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The Last Phi Hunter

The Last Phi Hunter by Salinee Goldenberg

Angry Robot, pb, £9.99

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

Ex, a phi hunter and solitary wanderer, needs to kill a legendary demon. This act will bring him prestige and respect, something that has been absent for most of his life. But his hunt is interrupted when a pregnant woman, Arinya, needs his help escaping from her child’s father. Ex must choose between his dreams of glory and his conscience because, without his help, Arinya and her unborn child will be killed by the phi, hungry ghosts consumed by a ravenous need for living energy. And if their journey isn’t dangerous enough, surrounded by phi on all sides, the pair are also beset by assailants determined to capture Arinya and take her back to her child’s father who just happens to be the prince.

My favourite books are those where the main character jumps out and grabs you by the throat, which is exactly what happens in The Last Phi Hunter. Ex is a young man who has been an outcast for most of his life, as his village was labelled a traitor to the crown, and even though he was a small child during the rebellion, Ex was branded so everyone would know his treacherous blood. Then he becomes a phi hunter, a group who can travel into the spirit realm and protect people from hungry ghosts, but despite the work they do, phi hunters are feared and shunned because they are not understood. Ex is an outsider, even among other phi hunters, as he is fixated on killing Shar-Ala, a legendary demon no one thinks exists anymore. But he is so earnest, honest and thoughtful that his obsession for glory is offset by his true nature, and I rooted for him from the start.

The world-building is lush, moving from wild jungles and swamps to population centres of all sizes, from a roadside tavern to the capital city. Each location is rich with sense-detail; I could hear the insects buzzing in the swamps of the Crocodile Tribe and smell the food stalls in the small village outside the capital where Ex meets Narissa, a phi striving for redemption. I was utterly immersed in the world and its people.

The structure of magic and mythology is also well-explained. Ex can use magic, and there are consequences for that usage, meaning there is a very real risk he could fail. A secondary character, Narissa, is a phi who wants to become human again and has strict rules she must follow if she wants to succeed. There is a hierarchy of ghosts and demons based on Thai folklore, which is unfamiliar to me, but I was expertly guided through by Goldenberg.

I connected with The Last Phi Hunter emotionally, and the ending filled me with such warmth and happiness that my eyes got a little leaky, and it has been a long time since I shed a joyful tear for a fictional character. I loved this book, and if you love adventure stories with a relatable underdog, you will love this, too. Highly recommended.

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