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REVIEW: Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

Dear Ms. Rowland:

I’ve been stuck in a reading rut for months. Nothing has appealed to me.   Even books I was dying to get my hands on 6 months ago have languished away unread on my bookshelves.   After I explained my situation to Jane, she recommended your work and I’m glad that she did.   I   did have some trouble getting into the story and had issues with the characters, but ultimately it proved to be an entertaining book.

Kara Gillian is a Detective in a small town not too far from New Orleans. She’s also a summoner of demons.   Perhaps because of this, Kara has been fascinated for years by the unsolved Symbol Man murders and what she believes may be the involvement of the arcane arts in said murders.   When a body is found with strikingly similar injuries to the previous victims, Kara is pulled from her detective work in white collar crimes for her first homicide investigation.

While Kara is trying to stay one step ahead, or at least not too many behind, the Symbol Man and his steadily increasing body count, she’s also experiencing some demon trouble.   One night while attempting to summon a lower level demon, she accidentally pulls a Demon Lord through instead.   Beautiful in a typically exceptional sort of way, there wasn’t much to differentiate this Demon Lord at first from dozens of other urban fantasy characters.   One minute he’s threatening to rend the flesh from her bones and scatter her blood on the wind and the next he is seducing her in an inexplicably inexplicable about face. Although his reasons for doing so are finally answered at the very end, I spent the entire book questioning, and having substantial problems with this character’s motivation.   Growing bored with this generically powerful and oh so dangerous yet beautiful demon, he didn’t really spark an interest until about half way or even three-quarter through the book.

I find that I’m pretty amused by this trend of new demons in urban fantasies.   I guess my problem is not so much that authors are romanticizing demons, but that they are trying to make these romantic demons as undemonic as possible.   Take this one for example.   The word that you have created features an entire hierarchy of demons from 1st level to 12th level.   The lower level demons have smaller, reptilian bodies and are more simple and easier to control.   The higher level demons are larger, more intelligent, more powerful and difficult to control.   However, even these highest level demons are "monstrous in appearance"   with features such as a "flat nose set in a bestial face, a wide mouth accented with curved fangs, and a thick ridge crest that swept back over his head and down his spine."

And then there is the Demon Lord. Our protagonist had never heard of such a being before, and apparently he’s so high up on the demon hierarchy that he’s really no demon at all.   He’s angelically beautiful with satiny white blond hair and ethereal skin, and the "body of an Adonis."   I almost laughed out loud when I read this- it did not sound at all demonic to me. Create a powerful figure, use the demon mythology for a sense of danger and mystery, but put him in a beautiful human package so he appeals to our heroine and you’ve got the ultimate bad boy.   I would have been more interested to see what you would have done had this character followed the same set of rules that you created for the other 12 levels of demons.

I was pretty intrigued by the demon summoning and the questions it raised.   Our heroine has the power to summon, and so does her aunt, but why do they summon? And more importantly, just because they have the ability, what gives them the right? Should they be doing it at all? To summon a demon is to take away their free will and to force them to serve-even if on a temporary basis. The higher the level the demon, the more difficult it is to summon them and control them.   I was hoping our protagonist would consider the morality of her actions, but she does not.   Instead, she displays a cavalier attitude toward forcing her will on someone else.   This thoughtlessness continues even when she accidentally summons the Demon Lord and he threatens to kill her for her actions.   I kept waiting to find out that she had a strong motivation. Instead, we find out that:

"I summon… because I can," I temporized. "And I know that sounds corny, but it’s like a hunger . . . Usually I have some specific reason to summon a demon, like if I have a question that can only be answered by one of them, or if I want to learn how to do something arcane"   . . .

"So it’s all for information?" He sounded doubtful.

"Heck, no!" I laughed. "Come on, if you had the ability to summon a super-powerful arcane creature, wouldn’t you?"

And summoning is a pretty involved process. All sorts of ritual bindings, chanting and layers of protection are needed before a demon can be called and controlled.   That may be because "[t]he higher demons did not like being summoned. In fact, some utterly despised it, submitting only after intense and protracted battle with the bindings that the summoner had in place."

Uh, yeah, so they don’t like being ripped from their homes and enslaved against their will to do someone else’s bidding. I wonder why they’d have such a problem with that. And while I found all this interesting, I kept expecting Kara to be more thoughtful about the wrongness or rightness of all this- and unfortunately, she was not.

