Dear Ms. Saintcrow,
While I haven’t finished your Dante Valentine series, I enjoyed enough of what I read to seek out the first book in your new Jill Kismet series. I’ve said in the past that I do like reading about unsympathetic characters provided they’re compelling and the text doesn’t want me to believe the character’s destructive behaviors are healthy and idealized. It’s when these things diverge that I often have the more violent reactions to books, like flinging them across the room. When a character is unlikeable, I want them to face the results of their flaws. I don’t want to read about them getting pats on the head for a job well done because chances are the job was not well done and they should be facing repercussions. So having read your Dante Valentine books, I knew what to expect in this regard. Unfortunately, I also learned I have my limits.
Jill Kismet works as a hunter, taking down demons and bringing in the possessed to be exorcised. Six months ago, her mentor was betrayed and killed by his lover. She’s been trying to live up to his memory ever since, and those are big shoes to fill. Before her mentor died, Jill struck a deal with the ruling demon of the city. In exchange for letting him mark her wrist, she gets increased strength and speed. The downside is now she’s part demon, and she has to spend time with the demon once a month and expose herself to his corrupting influence.
But the past six months have left their toll. Jill is sleep-deprived, overworked, and overextended. Matters are made worse when a series of murders tear through the city. The murders are strange; they reek of demon but look like the work of a rogue shapeshifter. This is problematic because demons and shapeshifters don’t mix, so Jill has to figure out what exactly is going on because it’s nothing good.
As with the Dante Valentine books, this has a very cinematic, neo-goth noir feel to it. There are entire scenes and sequences which could have come out of a movie. Even Jill’s get-up — the leather coats, charms braided into her hair, and bullwhip — could easily have come out of a post-Crow movie. This sort of thing doesn’t bother me but I can see how people with lower tolerances would find Jill’s ability to remain silent despite the amount of jewelry braided into her hair (and I got the impression there was a lot) borderline preposterous.
While I enjoyed the plot, I had difficulty warming up to Jill as a narrator. Like I said, I’m perfectly fine with unsympathetic characters provided they’re done well. But Jill is such a broken character, and I had a hard time dredging up the energy to remain interested in her character growth. Part of me feels that her damage made her character swing so far out into unsympathetic land, I simply could not grasp her motivations. My inability to really connect with Jill’s character might also explain why this book struck me as cinematic. It was almost like I was watching someone else’s actions instead of experiencing them.
One thing I did especially like was how the gender roles in the Jill and Saul relationship were flipped. Their relationship reminds me of those movies where the jaded, world-weary killer finds a gentle, kind woman to take care of him: tending his wounds, cooking his meals, cleaning his house. That said, I really would have liked to see more of why Saul decided to settle on Jill. As a shapeshifter, there are some definite complications in his choosing her and since I had a difficult time grasping Jill, I could not understand why he’d bother. It felt like he went from snarling at her to treating her like a mate in the blink of an eye. Even though the story is told from Jill’s point of view, I needed a few more clues to fully buy the romantic subplot.
Another thing I missed was more substantial worldbuilding. I loved the worldbuilding in the Dante Valentine series and expected to see those skills at play here. Instead I got a setting I didn’t get much of a feel for and truthfully, seemed rather generic in the darker fantasy landscape. This really disappointed me. I have no idea if this is a brand new world, in which case I feel like the worldbuilding needed a little something extra to set it apart, or if it was set in the Dante Valentine world, in which case I wish there’d been more hints pointing to it.
Despite my problems with the book, I don’t regret reading it. I just wish it’d been a little more substantial and that Jill Kismet hadn’t put me off so much. C