The title 'King of the Dead' seems to be reserved for sequels. It's 'Lens of the World' #2, 'The Lost Slayer' #3 and 'Ravenloft' #15, but here, it's the second in the 'Jeremiah Hunt' trilogy, in between 'Eyes to See' and 'Watcher of the Dark'. My Harbinger trade paperback edition, however, may be the only 'King of the Dead' to feature a 'click here' image in print. Ugh.
Problems with the Harbinger edition aside, I enjoyed this novel a lot. It's a progression from the first, of course, but less focused on Jeremiah Hunt, now that he's part of a team, and more traditional in its approach to story. 'Eyes to See' is all about Hunt, even if there are other characters in there to help or hinder his quest for his daughter, and his grief at losing her in bizarre circumstances is so palpable that it's almost his unwanted sidekick. That's taken care of before this book begins, so the tone is different.
Also, 'Eyes to See' alternated between thriller and urban fantasy, with more than a little borrowed from the horror and hardboiled detective genres. This is urban fantasy through and through, though the horror aspects continue to be obvious. Hey, this is about a king of the dead and the cover art on the various editions isn't misleading.
A quick recap: Hunt is a translator of ancient manuscripts whose daughter is abducted from his house while he was working. His emotional devastation, as well as his single-minded dedication to finding her, destroyed his marriage apart and led to him performing a ritual that left him blind in daylight but able to see beyond. He sees and interacts with ghosts, who lend him what he calls ghostsight, something useful in book one but fundamental in book two.
Crucially, while Hunt and his companions do find a resolution to everything that's thrown at them in 'Eyes to See', they do so in ways that the regular world can't accept. In other words, while Hunt is one of the good guys, the FBI, who were investigating the same string of murders he was, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's the Reaper. They have a video in which he kills someone on camera! Of course it's him! They can't know that it was really a doppelganger of an ancient sorcerer who's now been defeated. To them, Hunt is a wanted man in an active case and so he's on the run.
Where to go, other than out of Boston, is an open question that's answered by one of his cohorts, a witch called Denise Clearwater. She's experiencing visions that tell her that there's trouble in New Orleans and she needs to go there to help stop it. And so they hit the road, Hunt and Clearwater and Dmitri Alexandrov, who turns into a polar bear when needs must. Eventually, of course, they face off against the King of the Dead.
It takes a while to get to that point though. Joseph Nassise builds this in a steady manner, establishing a new dynamic for this novel with a team made up of three Gifted, two of whom are technically on the run. When they get to New Orleans, he lets us in on some of the infrastructure of the supernatural world in this universe, the local Lord Marshal doing everything he can in a trying situation when everyone on the Council is dead and gone. It helps us feel more grounded and I'm sure Hunt feels that too.
What's happening is unexplained until Hunt's able to lend his own particular talents to the search. People are dying of an unknown disease. They go into a sort of coma and then they die. It's a hundred percent fatal and, even if the regular doctors don't know this, every victim is Gifted. In fact, that's why every member of the Council in New Orleans is dead. This disease doesn't care how powerful someone is. It just kills them.
It's Hunt who figures out that it isn't a disease at all. His talent allows him to see auras or souls and he realises right off the bat that none of the victims have one any more, even if they haven't died yet. That means someone or something is taking those souls and, without venturing into what I'd see as spoiler territory, Hunt figures that out too, with that knowledge serving as the breakthrough that what's left of the Gifted community in New Orleans needs to move forward.
While the structure is pretty straightforward for urban fantasy and we know from the very title of the book that there's going to be a king of the dead behind everything, Nassise is a writer who can milk this by adding a worthy amount of texture and impact. We aren't just watching this all happen from a remove, we're in the thick of it with Hunt and Clearwater and her old coven mate, Simon Gallagher, who's Lord Marshal long before his time. While we're rarely surprised by what happens, we react well when it does.
And all of this makes this trilogy seem like it shouldn't be a trilogy. The first book played like a feature, telling its own story and wrapping it up neatly at the end. It could easily have been a standalone novel. Nassise had meant for it to be a trilogy all along, but with Hunt continuing the search for his daughter throughout, something that his initial publisher baulked at and prompted him to change. And so it became a different trilogy.
This doesn't feel like the middle book in a trilogy at all. It feels like a second book in an open-ended series, like the opening episode in a TV series based on a feature. It takes all the setup that Nassise did in 'Eyes to See' and translates it into a formula. Here are the stars, here's the structure, here are the dynamics by which it's all going to work. Now, rinse and repeat for another twenty-one episodes, with the series arc being the FBI searching for Hunt because they think he's the Reaper.
That makes me all the more intrigued by what 'Watcher of the Dark' is going to end up being. If it was just episode two, it would be just like this but in a different city with different monsters to fight. But it's not; it's the final book in a trilogy. I'm looking forward to finding out what it's going to be like. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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