Book Review: Spells for the Dead by Faith Hunter

Posted April 14, 2021 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Spells for the Dead by Faith Hunter

I received this book for free from my own shelves in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Spells for the Dead by Faith Hunter
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Published by Ace Books on July 28, 2020
Pages: 384
Format: eBook
Source: my own shelves

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Also by this author: Blood Trade, Kicking It: These Boots are Made for Stalking, Blood in Her Veins, Mercy Blade, Shadow Rites, Bloodring, Seraphs, Dark Queen, Shattered Bonds, Black Arts, Broken Soul, Dark Heir, Cold Reign, Blood of the Earth, Curse on the Land, Flame in the Dark, "Water Witch", "Explosion On King's Street", Skinwalker, Dirty Deeds, "Shiloh and the Brick", "Black Friday Shopping with Nell and Occam", Circle of the Moon, Blood Cross

Fifth in the Soulwood urban fantasy, police procedural series, a spin-off from the Jane Yellowrock series (13.5 in that series) and revolving around Nell Ingram, a plant person and PsyLED agent, who lives just outside Knoxville.

My Take

Ooh, creepy. That plague? virus? mutant germ? Is way beyond nasty. Just ask the hospital.

I do love this series. It’s homey and comfy with plenty of paranormal action. Its protagonist, Nell, is walking that line between the restrictive church life in which she grew up and her escape from it and the much broader life she’s experiencing as a federal agent. It’s a restrictive culture versus one in which Nell is accepted as an equal whose ideas are as good as anyone else’s. Talk about culture shock!

Still, it’s a fascinating life for Nell, and we know all about what she thinks and feels from first person protagonist point-of-view from Nell’s perspective. From the restrictive life of the church with technology forbidden to this life where she’s accepted and supported by men and using all this amazing technology…like coffeemakers, microwaves, and laptops. I gotta laugh when Nell reckons that “the best reasons for entering the modern world were Krispy Kreme donuts and tech”.

That vampire tree is so intriguing. It’s certainly been an evolution from the start, in growth, temperament, how it feels toward Nell. It’ll be an interesting evolution to watch. Yep, there’s a tree that has its own character arc, lol. And, oh boy, that tree may be helpful, but it’s a scary kind of aid. Claiming land everywhere. Hmmm, invasion anyone? A’course, Nell, Mud, and Esther do some claiming back and that list of the vampire tree wood’s beauty sure sounded nice.

Of course, that tree’s behavior and that of Soulwood’s does keep me on my toes. At the moment both are interested in Nell’s survival, but how they help her survive is creepy and rather painful…all those rootlets. Hmmm, that scene with the squirrel…who knew the tree could be “shy”, lol.

More character arcs include that bitchy Esther. Geez. I know Mud has her own arc with her enthusiasm for her greenhouse. That lecture Nell gives the two of them makes part of their individual arcs really clear. “My house, my rules” and a come-to-Jesus moment may create some changes. One contributor to a number of characters arcs is that conflict between Esther and Jedidiah that brings out one of those rules in the church constitution. Hee-hee-hee… Nell’s family has their own arc, as they tiptoe further and further into the twenty-first century.

Occam’s got his own character arc…mostly physical as he heals from events in Flame in the Dark, 3. He definitely plays a big part in Nell’s evolution.

That conflict between law enforcement agencies is such a constant from books to television…ya just know it has to be true for real life as well. And ain’t that sad…That said, I do enjoy how Unit 18 gets around the local LEOs.

That take-down T Laine did on FireWind was lovely, lol. It’s too bad that so many men fear women, need to control them, look down on them. I wonder how that “fear” ties into outside-the-norm sex? I find I prefer the Cherokee approach to love and sex. Although FireWind’s behavior at the office seems to warp that a bit…the team thinks it’s part of that tragic event in his past.

Stella’s approach to love and family is certainly…laidback. I do like her philosophy about how she trains her horses and the reasons for who she hires.

