate zealots as much as the next guy, but there are more people out there than the fanatics and intolerant.
All in all, I'm hopeful for The Black Sun's Daughter series. I keep reading the books, and I will be putting part two of this double feature up, Darker Angels, soon. I just keep wishing that people would just start calling her "Hey you" since she puts so much emphasis on correctness, and that they will stop hovering around the big "Secret" like children hopping around the lava tiles on a kitchen floor.