Hungry Ghosts

After reading both Dead Things and Broken Souls, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into Stephen Blackmoore's Hungry Ghosts. Like its two predecessors, this third volume reads like the episodic early Dresden Files installments. Still, it looks as though we've reached the end of the first story arc of this paranormal and gritty noir murder mystery series. Time will tell what the author has in store for us in the subsequent books.

As was the case with the previous novels, expect blood and gore and a somewhat engaging protagonist, but not as endearing as Harry Dresden. Eric Carter continues to grow on the audience, but he remains a good-hearthed asshole with a knack for seeing everything he touches turn to shit. It's been fun for three books, no question, but I feel that it's time for the main protagonist to start getting his act together so that we don't lose interest.

Here's the blurb:

Necromancer Eric Carter’s problems keep getting bigger. Bad enough he’s the unwilling husband to the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte, but now her ex, the Aztec King of the dead, Mictlantecuhtli, has come back — and it turns out that Carter and he are swapping places. As Mictlantecuhtli breaks loose of his prison of jade, Carter is slowly turning to stone.

To make matters worse, both gods are trying to get Carter to assassinate the other. But only one of them can be telling him the truth and he can’t trust either one. Carter’s solution? Kill them both.

If he wants to get out of this situation with his soul intact, he’ll have to go to Mictlan, the Aztec land of the dead, and take down a couple of death gods while facing down the worst trials the place has to offer him: his own sins.

I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, what I hate the most about urban fantasy works is that the market demands that they be short and relatively fast-paced reads. As a result, the first couple of installments are always parsimonious on the worldbuilding front. So far, Blackmoore did a good job explaining how necromancy works and how Carter can use his powers. Sadly, very little has been said about how the magical world at large and the theology underpinning it actually work. In Hungry Ghosts, the author finally unveils many secrets pertaining to Aztec/Mexican mythology. Having such Mayan and Mexican cultural influences gives the Eric Carter books a somewhat unique flavor. Problem is, I'm not sure we know enough three books into this series to get any idea where the story is going. Then again, the same could be said of the Dresden Files at the same juncture.

Given his propensity to turn every bad situation into a worse one, Eric Carter is an easy protagonist to root for. Once more, he's a foul-mouthed smartass who gets beaten to a pulp way too many times in the span of such a short novel, but there is still something about him that makes you care for the poor fool. He acts like an idiot for the most part because he's trying to protect those he loves without realizing that he's alienating them in the process. He has been running from his past for a long time and now it's finally caught up to him. As mentioned, as entertaining as he is, I guess that the time has come for some character growth to help him become a more balanced individual. In Broken Souls, Gabriella made for a nice addition to the supporting cast, and fleshing out Tabitha was also an improvement. Hungry Ghosts mostly features Carter and Tabitha, and I have a feeling that a more diverse cast would have been beneficial. Gabriella truly helped make the previous novel more interesting.

In Dead Things and Broken Souls, Blackmoore captured the LA noir setting extremely well. Most of the action in this one occurs in Mexico and Mictlan, the Aztec land of the dead, so the vibe is totally different this time around. Having said that, the Aztec underworld and the island of dolls were pretty cool. Can Carter somehow find a way to kill both Santa Muerte, his wife and patron saint of death, and Mictlantecuhtli, her ex-husband and the Aztec king of the dead, before he turns to jade and is forced to spend eternity in that prison? But how can he kill a god, let alone two of them, without dying in the process?

As I said earlier, it appears that we have reached the end of the first act. If you are looking for a gritty urban fantasy series featuring a deeply flawed male lead, the Eric Carter books are definitely for you. There is potential for bigger and better things to come, and the ending of Hungry Ghosts certainly leaves the door open for a lot more. It remains to be seen whether or not Stephen Blackmoore can up his game and elevate this series to another level. Will the fourth volume raise the bar, or will it be more of the same? We will see. . .

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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