It’s a character-driven story with lots of action and a decent pace…it’ll keep you flippin’ those pages! A minor “reason”, as if I need one, to continue on with Soulwood is to watch Nell evolve…she’s been a tree…

And guess what? Humans do not taste like chicken.

The Story

It’s a corruption, a death and decay, that eats and ages everything, everything. Shovels, tires, carpet, drumsets…people.

The Characters

Soulwood is…
…Special Agent (SA) Nell “Maggots” Ingram‘s land. She’s a widow who lives off her very interactive land and has a green magic that can sense what’s happening on it, make things grow. Etain thinks Nell’s an earth sprite, a yinehi. She has three cats: Jezzie, Cello, and Torquil. It’s because of John Ingram, a more tolerant churchman, her deceased husband, that Nell has this land. Leah had been John’s primary wife.

Mindy, a.k.a. Mud, and the constantly, whining, sniping, and pregnant Esther are Nell’s sisters who are living with her these days. And they’re both tree-creatures-in-hiding like Nell. Cherry is Mud’s dog. Jed is Esther’s jerk of an estranged husband.

PsyLED is…
…the Psychometry Law Enforcement Division that reports to Homeland Security, the National Security Agency/Central Security Service, CIA, the DoD, the Secret Service, and the FBI. Unit 18 is led by now-healed Special Agent-in-Charge Rick LaFleur, a wereleopard, and is based near Knoxville. SA JoJo Jones, a.k.a. Diamond Drill, is the second-in-command and a brilliant hacker. SA Occam, a wereleopard who spent twenty years in a traveling circus cage, has a thing for our Nell. SA T Laine Kent is the resident witch, with vet training. SA Tandy Dyson is the unit’s empath. The truth-sensing SA Margot Racer is a recent addition, a swap from the FBI (Circle of the Moon, 4), who’ll become a lot more permanent. Clementine is the software that takes meeting notes for the team. Senior Special Agent Ayatas FireWind is their new up-line big boss, the regional director in charge of the eastern US…and Jane Yellowrock’s brother. Yep, that means he’s Cherokee and a skinwalker. Jane is busy being the Dark Queen and stopping a worldwide vampire war. Igohidv Adonvdo, a.k.a. Forever Heart, had been Ayatas’ wife. Soul is the assistant director of PsyLED and an arcenciel shifter.

The FBI…
…is still greatly annoyed by PsyLED for what they did in Blood of the Earth, 1 (9.25). Special-Agent-in-Charge Macauley Smythe is a racist, a misogynist, and a witch hater. Special Agent Gerry Stapp is everything Smythe hates.

Cookeville PD
Sheriff Jackett‘s trying to decide which side his bread is buttered on. Deputy Alvin Hembest is one of Jackett’s relatives. Sergeant Wherry is a grizzled veteran.

Patrick Hooper is a defense attorney hired by Etain. Jamie Lee Frost is the Para Hazmat team leader. AK Montgomery is Cale’s parole officer.

Morgan County Sheriff’s Department
Sergeant Gunter and Deputy Prince.

Holcomb Beresford, a.k.a. Holy Bear, who’s worried about his land, is not an evolved thinker.

Campbell County Sheriff’s Department
Deputy Robb.

Seems that Knoxville SWAT’s Captain Joaquin Gonzalez (Circle of the Moon, 4) gave T Laine some pointers on smoothing troubled waters.

Melody Horse Farm is…
…a horse breeding and training farm owned by Stella Mae Ragel, a superstar singer just back from a tour. Tondra is Stella’s mother; Sophee Ann Ragel and the pregnant Josette Lynn Ragel Jenkins are Stella’s sisters. The band members include Catriona Doyle, a backup singer and musician who just happens to be a member of the Doyle witch family from Ireland; Miren is Catriona’s daughter. Cale Nowell is the guitarist (and one of Stella’s husbands); Thomas Langer is the drummer (Robinelle is his sister and a tax attorney); Connelly Darrow plays bass guitar; and, Erica Lynn Quinton plays lead guitar. Theron Workham is one of the roadies. Regenia Apple is the band manager; Genneille Booker is the accountant; and, Augustina Mattson is Stella’s attorney.

