Spiral Hunt is a first novel, but it has a very strong and well-defined presence, with an engaging style and interesting characters. This book was also something of a surprise, since most of the urban fantasy I’ve been seeing lately has been urban fantasy romance, where most of the action and characterization is based off of getting the female protagonist hitched up with a male character as quickly as possible. (I’m amazed at how few of these “urban fantasy romances” have anything to do with actual “courtship” or romance. I much prefer a slow build up over the course of a longer story.) This is a straight fantasy adventure with mystery elements, and is very reminiscent of Emma Bull or Charles de Lint’s style of writing.
This is an urban fantasy of the “hidden in mundania” type, where most people are ignorant of the fact that the world is full of magic. You might also say that it’s an “urban faerie” novel, since the story is mostly grounded in Celtic mythology and folklore. (And Evie’s ties to Celtic mythology/folklore, specifically to Finn Mac Cool is a major plot point in the book.)
Our Heroine is Evie Scelan, a bicycle messenger living in Boston, who is making use of her unusually keen (and supernatural) sense of smell to work part time as a private investigator occasionally known as The Hound. A mysterious phone call from someone she thought was dead (and probably was at the time of the phone call) drags her into the path of a secret society of mages called “The Bright Brotherhood,” or the Fiana. (The group was Irish, and had named themselves after Finn Mac Cool’s band of warriors.) The secret society had supposedly been dismantled around the time Evie was a kid, but apparently they’d just gone into hiding. Now they’re back, and causing a great deal of trouble, and Evie has to find a way to stop them, before they the city–and her–over.
Ronald does some interesting things with the magic system. Magicians need something called loci in order to work magic. Loci are spirits or souls of some kind that are collected by the magic user. Magic is coded as a “drug” in some ways, and magic users as junkies. (The television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer did something similar but I feel that Ronald does a better job of it. There is a definite echo of the “things man was not meant to know because it will drive him bonkers” meme in this book, which is how the junkie meme is worked into the worldbuilding.)
The story had some interesting twists and turns, and the city of Boston and the history Ronald creates feels real and compelling. I like the slow build up of the relationship between Evie and her friend Nate, and her interactions with her friend Sarah, and a police investigator. (The police character and the detective work involved felt real and authentic to me.) I really enjoyed this book, which was a very fast read for me. The pacing is excellent and I was reluctant to put the book down.