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REVIEW:  Pax Demonica by Julie Kenner

REVIEW: Pax Demonica by Julie Kenner

pax-demonica

When orphan Kate goes to Rome with her family, she’s hoping for a little R&R. The chance to bond with her husband, spend quality time with her kids, and visit her pseudo-family at Forza Scura.

In other words, this suburban mom is doing the tourist thing, and intending to do it up right. But while Kate may want to take cheesy pictures and buy overpriced souvenirs, the demon population has other plans. And soon Kate and over-eager daughter Allie are thrust into the middle of a demonic feud.

Now Kate’s going to have to call on both her hunting skills and her mothering skills-because if she fails, Kate and family might just find themselves sightseeing in hell…

Dear Ms, Kenner,

I had gotten used to yearly installments of the Kate Connor Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom series. In “Demon Ex Machina,” some fairly intense stuff happened and the book ended with Kate, her teenage “demon hunting daughter in training” Allie, plus husband Stuart and toddler Timmy outbound for a vacation in Rome. Since Kate got her training during her years living there, I knew that things were bound to get hot and heavy fairly soon. After all, demons rarely leave Kate alone for long now that she’s back in hunting mode. I set my series alarm for another year and hunkered down to wait.

And wait. And wait. And wonder if this would be another series cut off before its time. In 2012 you announced that the series would continue with a new book soon which got me all excited yet still I waited. Okay so I realize I sound as if I’m whinging but I did have moments of doubt that I’d ever see this book. Until, Huzzah!, “Pax Demonica” was released and I exhaled the breath I’d held for the last five years.

Events quickly reve up and within 12 hours of landing in Rome, Kate – and Allie – get confronted by demons 3 different times demanding something from Kate about which she’s clueless. This is par for the course for this series. Yet it spins its wheels a lot in that Kate mentally rehashes a lot of information about the state of her marriage and trust with Stuart, demon hunting and training Allie. Lots and lots of the same thoughts. Still, given how long it’s been since the last book, I really needed a bit of a refresher as a few facts Kate mentions had completely slipped my mind.

The demons step up their activity, new characters are introduced, the Connors do some sight seeing and Kate runs up some hefty phone charges to her friend Laura back home trying to sort out just what exactly is going on. Something is rotten in the city of Rome and Kate doesn’t have long to figure it out. But wait! it looks like some demons, who need human body shells to experience the finer things in life like fine Italian leather, good wine and, one presumes, chocolate, might actually be willing to kick in some information in order to keep the status quo. Go figure.

As the plot accelerated, it began to get into some deus ex machinas – there’s a ritual needed to destroy something that wasn’t destroyed earlier. Why wasn’t it destroyed? Well the ritual wasn’t known. Why can it be destroyed now? Well, the ritual was recently discovered. How was the object found after years of being hidden? Well we don’t know but it has been found now.

Even with everything I’ve just said, darned if you don’t suck me into the climax of the book, whirl me around until my head spins and send me screaming to the end of the ride. The finale here is funny as well as gripping and I have to agree with Allie – it’s so Indiana Jones that I’d probably set up the obstacles exactly as is done too. Hey, it works.

Once again the story is the same in some regards yet it’s different and new too. New local, some new people, some new – uh, helpers, and the Connor family’s relationships continue to change even as they grow as people and a family. Allie looks to have a bright demon hunting future, Stuart might shape up to eventually be more of a help than a hindrance, and Kate could have a new part time job.

Usually I’d say that this series should be read in order but honestly, I can say that since I didn’t remember much of the last book, I went into it a little blind and did okay. There’s enough explanation given to catch things up without it turning into an info-dump. I’m so glad to see this series continuing as my heart has been ripped a few times in the past over unfinished books. I do hope that we won’t have to wait this long for the next installment to see where things go from here. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

REVIEW: Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

Dear Ms. Garcia,

I love all things supernatural. Fitting, I suppose, given the season. That’s why demon hunting ranks high among my my favorite fictional occupations. I like seeing what they can do, the types of monsters they face (bonus points if they’re non-western!), and how their job affects their lives. So when I heard that your debut solo effort featured a team of demon hunters, I snatched it right up.