Verna Upton is the housekeeper. Monica Belcher is Stella’s personal assistant. Credence Pacillo is in charge of the horses. Adrian’s Hell is Stella’s best horse. Pam Gower is the full-time farm manager. Riders include Bevie Rhoden, Carmen, Ingrid Wayns, and Elisa Yhall.

Merry Promotions is the company that handles Stella’s promotional merchandise. Clyde MacMahan is a race car driver and an old friend of Stella’s.

The Commune…
…included Elizabeth Racine Alcock, Stella, Connelly, Thomas, Erica, Cale, Donald Murray Hampstead, and Hugo Ames. Ethel Myer is Hugo’s landlady. Tina Ames is Hugo’s mother. Carollette Myer Ames, Hugo’s estranged wife, used to work at Merry Promotions. Reba Myer had been Carollette’s mother.

Cadence Blue Thompkins” married Luther Merriweather, a CEO in Kingston. Dominique Goode is Cadence’s attorney.

The North Nashville Coven is…
…led by Astrid Grainger of the Grainger clan. Catriona is one of hers, however temporarily. Etain Doyle is Catriona’s sister.

Wendy Cornwall is a Knoxville witch along with Theresa Anderson-Kentner, Suzanne Richardson-White, and Barbara Traywick Hasebe.

The University of Tennessee Medical Center (UTMC) has…
…a Paranormal Unit. Dr Gomez is the pathologist with a minor in paranormal medicine who discovers there’s all sorts of offerings the hospital ignored. Marielle Higgins is part of the failure to communicate. Ginny is a nurse. Dr Ruth Pench is an hospitalist.

God’s Cloud of Glory Church where…
…women have no rights, no property, no authority, no say. Colonel Ernest Jackson had wanted Nell as his concubine. Yep, he’s dead now. Unfortunately, his son, Ernest Jr, a.k.a. Jackie, picked up his daddy’s bad habits. Brother Ephraim, a gwyllgi (Blood of the Earth, 1 (9.25)), had been the second man Nell fed to the land. Some of Jackie’s allies include the Lamberts, Brother Vaughn and his family, and the McCormicks.

Sister Erasmus is Brother Aden‘s second wife and quite sympathetic to Nell and her family. Ben Aden is one of their sons who has been interested in Nell. His brother Larry had not been a good one (Circle of the Moon, 4).

Nell’s family…
…the Nicholsons, are still part of the church, still live on its lands, and includes Mama Grace, sisters Priss and Judith and brothers — full and half — include Sam, Amos, Rufus, and Zebulun, who is half Ephraim’s.

Old Lady Stevens has a vegetable stand and helps the church ladies handle and bank their money.

The vampire tree sees itself as the Green Knight, Nell’s protector, so far. The Blood Tarot (Circle of the Moon) is one of three magic decks known to be in existence. Sonsee-array‘s mother was a woman of power among her people. The truth about Marilyn Monroe. Brett Hudgins, a retired farmer and deacon in his church, was a victim. Paka is a black wereleopard and an enemy, who had been Rick’s wereleopard mate. Wrassler, one of Leo’s blood-servant security people, is the nickname given him by Jane.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a blend of purples and lime greens. Yum. The deepest purples are at the top and bottom. The left edge is a border of both colors in a Celtic knot. Coming down from the top is a roofline that changes to a lighter blue-purple to yellow-green floor-length windows. From the bottom up, it feels more like a field of swirling blue-purples, greens, and lime green as the sexily dressed Nell (not her style) looks up, one hand raised, her reddish-brown hair swirling. At the very top is the author’s name in lime. Below that is an info blurb in white with the title, also in white, below that and over Nell’s head. To Nell’s right is the series info in white with more white in the testimonial at the very bottom.

The title is what Nell and her team are battling, the Spells for the Dead.

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