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REVIEW: The Road to Hell by Jackie Kessler

Dear Ms. Kessler:

Book CoverI think The Road to Hell suffers from a mistaken identity. It is a book that would be better as a straight urban fantasy rather than trying to shoehorn into the romance genre. The ostensible conflict in this story is the female protagonist trying to maintain her relationship with her boyfriend and supposed true love, Paul Hamilton, a New York City vice cop. Problem is that Jesse’s body can’t stop responding to other men’s touches. Her stripping joint is shut down. She’s being tortured in different ways to come down to hell and save her former best friend who betrayed her. Everyone wants a piece of Jesse, particularly Hell where she escaped.

Writing a succubus turned human within the romance genre has it perils because if the construct is a couple (or a committed threesome), then one who plies her sex trade with glee has an inherent conflict with the genre construct. To that end, if the book wasn’t meant to be a romance and if it didn’t try so hard to sell the reader on the idea that Jesse, former demon and now stripper extraordinaire, was in love with and wanted a committed relationship with Paul, it would have been much more readable.

Jesse’s first two sexual encounters were with men not Paul. In fact, when I started reading the book I thought perhaps Paul and Jesse had broke up. From the first chapter:

Watching Ranger transform from a blushing boy into a seasoned man sent a delicious tingle up my spine. Yum.

Stop that, Jesse. Don’t get all hot and bothered by the nice customer. A friendly chat, a little drink in the mega-expensive Champagne Room, a private dance or two, clothing optional. No more.

Then, out on a date with Paul, Jesse encounters her former coworker, Daun, an incubus.

Invisible fingers stroked my tits until I groaned. He said, “I love a challenge.”

“Bastard.”

“Flatterer.” The ghostly fingers moved down my body until they brushed against my inner thighs. Wetness gushed against my panties, and I shivered in Daun’s arms. My mouth opened wide as I gasped with pleasure, and Daun crushed his lips against mine.

I wasn’t sure why Harris was with Paul. Her self proclaimed soul connection seemed sorely lacking when her body was entertaining several others. I felt that the self stated true love between Harris and Paul was an attempt to appease the romance hea-loving crowd. Paul, however, is one dimensional, prosy and boring. I could not for the life of me figure out why Jesse was with Paul. I suppose he represents the “good” and Jesse represents the “bad” but that type-casting leads to stale storytelling.

Jesse and Paul argue a bit over her over familiarity with other men, but Jesse tells him that he is unfairly jealous, after all, he was dancing with some chick who was not Jesse. Tit for tat, I guess. The creation of this emotional tension was contrived for me because Jesse’s heart clearly wasn’t in it. She is too easily distracted by the pleasures of the flesh and given her background, who can blame her. Problem is she is off professing that Paul was her one true love. The asserted devotion to one man seemed to be forced, no matter how many times Jesse chanted the mantra. The shoe simply did not fit.

I know I would have liked this story so much more if there was no romance. If it was just Jesse– enjoying pleasure with as many guys as she pleased and kicking as much demon ass as possible. The forced and contrived romance and the lackluster characterization of Paul overshadows the detailed worldbuilding and tarnishes the charm of Jesse Harris.

Remove the romance and you remove interesting character motivation but some other motivation, maybe just the exploration of being human after being a demon and fighting off the various beings, including her so called friends, that are wanting her newly gained soul would have been enough. I’ll never know, of course, what could have been. C-

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased in trade paperback. (no ebook format I could find)

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

6 Comments

  1. clara bow
    Nov 21, 2007 @ 16:45:52

    I wonder if this means an agent or editor went mucking around in the author’s creative vision or something in order to position the book for the market. Hell’s Belles is on my TBR pile (and I’m looking forward to reading it), but even that book seems more urban fantasy even though I believe it was marketed as a paranormal romance. I sure hope there wasn’t any pressure to change the book’s vision, but if there were, it makes me wonder why, especially when urban fantasy is doing so well.

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  2. Jane
    Nov 21, 2007 @ 22:07:41

    It’s possible I don’t get this author’s voice. She and others describe the writing as dark paranormal and I think its more campy paranormal so I could be totally missing the boat.

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  3. Shar
    Dec 13, 2007 @ 17:22:51

    From what I remember ms. Kesseler saying that she thought it was more urban fantasy, but the publishers/agent decided it was paranormal romance. I wouldn’t blame the author in this case as I do believe not all new authors get a choice on how their books are promoted. I also remember reading somewhere on her blogs that she had to redo her idea of promoting her books to fit the romance genre.

    You might want to contact her to be sure I am correct in all this or read her blog, but frankly, I liked her series. I see a LOT of books that are being labled paranormal romance when they should be marketed as urban fantasy or just paranormal. Another good example is Yasmine Galenorn “Sisters of the Moon series”. They read more as urban fantasy than romance, but are labeled paranormal romance. She herself has on her website that it is not paranormal romance due to the fact that there is no typical HEA endings or one couple in every book.

    Frankly, I find this trend of dumping the urban fantasy books in romance whether they are romance or not annoying as it is hard to find a specific “genre” then. Do I go to horror? Or Romance? Or Fantasy? The line keeps blending. Of course, I adore blending genres in books, but it does make for it hard to categorize it in the stores or catalogues.

    Excuse all typing errors, grammar and spelling as I have a horrible headache from the weather.

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  4. Jackie
    May 13, 2008 @ 06:01:53

    A very belated thanks for the review, Jane.

    When I wrote HELL’S BELLES, I hadn’t intended it (or ROAD) to be romance. I was thinking more along the lines of dark fantasy with some tingly sex scenes. (I hadn’t really known about the term “urban fantasy” then, and I’d been aiming for a magical chick-lit sort of voice. But yeah, I think of myself now as an urban fantasy author.) The books, however, were marketed as romance.

    So I’ve been learning more about the romance genre along the way, and I think the novella in ETERNAL LOVER does a better job from the romance angle. And I’m pretty sure the upcoming third book does as well, but that one absolutely **isn’t** a traditional romance. It still says “paranormal romance” on the spine. If it were up to me, it would just say “paranormal.” Or “urban fantasy.”

    Heh — so maybe my voice is more “campy urban fantasy” than “campy paranormal.” ;)

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  5. Tazallie
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 09:35:14

    Hi this thread really interested me due to the paranormal romance/ urban fantasy debate and who gets laballed as what.

    One thing that as a book seller I find frustrating is trying to shelve a book in any given genre, as there are just so many cross overs. And the paranormal section is a nightmare!

    Personally we have broken it down into one genre of just Paranormal..so that it includes any paranormal with or with out romance, the dark paranormals and urban fantasy books and the magical chick-lits(glad to see I am not the only one that has used that term).

    The market is changing and its getting really difficult to label an author one thing or another at the moment in this area. I really believe that this is due to the ‘new’ nature of the genre, no one has really come up with any parameters of what is what, and I’m not really sure they can. Especially as there are so many crossovers in these particular genres by subject and by author writing one style one series and another the next.

    This really is a mine-field for the writers, readers, reviewers, publishers and book sellers, with so much confusion as to who fits where and when.

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  6. Jane
    Jul 15, 2008 @ 09:40:16

    Tazallie

    It’s hard to know what to do. There are emerging cross overs and I understand the need for cross promotion so that you get both audiences, but it’s frustrating for a reader (and authors) to pick up a book labeled romance and not finding it to be very romance-y.

    ReplyReply

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