ARC Review: The Last Phi Hunter by Salinee Goldenberg

Today’s review is about THE LAST PHI HUNTER by Salinee Goldenberg. This debut novel incorporates Thai folklore and inspiration from THE WITCHER. Ex, a phi hunter, seeks glory by killing a great demon. However, he must set aside his primary goal and instead help a woman through spirit-filled lands.

Author: Salinee Goldenberg
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Angry Robot
Publish Date: April 9, 2024
Print Length: 384

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Official Synopsis

Ambitious Phi Hunter and perpetual lone wolf, Ex, finds his road to glory interrupted when a heavily pregnant runaway enlists his help to escape through the ghost-infested forest…

Ex, the youngest member of the Phi Hunters Order, has spent his life slaying the ghosts and demons of Suyoram Kingdom. While he takes great pride in his mystical trade, collecting dwindling bounties and peddling butchered spirit organs lacks the glory he craves. He’s determined to hunt down Shar-Ala, a demon of nightmares, of madness – who has eluded even Ex’s masters.

In a provincial village along the way, Arinya, a charming muay-boran champion, manages to save Ex from a brutal ass-kicking, despite being nine months pregnant. In return, she asks him to escort her through the dangerous, spirit-filled forest, where ghosts salivate over the scent of the unborn.

Feeling responsible for Arinya’s safety, Ex vows to help her return home. But as more of Arinya’s secrets emerge, and the elusive demon nears, Ex must face dangers from both men and monsters, or lose not only the respect and sanctuary of his guild, but also the woman he’s trying not to fall in love with.

The Last Phi Hunter is a mythic dark fantasy, equal parts smart, exhilarating, and delightfully fun.

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

In THE LAST PHI HUNTER, Ex, a member of the Phi Hunters Order, has one main goal in mind: to kill Shar-Ala, a great demon who haunts his victims with nightmares. Although ridding his kingdom of problematic phi, or spirits, is his primary directive, he knows killing Shar-Ala will bring him more respect. But he hits a detour in his plans when he runs into Arinya, who is nine months pregnant and requests him to escort her to a low magic witch. What seems like a somewhat simple request turns into something more complicated as Ex learns more about Arinya during their journey.

To jump straight to the point, I picked up THE LAST PHI HUNTER because the heavily-pregnant-character premise is unique. I expected Arinya to be a be a badass, pregnant woman. However, early on in the book she essentially becomes unpregnant while still being pregnant. I won’t say more because spoilers, but this event rendered that whole part of the premise null and void for me. Arinya remains a badass, but an unpregnant one. I really looked forward to seeing how the author would run with this pregnancy status in a spirit-hunting world. Instead I felt like a bait and switch happened. I also felt like this made it easier to write the action parts of the story. I would have liked to see how a late-stage pregnancy affected character choices, especially during tense situations.

Second, while the book is a standard novel length, I felt like it took me forever to read it. To be clear, the author writes well and the descriptions were great. Goldenberg excels at describing each phi that Ex encounters. Each description reveals a vivid imagination and my brain turned round and round trying to fathom their disturbing countenances. However, THE LAST PHI HUNTER falls heavily into the journey trope. I’m fairly neutral to long journeys in fantasy books and lean toward appreciating them. With this book, the scene changes weren’t different enough for my preferences. This made the book feel longer than it is.

As the official synopsis implies, romantic feelings develop between Ex and Arinya. Yet, despite their shared experiences and peril, I felt they more or less lacked chemistry. I liked Ex and Arinya as characters, but their interactions erred on the side of illogical. Ex clearly doesn’t know how to talk to women, so that created some incensed dialogue. And some of Arinya’s decisions made no sense, especially given certain people are trying to find her. Thankfully, there aren’t too many of these scenes, but I found a portion of them irksome.

I also didn’t particularly care for part of the ending. The epilogue rendered one of the major plot points of the book, well, pointless. I suppose it serves to show that we are all connected and share many past lives. But the method in which this occurred fell flat for me. There is also a backdrop of “modernization.” That is, we see the monarchy outlawing traditional ways to usher in change, though not necessarily in a good way. While perhaps meant to represent the influence of the West, it also didn’t really add much to the story.

I know it seems like I didn’t particularly enjoy this book. For the most part, though, I did. But I think it might appeal more to readers who don’t mind that most of the story is a journey. In addition to the phi descriptions, Goldenberg vividly describes higher, godly planes. And I found it entertaining that THE LAST PHI HUNTER clearly draws inspiration from THE WITCHER. Ex reminds me a lot of Geralt, particularly with respect to his personality. He is a phi hunter, much like Geralt hunts demonic creatures that hurt humans, and is one of the last of his profession. He even has various potions to use, can descend into a parallel plane to help him hunt, and a horse companion.

Overall, THE LAST PHI HUNTER is a solid debut, but some aspects didn’t work for me. However, others may find they quite enjoy the very things that made this a slower read for me. THE LAST PHI HUNTER presents an imaginative world of spirits and traditional ways pitted against a changing culture, forcing one man to decide whether to put himself or those he cares about first.

Rating: 3.5
Content warnings: gore, violence, death, blood, torture
Reading format: Kindle e-book

10 thoughts on “ARC Review: The Last Phi Hunter by Salinee Goldenberg

  1. I am sorry that this book didn’t work 100% for you, but at least you still enjoyed it!! The comparison with Geralt is interesting, because I really enjoy him as a character, and the world seems to be a fascinating one!

    1. Even though my fandom of The Witcher extends only to the Netflix adaptation, I still enjoyed the comparison to Geralt haha. It’s a good debut, but even though it didn’t fully work for me I can definitely see a lot of others really liking it.

  2. I was interested in the 9 months pregnant MC too, so it’s disappointing to hear the author breezed over that hurdle. I’ve read a really good series where the character is very pregnant and still bad ass, although I can’t remember the title at the moment.

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