Dear Ms. Dark:
There are spoilers in here for the first book, Demon Lover.
I was drawn to this in part by the cover and in part by the suggestion that fans of Elizabeth Kostova and Deborah Harkness would enjoy this. I have yet to pick up one of Harkness’s books but I remember being blown away by the prose and atmosphere in Kostova’s debut novel. The first book in the series, Demon Lover, sounded interesting, but the caveats in Lazaraspastes review made me hesitate. I do however, have a weakness for stories of fey, gods and goddesses in the mortal modern world, and so I decided to give it try. Unfortunately, it not only did not live up to my expectations, it made me wish I had never picked up the book in the first place.
Upstate New York lit professor Callie McFay is finally settling in to her old creaky Victorian house (after banishing a succubi demon from it in the first book The Demon Lover). The little town of Fairwick is chock full of supernatural fey, mainly because it is the site of the last portal to Faerie in the mortal world. Callie of course, is special; she’s descended from fairy “doorkeepers” who can open and close doors between worlds. What makes her super-special is that she is also part witch, giving her access to both human and fey magic. The big problem is that she doesn’t really know how to use her powers. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but Callie turns out to be a clumsy, blundering and dangerously uneducated Mary Sue who rarely suffers any consequences from her actions.
When magical friends request Callie’s help in opening the door to Faerie to allow recently hatched Undines to migrate, Callie agrees, only to fall into the portal herself, ending up in the Borderlands between the mortal world and Faerie. Callie briefly struggles to find her way back since being caught in the Borderlands means death. But luckily, the incubus she banished to the hellish Borderlands, shows up and helps her find her path to Faerie, which convinces her that she should free him. Of course, since Callie is special, there’s no angst or anger from the incubus against the woman who condemned him to “an eternity of suffering.” In Faerie, the incubus acts as her guardian as she learns about Aelvesgold, a magical substance available only in Faerie that fey need in order to survive. Callie’s clumsy unfamiliarity with how magic works in Faerie results in the escape of an evil Undine and a tornado which wrecks Callie’s house in the mortal world.
When Callie returns the mortal world, she injures her spine, which is luckily magically repaired by a friend. However, Callie discovers that the tornado that damaged her roof also killed off her handyman, a Norse divinity, which forces her to hire a new repairman named Bill. Bill, for the rest of story, will remain in the background displaying a mysterious knowledge of magic at random points that Callie does not need to investigate before she decides to sleep with him. In an effort to revive the Norse god, Callie joins a witch circle, but ultimately, they fail because Callie accidentally uses up the last of the circle’s Aelvesgold a magical power source only available from Faerie. Whoops.
Since Aelvesgold is an incredibly rare substance in the mortal world, it of course, is totally logical that Mary Sue Callie finds a big hunk of it in the local river. Despite being warned that Aelvesgold is like supernatural-power giving cocaine for witches (witches have died of overdoses of it, the use of it always comes with a price, etc.), Callie doesn’t tell her witch circle right away. Instead she innocently keeps finding herself caressing the stone, and suddenly using it do things like read a hundred pages in ten minutes and teach herself spells that are straight out of a Hogwarts textbook (i.e. “Flagrante ligfyr,” – lighting fire).
Callie’s friends know she needs magical tutoring and so they recommend Duncan Laird, a sexy Scottish Ninth Ward wizard who supposedly comes with stellar references. Of course, so did the man who turned out to be a incubi in the previous book, but will that prevent Callie from showing him the chunk of Aelvesgold within the first five minutes of him showing up at her doorstep? Of course not. It’s totally logical that you would show off an incredibly rare magical substance to a stranger you just met, before you tell your friends’ witches circle even though the life of a Norse god is on the line.
Duncan, with his gadgets show that Callie’s magical power, both human and fey is literally “off the charts.” Clearly, her magical ability is being blocked and the solution is to used the Aelvesgold to shapeshift, even though according to the other witches, Aelvesgold is like cocaine that gives your superpowers. But Duncan is soo sexy he must be right and so she begins using Aelvesgold in almost all of her lessons with him. Even when Callie is told that she has so much Aelvesgold in her system that her presence disrupts normal ward patterns, she just shrugs it off. It’s not until the Norse god returns from life that she and her friends realize that Duncan is Not Who He Appears To Be!
[spoiler]“I think we have to consider the possibility that Mr. Laird might have been foisted on us under false pretenses…Believe me when I say that the thought I may have made the same mistake twice and put you in harm’s way again is deeply mortifying to me.”
That friend is clearly the Worst Friend Ever. They conclude that Duncan must be the incubi, because in the first book he used the same trick of faking references and pretending to be someone else. And of course no one else has any interest in super special magical Callie.
As a first time reader of Juliet Dark, I felt this was lazy writing. Why else would you use the same trick against the heroine in a sequel? I almost decided to stop reading there, but later we discover that Duncan is a rare magical creature that everyone knows doesn’t really exist. This is, until he reveals himself at the end, which makes Callie seem even more like a pretty stupid protagonist.
We’ll introduce another plot thread here (which is how jumpy felt in the book): the powerful international witch organization, the Grove (which happens to be run by Callie’s grandmother) wants to close the last door to Faerie, in part, because dangerous tornados and evil Undines wrecking havoc in the mortal world are apparently the last straw of suffering in the millennia in which the doorways between the mortal world and Faerie have been open. This means that the fey in the mortal world must make a decision between staying and dying or returning to Faerie.
Callie, in a decision that navel-gazingly takes way too long, decides to keep the door open against the Grove’s wishes. She finds a spell that will enable her to take proper control of the door, only decide that she doesn’t have enough time to read the Warnings attached to the spell.
[spoiler]So it’s no surprise when the spell fails and the bad guys win (though the ending is left ambiguous for the next book in the trilogy).
And oh, Bill, handyman that has been hovering in the background, that was just briefly mentioned in this review that we almost forgot about? That was actually her incubus, the one she banished in the first book, who saved her from the Borderlands in this book. Apparently he’s the true love of her life, who DIES AT THE END.[/spoiler]
They really hyped the prose and atmosphere-building in this book, but I thought Jacqueline Carey’s most recent urban fantasy Dark Currents did a much better job. Moreover this is not a paranormal romance, although they are trying to market this to romance readers. There is very little time spent with the love interest, and it lacks real relationship development. The ending aside, I couldn’t stand the heroine because she was such a stupid Mary Sue who never seemed to suffer the consequences of any mistake or any enmity. Even when she is seduced and raped by water (yes water in her bath taking the magical form of a man), it ends with her being coated in gold glitter, and suffering no consequences, which as far as I’m concerned, minimizes what a horrible thing rape actually is. And remember all those Aelvesgold addiction warnings in the beginning? As far as I could tell, Callie didn’t pay any price for its use, except for the very last mistake at the end, which would results in a ROMANCE-READERS- SHOULD-NOT-EVEN-TOUCH-THIS-BOOK ending. I originally felt that this was a D, but I think I have to give this an F for romance readers because of the ending.
*EDITED* Apologies to all; in the original review, I call the male demon that seduces the protagonist a succubus. As commenters pointed out that should be an incubus. I’ve changed the review to properly reflect that. It is my mistake, not the author’s.