Kami Garcia/UnbreakableUnbreakable wastes no time kicking the story into gear. We first meet Kennedy as she’s out looking for her cat one night. Her search brings her to a cemetery where she not only finds her cat but also encounters a ghost. This meeting proves to have terrible consequences because without Kennedy realizing it, the ghost possesses her cat and hitches a ride to her house where it then proceeds to kill her mother.

Kennedy would have shared a similar fate but a pair of hot twins, Jared and Lukas, save her in time. Devastated by her mother’s death, she soon discovers that a normal life is no longer possible for her. She’s the descendant of a demon hunter who belonged to a five-member society charged with keeping a powerful demon in check and that demon is now doing everything in its power to break free.

Kennedy is exactly the type of protagonist you’d expect in this type of story. She had a normal life and loving relationship with her mother. Given that the relationship was a good one, the mother’s ultimate fate is hardly shocking. Poor mothers. They always die! Kept in the dark about her heritage, Kennedy has no idea how to hunt or fight demons. She’s had no training or special abilities. Her only skill is an eidetic memory, which of course comes into use. While much of the story is about seeking out the pieces to stop the demon’s escape, it’s also just as much about Kennedy learning about the Legion and their mission.

The plot proceeds fast and furious. It wastes no time and there is no fluff. Once Kennedy is swept up into the world of the Legion, it’s a race against time to stop the demon. While I liked that the plot was relentless, I wished the plot-to-characterization ratio was more balanced. As it was, I found the characters a tad superficial and this detracted from the story. If the characters had been better developed overall, I think some of the dramatic reveals (like Jared’s big secret) would have had more impact.

Speaking of Jared, I thought the romance between Kennedy and him was phoned in. It went through the motions of the typical instalove formula so prevalent in YA but as usual, I never quite understood why they were Meant to Be. Why did Jared like Kennedy? Why did Kennedy prefer Jared over his twin? They both saved her.

In addition, there’s a poorly developed love triangle involving Kennedy, Jared and Lukas. Poorly developed, because it never got off the ground. Both twins are attracted to Kennedy but while Jared is standoffish due to guilt over past actions, Lukas is more demonstrative and friendly. Wouldn’t it make more sense for Kennedy to like Lukas then? But Kennedy only ever truly thinks of Jared. When it comes to Lukas, it’s apparent she only thinks of him as a friend. I understand love triangles involving siblings can be tricky but they require intensity and conflict to make them work. While Lukas and Jared had their issues with each other, that emotion never came through because the characterization left much to be desired. Even if the intention wasn’t to have a love triangle — and I can see an argument for that — the underlying conflict between the brothers should have affected the burgeoning relationship between Kennedy and Jared.

I did like the supporting characters, Alara and Priest. True, they suffered from poorly executed characterization but theĀ idea of them was great. I adored that Alara was fiercely competent and that her relationship with Kennedy starts off on the wrong foot. But in her eyes, the inexperienced Kennedy is a liability and someone who could get them all killed. If I were in Alara’s place, I’d feel the same way. But that’s what makes the evolution of their relationship so great. Kennedy has to work to gain Alara’s trust and respect. It doesn’t just fall into her lap.

While I won’t say the ending revelation was a surprise, I thought the execution was excellent. It was a brutal twist and delivered a gut punch. For what was an otherwise so-so read, the ending is something that makes me contemplate picking up the sequel. At the very least, I’d like to find out the truth about the Legion, the demon it was charged to watch over, and how exactly Kennedy and late mother figured in all of it.

Unbreakable is a worthwhile read for people who love demon hunters and want an action-packed plot. Readers who want deeper characterization and angst, however, should probably look elsewhere. I just wish the rest of the book lived up to the ending. C

My regards,
Jia

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