The heroine also tended to view the world in simplistic terms with a surprising amount of naiveté, and the narration and dialogue – both very awkward at times, reflected that.   I noticed this in particular with her interactions with the Demon Lord:

"He laughed and sat beside me on the bed again. "You are as clever as you are strong. It is no wonder I desire more of you." He reached a hand toward me and then paused, not yet touching me. His eyes met mine. "May I?"

That simple request sent an erotic rush through me that nearly knocked me over. He’s unspeakably powerful, yet he respects my boundaries."

At one point she even reflects upon the fact that the Demon Lord knew her better than anyone else, but come on! She spent what, a couple hours in his presence at most?

While I found the writing to be readable but awkward and the character development pretty weak, I was interested in the mystery and the murder investigation aspects of this story enough to finish out this book.   In particular, I was impressed by the police procedural and autopsy details. Again, I grew frustrated by Kara’s overly simplistic relationship with her fellow officers, and felt that her relationship with the FBI agent was far too rushed. Seriously, she spends a lifetime hiding her arcane abilities, and then confesses it all to a fed whom she just met? I just didn’t buy it.

Despite my issues with the story and the characters, I did find this to be an entertaining book. I’m not usually too interested in police procedurals, but the Symbol Man mystery and the addition of the arcane made for a quick read.   At this point, I’m not sure if I’ll continue on with your series.   I may wait to read reviews of your next book before committing to reading it myself.   However, I am glad that I read this one and I do think it will appeal to many fans of urban fantasy.
C

:) Joonigrrl aka Leslie

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

Leslie S

can usually be found hunched over her ebook reader or lurking in the romance and sci-fi/fantasy sections of her local bookstores. She discovered her love of fantasy at a young age, reading everything from Piers Anthony to Robert Aspirin and C.S. Lewis. At the age of 12, she picked up a little book called The Thorn Birds, and after crying for five days straight, decided that she liked the romantic elements, but needed a happier ending. Her first tentative visits to the romance section brought her to such favorites as Linda Howard and Judith McNaught where her love of the romance book was born. She then turned to Brenda Joyce, Lisa Kleypas, J.D. Robb, Anne Stuart, and as the years passed, many more. She currently prefers paranormal romance, urban fantasy, traditional fantasy, historical and the occasional YA.

8 Comments

  1. katiebabs
    Jun 25, 2009 @ 05:35:05

    Aw Leslie, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the book. I really did and to be honest I am not a big fan of police procedural stories. I felt this was a supernatural Law and Order type book and even though there are demons, it doesn’t take over the story. I really enjoyed Kara and the way she was written. I was also in the dark about the serial killer. Usually I can guess who it is way before the ending.

    Don’t you know by now that demons, especially sexy murderous one who gives you an orgasm in your basement knows everything about you! That is the norm. LOL.

  2. Mandi
    Jun 25, 2009 @ 06:41:58

    I just finished this book last night and I agree with your review. Thought it was a great murder mystery, loved all the details. I felt the romance fell a bit flat, but the story kept my interest.

  3. Aoife
    Jun 25, 2009 @ 07:48:59

    Uh, yeah, so they don't like being ripped from their homes and enslaved against their will to do someone else's bidding. I wonder why they'd have such a problem with that. And while I found all this interesting, I kept expecting Kara to be more thoughtful about the wrongness or rightness of all this- and unfortunately, she was not.

    This is exactly the problem I’m having with this book. I don’t need a hero or heroine to engage in endless navel-gazing, and I think moral ambiguity can make for wonderful drmatic tension in a book, but I do expect her to have some level of moral awareness. Kara just didn’t. I do wonder if events late in the book (trying to avoid spoilers, here) may open the door to her re-examining the ethics of what she is doing, but I have my doubts.

    I’d be willing to give the next book a try, but Kara is going to have to show some really significant growth as a character, otherwise I’ll completely lose interest.

    Great review, you definitely hit all the pros and cons.

  4. MB
    Jun 29, 2009 @ 10:28:57

    Create a powerful figure, use the demon mythology for a sense of danger and mystery, but put him in a beautiful human package so he appeals to our heroine and you've got the ultimate bad boy. I would have been more interested to see what you would have done had this character followed the same set of rules that you created for the other 12 levels of demons.

