Previously, on Kara’s reviews of THE SPI FILES…:
… the intimations of bigger and better story arcs continue here. Once again we have a direct reference to the face-shifting ghoul terrorizing Ian. (According to the Goodreads series list, the next book is The Ghoul Vendetta, so I’m guessing we’ll soon get some pay-off on that arc!) …
I was going to criticize the covers and complain about how they’re all different poses of Mac and Ian waving weapons around … …
Plus, it’s nice that the covers acknowledge Mac and Ian’s partnership. Ian has Mac’s back in this book—hopefully in The Ghoul Vendetta we’ll see a little more vulnerability in him and Mac will really have a chance to shine.
fist pump Called it.
Is this really the fourth book in this series? I can remember back when Lisa Shearin was turning out the second and third books in Raine’s series! It feels like just yesterday, but here we are … almost exactly one year since I read the last book and well into the SPI Files and apparently a third series on the horizon. Coming upon Shearin when she was a new author and getting to read her books soon after their publication has been a delight, year after year, because she keeps delivering fun stories. The Ghoul Vendetta is no exception. Fans of the series will find what they want in this book, and newcomers won’t feel too lost (though I highly recommend picking up at least the first book!).
It’s June now, and Mac is on another date with Rake Danescu Dark Gobl—er, I mean, dark mage—er, I mean, he’s a goblin, OK? And he does dark magic, but he’s good, and he has the hots for Mac, and she has the hots for him, but things keep attacking them, and it’s just really inconvenient. And so they’re on a date, and things attack them! This turns out to be connected to a wider plot by Old Ones wanting to undo a curse by other Old Ones keeping them from dominating and terrorizing all other species on the planet. To make matters worse, Mac’s work partner, Ian, is intimately connected to this plot, which is masterminded by the face-shifting not-a-ghoul who has taunted Ian in various ways in the previous books.
The Ghoul Vendetta follows a pattern I’ve noticed (which may entirely be a product of my delusional, word-addled mind) of series arcs, at least for ongoing urban fantasy novels like this series, really picking up in the fourth book. That is to say, the first three books of a series might be good, even amazing, but they are often very contained. They lay the groundwork for future books, but they haven’t yet established enough of the characters’ baseline behaviour to really show them growing, changing, and responding to threats from their past or threats newfound. By the time book four comes round, enough pages have elapsed to make this possible. Shearin capitalizes on this opportunity. This book is all about Ian, his past, and it is definitely game-changing for him and his role in SPI.
There are so many good additions to the series lore here!
Vampires do not play a prominent role in the story per se, but they are on the periphery of everything, and Shearin gives us more information on how vampirism works in this world. The exposition is interesting but never overdone—it all relates the main plot. Moreover, Alain Moreau has a bigger role in this book, because he is subbing for Vivienne Sagadraco while she takes a vacation. I liked Moreau from previous books, but his smaller parts made it harder for me to get a read on him. He comes off as much more personable, less “creepy hypnotic vampire lawyer/line manager” than he has previously. Mac even gets to see him in jeans at one point!
With Ian out of commission for large swathes of the book, Mac’s dynamic changes significantly as well. The Ghoul Vendetta is much less about her and her powers/role as a seer. I like how Shearin puts Mac in physically dangerous situations and portrays her has a competent but not overly skilled fighter. Mac certainly seems to have more to do in this book, and although she isn’t necessarily the one who directly initiates something, she tends to be the driving force and instigator in most of the plot developments. Ian’s vulnerability here offers opportunities to affirm their mutual respect and trust for one another as partners.
The antagonists are also quite different from your average monster in an urban fantasy book. Shearin has really dug deep into a less popularly used mythology for some inspiration here, and it works extremely well. I love the way she presents the threat of these monsters: they are simultaneously brutish and overwhelming in their power yet constrained and cunning thanks to their leader (the face-shifting ghoul with a vendetta against Ian). They are also very different from the threats that SPI has dealt with up until this point. However, sometimes the “mystery” element felt flat. So many of the developments come from Ian and his investigation into his past. There are a few dead bodies, but there isn’t quite the same frenetic energy that the previous books have had with Mac and Ian racing around New York trying to stop the baddie. Even the field trip out to Bannerman’s Castle is relatively sedate.
Fortunately, the climax is pretty rewarding. Lots of fighting, an aerial sequence, and plenty of grandstanding from the villain—you know, the usual. I’m very pleased with the resolution and the way that Shearin deals with the immediate threat while letting other threads hang loose, ready to be picked up in later books. She could easily have had Ian just wipe away all the opposition with super-godlike powers or something, but her solution is much more nuanced. The book ends on a somewhat humorous note, reminding us that what might seem strange to mundanes like ourselves is actually just another day at the office for SPI agents. So it goes.
I apologize if this review is a bit vague; I wanted to avoid spoilers so that you can enjoy it as fresh as possible. The Ghoul Vendetta is exactly what I was hoping for from the next SPI Files book. I mean, at this point, I’d pretty much subscribe to Shearin’s series if that were an option.