Friday, January 26, 2007

Demon Angel by Meljean Brook

Demon Angel by Meljean Brook has been making quite a splash in the blogospere lately, perhaps not surprisingly. since Ms. Brook is an active blogger herself. A lot of people have reviewed this one. I was looking forward to reading this one since I first saw it at Sybil's. I actually stopped reading the reviews because I didn't want to spoil myself. So,now it's my turn to take a stab at reviewing this one, which is the author's first published full length novel, I believe.

The Story (My apologies to the author if I’ve left anything out. This is a dense story, and I mean that in a good way): Demon Angel begins in thirteenth century England, where seventeen year old, newly knighted Hugh meets the demon Lilith as she wreaks havoc near the estate of his liege lord. They are immediately drawn to each other, as Lilith torments Hugh, and he is alternately attracted and disturbed by her. Once Lilith’s machinations result in Hugh’s death, she finds that she is unable to complete the ritual that will send his soul to Hell. Instead, she turns him over to Michael (as in the Archangel), the head of the Guardians. The Guardians are men and women who have been given angelic powers in order to protect humans (and their souls) against demons. Over the next eight hundred years, Hugh and Lilith cross paths repeatedly as they carry out their respective roles. They are adversaries, but their relationship is tempered by their strong attraction and respect for each other. Part One ends in 1991, when Hugh, dillusioned and disenchanted with his afterlife, decides to Fall. In a last ditch attempt to save Lilith’s soul, he stabs her through the heart. The second part of the book resumes in 2007, where Hugh has become an English professor in San Francisco. When one of his students is killed in a ritual murder, Hugh is brought face to face with someone he thought he’d never see again: Lilith, now FBI agent Lily Milton. She has changed a bit, but she still serves Lucifer, and he still wants one thing from her: Hugh’s death.

[Ok, I tried to make that as succinct as possible while still getting the point across.]

The Good: I loved Part One. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I’m a geek for medieval stuff. One of the fascinating things about the Middle Ages was people’s overwhelming concern for their souls, and their absolute belief in the demonic. There are many narratives of people’s encounters with demons. So I liked the idea that demons actually were fucking with people and setting up their downfall. As I mentioned, the “universe” of demons, Guardians (and vampires and nosferatu) created here was a dense one, with a lot of rules and backstory. I thought it was developed well—fit within the story (not “info-dump”-y), and I came to understand everything. I just found it to be a fascinating world. And I loved the development of Hugh and Lilith’s relationship throughout their encounters over the years.

But I think that Brook’s particular strength is characterization. Man, Hugh and Lilith were freaking awesome characters! Hugh was very strong, and a warrior, but also singularly kind and compassionate. Although he is very concerned with saving souls (especially Lilith’s), he is not self-righteous. He’s got a good sense of humor and I loved how he just got Lilith and accepted and loved her for who she was. Lilith was a very strong, kick ass heroine, and not in that annoying, aren’t-I-so-sassy-and-petulant way. She was a demon (actually, half-demon/half-human), but she wasn’t evil. Lilith enjoys meting out her brand of justice to those she thinks deserves it, but she can’t quite stomach some of the other demon stuff. And hey, I’m sure that lots of us have a streak where we wouldn’t mind if rapists, molesters and murderers got damned to hell. And her vulnerability where Hugh is concerned…these two just rocked! They were fully fleshed out characters, rather than types, with a really interesting (and HOT), well-developed relationship. They are just drawn to each other from the start, they really get each other, and their feelings deepen over time. There is always that sense that they genuinely like and respect each other. Plus, there are a lot of great secondary characters, from Sir Pup the hellhound to Colin Ames-Beaumont the vampire (“’But I’m extraordinarily handsome.’”).

The Bad: I have read that some people felt that there were problems with pacing. I have to admit, after Hugh and Lilith got together, the last hundred pages or so lost a lot of momentum for me. The whole mystery/action subplot just wasn’t as interesting to me as the character/relationship stuff. I wanted to know how everything would get resolved, and how they would get their HEA, but my attention flagged here and there. I hesitate to blame it all on the writing though, because I’ve been exhausted this week. I think it’s a combo of the cold and the fact that the Destroyer’s getting her two year molars. She’s been a whack-a-doodle this week. My husband actually called me at work on Thursday to beg me to come home. Who would’ve thought that a man with multiple tattoos, two Harleys and a black belt in Karate could be reduced to a quivering mass by someone who’s two and half feet tall and 24 pounds? Wimp. She is a hellcat though. I think that Lilith would like her.

The Verdict: This would perhaps vary according to reader taste, but for me, the great character and relationship development, and the world building, definitely trump the slow final act. I am looking forward to future stories by Ms. Brook. I hope she has many great ideas, characters and relationships in store for readers. I’m giving this one an A-. Her next one, Demon Moon, features Colin (yay!) and Savitri Murray, who was also in DA. She’s getting a pre-emptive thumbs up for me for an Indian heroine. I don’t think I’ve read an Indian heroine in a romance since The Far Pavilions by MM Kaye, many, many years ago.

P.S. Sorry for the long ass post. I seem to be unable to make the expandable posts anymore. Also,at Dear Author, Demon Angel is the book club selection. Now that I finished the book, I'm off to take a look.