A series that ends more with a fizzle than a bang.
A linked series gives the author the opportunity to play with theme development over time, to awaken the characters (and reader) to larger issues and complexities. Carey’s fourth book Thicker Than Water did just that by taking the issue of ghost identity and the ethics of exorcism from the third book, and raising the moral stakes with demon identity and exorcism. By linking the issue back to Felix’s family, the issue hit home for both Felix and the reader. Unfortunately, The Naming of the Beasts fails to live up to the promise of issues raised the fourth book and instead goes back to Felix’s beginning to untangle the mess he made attempting to exorcise Asmodeus the demon from his friend Rafi. Had I not found book four in the series to be such a fabulous read that transcended the normal UF, I might not have been so disappointed.
The story opens with Felix at a crime scene, but quickly reverts to a memory (more or less) of the drunken bender that commenced with the end of book four. We learn Felix woke up sober, decided to stay sober, and then had a heart to heart with Pen. The crime scene, of course, has Rafi/As’ fingerprints all over it. Soon Felix finds himself stalked by As. When he learns that the holy order Anathemata has received permission for As to be taken ‘dead or alive,’ he decides to join forces with
Delores Umbridge Jenna-Jane and her team of exorcists (not a bad name for a band). A lead sends him to Rafi’s brother, about to be executed. Upon return, the team has him work on a haunting.
What did I like? Series completion. The ending. The resolution to the Rafi-As possession. Nicky the zombie and his decision to branch out into sales. Rosie the sex-pot ghost. The predictable but well-done rescue and escape from Jenna-Jane’s house of horrors. The occasional image or turn of phrase that elevated the mundane into something special. An instance of interest: “I was already so sure it was him that I felt no surprise, just a faint sense of increased pressure weighing down on me, as though my invisible bathysphere had descended another hundred feet or so into the shit soup that now surrounded us.”
Since the scope of the challenge was known (find As and exorcise him/it), the story had to content itself with a couple of small mysteries, both of which proved problematic. First were problems in ability: several times Fix failed to investigate clues (why hello, mysterious writing) and then failed discuss them with more than one person–it was so obviously going to be part of the final ‘reveal’ that I found myself annoyed. Second was the fact that the old Rafi seems like a huge egotist and generally so-so specimen of humanity. Even his brother on death row thinks he’s an ass. Why exactly is Fix working so hard to save him? We get the guilt line and that’s it. Third, Fix is given unexpected aid near the end when Jenna’s head henchman has a crisis of conscience, which is about as trope-ridden an excuse as one can find for the miraculous last-minute help. Then there are hints that “something deep is afoot” and “the world is changing” that seem to go beyond the issue of a demon running amok but failed to turn into anything interesting.
In retrospect, Fix’s increased drinking bothered me even more. Not only that he did it, but that he was able to get himself “dry” by willpower and going cold-turkey. As someone who has cared for detoxing people, I can safely say withdrawing from alcohol can be a medical emergency and can take days (as in 2 to 3) to start to get to the worst of it. It’s the kind of detail that says, “meh. I don’t need to research. I just need to knock this book off.”
I was also bothered by the failure of Carey to follow-up on the promising philosophical discussions raised in the fourth book. Although Fix has a couple of almost-conversations about it with another necromancer, Trudi, he doesn’t actually spell it out or argue with details–when they exorcise ghosts, in one sense they are killing a spirit. A conversation with some zombies starts to touch on the issue as well. I think by now I know where Fix stands, so it’s strange that he wouldn’t start talking the new gospel with others in his profession.
There’s some weird domestic violence stuff as well that is supposed to show personality change in Juliet, but mostly just seems like a crutch and serves to make the reader uncomfortable. Carey does better when he emphasizes how she is losing her humanity through lack of empathy and a temptation to swallow Fix whole.
All in all, I’d have to say it just wasn’t as tightly woven as the fourth, Thicker Than Water.
Review for Thicker: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/…