My Favorite Bit: Salinee Goldenberg talks about THE LAST PHI HUNTER

Salinee Goldenberg is joining us today to talk about her novel, The Last Phi Hunter. Here’s the publisher’s description:

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 him 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.

What’s Salinee’s favorite bit?

As the official tour guide for the Kingdom of Suyoram, I invite you down a mystical path of spirit-filled forests, cook you a sizzling plate of spicy basil fried rice, and introduce you to some of my favorite people…who happen to be hungry ghosts craving the taste of human blood.

The Last Phi Hunter allowed me to explore my heritage by creating a rich world of monsters, magic and mayhem. I loved infusing the unique aspects of Thai culture and folklore through my own perspective as a biracial, diaspora writer. I wanted to create a sense of place where the inspiration could be recognized, yet remain freshly unfamiliar in the SFF landscape. And the spark of that inspiration was born out of the phi—the hungry ghosts—the reincarnated human souls whose past sins earned them a cursed existence.

From a Buddhist standpoint, the stories of hungry ghosts served as a parable, a warning for people to respect their elders and live moral lives. The phi are creatures to be pitied or feared, trapped in a living hell that we can observe and shy away from. I saw an opportunity to dig into the human aspect of these ghosts, who were once individuals with their own flaws and histories, as well as hopes and dreams. Are they beyond redemption? Who gets to decide?

It started with the krasue, one of the more famous ghosts in Thai folklore. The krasue appears as any woman going about her day, but at night, she leaves her body in an underground nest. Her disembodied head floats through the darkness in search of prey, while her exposed heart, lungs and entrails trail beneath her. As soon as I read her description, I knew that she deserved to be more than a mark for Ex, our scrappy phi-hunting hero.

Another is the pret, a towering, emaciated creature with ravenous hunger that can never be satiated due to its tiny, needle-sized mouth. Ex encounters one in the book, and the pret tells the story of how it came to be punished, which involves a past life of vice, greed and pride. But there’s no danger posed from this suffering, non-violent creature. Though Ex is a hunter, it’s not his place to determine whether its punishment is just. Ex accepts the unknowable laws behind the cycle of karma as is, and only takes action against the violent ones, who enact their vengeance on the innocent.

Naturally, he must encounter some of these violent ones, which brings us back to the krasue, who craves the taste of human blood. I couldn’t resist exploring her perspective through a secondary point-of-view, a complicated individual who strives to be more than the summary of her past mistakes. The krasue’s existence is a tragic product of her upbringing. No one decides the circumstances of their birth, and sadly, some are indoctrinated into a worldview that values selfishness and cruelty. There are glimpses of her past life and the horrible things she’s done, and though Ex believes that her karmic punishment is just, what if she strives to break the cycle of violence?

The debate between these two characters is one of my favorite parts of the novel. Drawing the lines between what would seem like two sworn enemies, who both are striving to prove themselves in a way that goes against what society tells them they’re capable of. It goes beyond Ex’s trade and into his backstory—into the generational punishment for his parents’ part in a rebellion squashed by the crown, which played a large role in driving him to join the Phi Hunters Guild. Weaving together their similarities and differences made for a lot of conflict, and a lot of fun.

I strove to create a tapestry full of wonder and adventure, but took the most joy in peeling back the layers underneath the aesthetic, connecting these places and characters to universal themes. There are guardian god-spirits of the forest, demanding tribute for favor. There are hunters, witches and necromancers spinning all shades of magic. There are murderous demons dining on nightmares, and esoteric rituals that summon a psychedelic synesthesia. But throughout the fantastical elements, The Last Phi Hunter celebrates identity, love, and the strength of the human spirit, regardless of what one’s diet may entail.


Book Link





Salinee Goldenberg is a speculative fiction writer and multimedia artist who lives in Washington DC, and is drawn to outsider perspectives. A biracial, bisexual, diaspora writer, Sal often explores themes of identity, obsession and alienation in her work. Previously, she worked at Bethesda Softworks creating narrative trailers for games such as Skyrim, Fallout 4 and Dishonored, and now produces videos for Minecraft. When not writing, she likes to paint, listen to records, and play in punk bands.

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