    I think this is one of the reasons that I love Sunshine by Robin McKinley so much! Because she does such a great job of making the vampire protagonist such an ‘other’ and so incredibly frightening and unattractive. The reader ends up rooting for Sunshine and Val to get together in the end, but we know that their lives will never be compatible…and that there is no truly ‘happy’ ending possible.

    I think the demon would be a difficult hero to make believable and attractive to the reader. I’m a little surprised at the growing trend for this type of protagonist.

  5. KMont
    Jun 30, 2009 @ 06:51:24

    The thing about Rhyzkahl, Mr. Demon Lord, is that I never saw him as the hero of the book, or a protagonist. He is definitely one of the more interesting characters, but I’m wondering why he is being seen as a hero to others. Is it because of the sex between him and Kara?

    To me, this book didn’t have a hero, just a heroine. I felt Kara held down those reins well enough. As for her moral unawareness, this stuck out to me as well, but the more the book went on the more I chalked it up to how she was raised and trained to believe in demons. Like most anything, we learn first by education of some sort, then the rest we learn through experience – something I felt was reflected in the book. We get to see Kara at the very beginning of her secret career as a summoner, so I didn’t find it odd at all that she felt it OK to treat demons as she did and other summoners do. It wasn’t an attractive quality, but then these characters have to be allowed to grow, too.

  6. Aoife
    Jun 30, 2009 @ 07:06:52

    @KMont

    As for her moral unawareness, this stuck out to me as well, but the more the book went on the more I chalked it up to how she was raised and trained to believe in demons. Like most anything, we learn first by education of some sort, then the rest we learn through experience – something I felt was reflected in the book. We get to see Kara at the very beginning of her secret career as a summoner, so I didn't find it odd at all that she felt it OK to treat demons as she did and other summoners do. It wasn't an attractive quality, but then these characters have to be allowed to grow, too.

    I understand your point, and think it’s a good one. But. It’s not so much that I thought it was odd that she didn’t seem to be bothered by the ethics of what she was doing, as that at no point did it even seem to cross her mind, much less make her think twice. There are a lot of things in books that I just kind of go along with, but this lack of awareness of how actions affect others is one of the things that really bothers me, much as it would in a person in real life. I liked the book enough to keep my eyes open for the next installment, but I also need for Kara to develop a conscience about what she’s doing, otherwise I don’t see much difference between her and any other generic bad guy.

  7. Joonigrrl/Leslie
    Jun 30, 2009 @ 12:09:46

    The thing about Rhyzkahl, Mr. Demon Lord, is that I never saw him as the hero of the book, or a protagonist. He is definitely one of the more interesting characters, but I'm wondering why he is being seen as a hero to others. Is it because of the sex between him and Kara?

    I agree. I did not see him as the hero at all- particularly in light of the horrific nature of his actions the last time someone summoned him. However, with the sex scene right up front, I do think it created some uncertainty as to his role in this book- that, and the fact that we don’t find out the why of his actions re: Kara until the end. But yes, I agree, he’s not a hero/protagonist.

  8. KMont
    Jun 30, 2009 @ 14:18:28

    @Aoife

    Thanks for clarifying your thoughts. I see your point and after Kara’s experience towards the end of Mark of the Demon, I suspect – and hope – that her eyes are now officially opened to the true nature of demons and how to interact with them.

    In some books it’s easy to hate the demons as much as the protagonist does. One good example is Jenna Black’s Morgan Kingsley series, where the demons, for the most part, act like scum. Rowland’s demons, though, they’re made of different layers. I was surprised at the amount of respect afforded to Kara with that first demon at the beginning of the book. So, yes, upon reflection, I see your point even more.

    @Joonigrrl/Leslie

    That sex scene certainly did make for a whoa kind of moment. I can see how it might cause some confusion. One aspect of a demon’s nature that seems to be consistent with a lot of urban fantasy is the lack of humanity in them, their utterly foreign sense of right and wrong. Yet I find myself having to constantly remind myself that I don’t need to romanticize the demon.

    And then, it’s entirely possible Rowland’s demons might become more romanticized. I don’t personally see that happening, but it’s possible.

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