The Hate Machine by Stephen Blackmoore — an exciting & gritty noir urban fantasy

Some articles may include Amazon affiliate links. All proceeds go to helping us pay for original stories and to support writers of speculative fiction. Read more here.

Warning: This review may contain spoilers for previous books in the series. 

The Hate Machine makes me understand why people love noir urban fantasy. I don’t usually read this type of book, but I am certainly looking forward to the next installment. It has the gritty noir of an old detective novel, the gruesome excitement of a Tarantino movie, plenty of dangerous women, heist elements, and tons of grimdark characters. It takes place in the seedy magical underbelly of Las Vegas — which is already pretty shady as is. The viewpoint character is Eric Carter, a jaded and sardonic necromancer suffering emotional turmoil who has only recently come back to life

The major plot thread centers on chasing down a powerful oracle that Eric once made with some “friends” out of a demon and a human head — a human head that he personally “sawed off” himself while it screamed in pain, mind you. So for the first few chapters, Eric is hunting down people who can give him clues as to where it is. During this detective-noir portion of the novel, we learn new things about the characters and about just how powerful the oracle really is. The oracle can manipulate the future, which opens the door for a bit of philosophizing about the nature of free will and destiny. The plot moves along quickly enough — as soon as I started to want this portion of the novel to end, it did. Eric found a strong lead and the story moved forward with flair.

Above, I described Eric Carter as having “friends.” Excuse me. He doesn’t really consider anyone his friend. All of the characters are trouble and their relationships with each other and with Eric are all toxic. But strangely, I found them all to be pretty sympathetic. Each is a murderer, constantly breaking the law and — without question — taking advantage of the non-magical folks around them. That might sound bad, but it felt so good

Speaking of toxic relationships, Eric is trying to find the oracle with the hopes of exploring a relationship with a woman even though she is still in a relationship with someone else.

While The Hate Machine is the eighth book in the Eric Carter series, you don’t have to read all of them to enjoy it. There is adequate exposition in the first few chapters to catch readers up on Eric Carter’s past… for example, within chapter one, Eric explains that because of a deal he made with an Aztec god, his soul went to Mictlan where his body was used to regrow one of their gods.

Because Eric is a necromancer, death and the afterlife play a large role in his viewpoint and problem-solving. He can not only talk to the dead, but he can also travel back and forth between the dimensions of the living and the dead allowing for some amusing espionage and sleuthing. As for him being a vessel for regrowing a god — that’s not what this book is about, but it has left him with some pretty cool powers, including immunity to some types of magic.

I found the writing style itself highly amusing. It’s slathered thick with jaded sarcasm and intriguing world-building. There’s a lot of foul language, too, FYI. And it is concise — Blackmoore conveys a lot of information in a few words, leaving room for plenty of action and thought-provoking concepts in this short book. It’s also told in the present tense, which isn’t something I usually gravitate towards. 

Being swept away in the story, it was easy for me to dismiss all the immoral things Eric and the other characters get up to. I mean seriously. It is gripping, so I almost didn’t even notice all of the vices. But occasionally I’d be like “wait… did he just steal another car?” and “did he just kill a clueless henchman?” Yes. Yes. Eric and his gang have no qualms about harming innocent people. You should probably also be warned that the violence is pretty gruesome, and Eric’s attitude toward it is often cavalier. At one point, Eric says he cuts a guy’s throat til his head flies back like a Pez dispenser.

But morality isn’t super important to the story. Instead, the deeper concepts explored in this book would be loneliness, free will/destiny, and trust. My feeling is that the plot threads involving these concepts have not yet concluded and will continue to develop in the next book. I don’t know how long this series will be, but if the author wants to start troubling Eric Carter with issues of morality and redemption in later books I’d be down for that!

As for weaknesses, there might’ve been too much exposition. Several times it seemed like exposition was disguised as character dialogue. I usually didn’t mind the exposition because it is told with a funny attitude. A far more serious flaw might be that several of the characters have similar personalities. In spite of that, I found them to be pretty likable and sympathetic. There is also a large plot thread that didn’t conclude in the way that I was expecting — but it was exciting in a different way instead.  

The final verdict — I’m eagerly waiting for the next one. I think it’s the juxtaposition of excitement, humor, creativity, and surprises, alongside moments of emotional turmoil and deep thought that pulled me in. 

The book has been released for purchase on Tuesday.

MetaStellar reviews editor Amira Loutfi is an author and web designer. She is on a mission to craft excellent fantasy fiction that is inspired by late antiquity Arabia. You can join her monthly newsletter where she shares insider info, wips, and tons of cool stuff.