REVIEW: Demon Angel by Meljean Brook
Dear Ms Brook,
Jane’s been raving about this book for weeks now. I can almost see her bouncing up and down in her chair when she posts about it. Jane’s a hard sell so when we worked out that this would be our next dueling review, I was psyched. A little daunted by the length of the book (of course I left it to the last minute to read then write the review) but ready to go. I can honestly say I haven’t read many books lately that have kept me guessing and wondering “what’s next” but this is one of them.
You’ve created a unique and different world. One in which two different groups battle each other for human souls. The Guardians are former humans who, at the moment of their death, are transformed via a ritual into beings with eternal life. They try to circumvent the efforts of the second group thereby allowing humans to resist temptation and evil which saves their souls. Demons and minions of Lucifer are the second group. Though bound to respect human free will, they will tempt, sway and lure humans into death which then chucks their souls straight to hell. “Angel Demon” focuses on two main characters who are on opposite sides of the soul contest, Hugh who is a Guardian and Lilith who is a made demon.
Centuries ago, the two met when Hugh was still human and despite their differences, sensed an attraction to each other. It was beyond physical and it lasted for 800 years until Hugh grew fed up with the restrictions on his actions to save humans. He “fell” and was allowed to resume his human form, exactly the same age as when he first became a Guardian. One of his last acts as a Guardian was an attempt to free Lilith from the bond holding her to Lucifer’s service. Unaware that he failed in this, he’s surprised to cross paths with her again 16 years later in San Francisco where she’s living as an FBI agent. Lucifer is now trying to use human institutions and bureaucracies to plant his agents and further his take of souls. And a little pain and misery on their part never hurts his day either.
Hugh has made a life for himself as a college professor and gathered a coterie of student friends as well as a vampire friend who both he and Lilith know. The first inkling he has that some master plan against him is in the works is when several of his friends begin to disappear then reappear as corpses killed during grisly ritual slayings. Meanwhile, Lilith is investigating the sudden appearance of several Nosferatu in the city. They are former angels who fence-sat during the battle between Lucifer and his fallen angels and God. As punishment, they’ve been turned into tall, ghostly-white blood suckers. They aren’t supposed to be able to stand sunlight or stay awake during the day but, damned if that isn’t what the ones in SF are doing. Slaying them is one of the few things Guardians and demons have in common and Lilith is happy to dispatch a few while she tries to figure out why so many are gathering in the city.
Slowly Hugh and Lilith begin to figure out that someone has a plan. One which will end in Hugh’s death and his soul’s quick trip straight to hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200. What these two must do is figure out what the hell is going on, how the hell to thwart it and whether the hell to continue to fight their centuries long passion for each other or give into it with cataclysmic results.
This is a long novel. One that is chock full of plot and characters and I honestly haven’t even touched on a lot of what’s going on here. This review’d be 3 pages long if I attempted it. I like that there are layers to the characters and their actions. Readers shouldn’t just skim through this book as information is slowly revealed throughout which makes us engage our brain and really concentrate on the action. You pay the reader the compliment of not spoon feeding them with boring info dumping. I hate it when the action of a book comes to a dead halt for 2-3 pages of world-building information. You also don’t use the easy out of having one character in the book explain something to another, who should know it, in order to actually explain it to the reader. Yes, it is more work for the reader to slowly piece together all the various elements but it’s far more believable. You’re also lucky that your editor appears to have given you the space to slowly spin all this out, a luxury I realize authors don’t usually have.
I enjoyed the more gritty and realistic version of hell. It’s not supposed to be nice or cutesy (though I do like some books that feature this). Some of the features and punishments are incredibly inventive. Did you make these up or borrow from a source I should know (no, I’ve not read Dante or Milton, bad me)? Remind me never to make you mad! ;) I also adore Sir Pup, Lilith’s pet hellhound. I might have to start calling my dog that.
As I said earlier, this is an intricately plotted book but one that seems well thought out. It also has an interesting use of nosferatu vs vampires. One thing I really liked is that we can see that other characters are being set up for future books but it’s not intrusive to THIS book. They all have a reason for being in “Demon Angel” and the information revealed about them is enough for this book while still leaving some questions about them for their own.
So considering the above love-fest, why is my grade not an A? Well, maybe plot is too intricate in places? I lost track of what was going on a few times and had to backtrack. There were also times when I lost track of who was speaking or doing things in a scene and had to stop to try and figure it out. And sometimes there was just too much talking. Talk, talk, talk. Yes, it’s cerebral talk and made me really pay attention to catch all the nuances (good) but some scenes tended to drag a little (bad). And once Lilith and Hugh gave into their physical attraction, there were some moments of inappropriate lust towards the end.
Would demons be bound by humans’ free will? OK, I’ll accept it as part of your worldbuilding but I think it’s iffy. I also have some theoretical questions about Lilith’s original sacrifice and change to halfling. It was done during the Roman era before Christ…so how did Carthaginians know to sacrifice to Lucifer? Isn’t he a Judeo Christian concept? Or is he just the embodiment of all evil and his form/name have changed based on different religions? And why wouldn’t real angels show up to help thwart Lucifer’s plans? I know, I know, this is a book about Guardians but with hell up in arms and Lucifer making plans for massive expansion, I can’t see any beings who oppose him just sitting on their asses and singing hymns of praise to God.
Yet, this is a book which makes me think and think about it even days after finishing it. I was challenged to grasp all the subtleties and that’s never a bad thing. I think it will spark lots of debates. It’s an amazing first time book and one I did enjoy delving into. B+