REVIEW: Demon’s Fire by Emma Holly
Dear Ms. Holly:
When we think of cross over genre, we readers usually are referring to the science fiction/fantasy book that appeals to both the sff reader and the romance reader. But you are probably one of the first cross over authors I ever read except I never really identified as such. You started out writing erotica that had broad appeal within the romance reader crowd. As erotic romance has become more popular, your books have largely been folded into the romance genre. Demon’s Fire, however, while a romance, seems more of an erotica book to me, but one that crosses over because of its strong romance overtones.
Demon’s Fire is the third book in the alternative Victorian England world that was started in The Demon’s Daughter and Prince of Ice . Prince Phandir was introduced in Prince of Ice as a captured Yama prince who was sold to be a sex slave at a pillow house (a house of prostitutes). The young women of the pillow house learn to service Yama’s by “practicing” on Phandir. Prince Phandir is freed of his slavery but not of his sexual dsyfunction. As a Yaman Demon Prince, Phandir can only find true release with very few others and with his beloved wife dead, he fears that will never happen. The Demon’s Daughter include the characters Beth and Charles who make up the threesome in the menage romance of Demon’s Fire.
The strength of this book is that it uses sex in every aspect: to draw the characters; to advance the plot; to build the world. What I mean by that is the sex scenes and sexual overtones are integrated into every aspect of the story. Sex is shown in its loving glory and its meaningless encounters. The duality makes for a provocative statement and plays off the underlying setting. This series is set in Victorian England, purportedly a notoriously rigid time in society. It’s wonderfully perverse then to create an alternate world that is so highly sexual as if to say that under the veneer of prim Victorian England beat an unrelentingly sexual pulse.
Another fascinating part of the book (and the series) is the strongest character is the heroine, Beth in this case. Both Charles and Phandir have sordid past sexual histories. Charles was a prostitute and Phandir, a captive sex slave. Beth is portrayed as both sexually and emotionally healthy and is the driving force for the relationship.
One of the problems I had was that Charles and Beth seemed so young in comparison to Phandir. It felt like the two of them were a couple of college students off on a study abroad trip where they came across a house of ill repute and experimented their heads off. I felt that there was an attempt to offset this comparative youth by showing Charles’ harsh upbringing and thus suggesting that he was old beyond his years (although I found him to act immature quite often). Beth was infused with the power of a goddess and her strength was found in this well, rather than her own backbone at times.
This story was weak on the paranormal aspect and while the setting was integrated quite well, I missed the Yama overtones that were so strong in the Prince of Ice, particularly the Buddha cultural overtones. Demon’s Fire is set in Bhamjran, a desert country (I kept thinking Egypt although there are desert spaces in China like the Gobi desert) and while the physical overtones of the desert were strong, there wasn’t the sense of culture that I enjoyed in the previous series.
Finally, the suspense plot which features an old foe of Phandir turned a bit comical and left me with some (in my opinion needlessly) unresolved questions.
I don’t think that a reader would have to read either Demon’s Daughter or Prince of Ice to understand and appreciate Demon’s Fire, but I won’t deny that having had read those two and the novella featuring the goddess Tou provided a good base for Demon’s Fire. Overall, I appreciated the mastery of the erotica writing but wished it had been buttressed by equally strong worldbuilding and suspense plot. B-