‘Spells For The Dead’ by Faith Hunter

When I started the Soulwood series with ‘Blood Of The Earth’, I wondered how Faith Hunter would build a series around a woman who is part tree and whose magic is linked to her land and the forest on it. It was only a question in the back of my mind. Most of my attention was taken up with how much I enjoyed spending time with Nell Ingram and how well-imagined the polygamist sect she was raised in was.

Five books into the series and I’m impressed by how Faith Hunter has been able to develop Nell’s story so that it feels like a natural progression with the elegance of a Fibonacci Sequence. Watching Nell’s world evolve is like watching a fern unfurl.

Nell is always the focal point of the books. She is the one unfurling. In each book we see her understanding of three things growing: her own, non-human, nature and the magic she commands, her place in PsyLed and the modern world and her relationship with her family and her Church. The plot of each book serves as an accelerant of her understanding. She and or those she cares about are subjected to threats that can only be overcome by Nell rapidly expanding her understanding. It’s a fascinating process to watch.

That may make the books sound a little dry, yet my experience of reading them is that they are has a turn-the-page-faster pace, they’re filled with action and spiced with humour. Faith Hunter manages to allow Nell to grow while still staying fundamentally the person I found so engaging in the first book. She is also has a talent for describing magic, even fairly abstract stuff, in a way that makes it feel real and exciting.

I had mixed feelings about the plot in this book. The motivation for the killings and the path to the killer wouldn’t have stood up very well in a police procedural novel. The physical effects of the magic used were described in great detail and were deeply repellent. In the end though, none of that mattered because the emotional pace of the book worked. Nell focused on herself, her team and her family as much if not more than on the details of the case. My favourite parts of the book were when Nell was working things out for her sisters. Partly that was because it didn’t involve live people’s bodies decaying so quickly that the seemed to be melting but mostly it was because the dynamics between Nell and her family seem so grounded and real.

I’ve no idea where Faith Hunter will take this series from here but I’m sure the ride will continue to be entertaining.

I recommend the audiobook version. Khristine Hvam’s narration is first-rate. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

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