REVIEW: Kiss of A Demon King by Kresley Cole
Dear Ms. Cole:
One of my favorite things about the Immortals After Dark series is that all the books are different. Sure, there are some unifying themes – justice v. retribution, finding one’s place in the world and in love, independence v. autonomy, just to name a few – but the stories and the couples are not carbon copies of each other, making each book a new reading experience. Kiss of A Demon King may be the most ambitious book of the series to date, in that it features two alpha protagonists, neither of whom wants to be vulnerable to the other. The power struggle between Rydstrom and Sabine, combined with the complex plotting and increasingly interwoven aspects of the Lore, made Kiss of A Demon King a very powerful, if not perfect, read for me.
Rydstrom Woede may still be King of the Rage Demons, but his kingdom has long been under the control of the usurper Omort, an evil sorcerer who is rumored to be immune from death. His purported inability to die draws him to his half-sister Sabine, Queen of the Illusions, who has died more than a dozen times, brought back to life by the powers of her sister Melanthe (Lanthe). Like many rulers, Omort has no problem with incest, and would love nothing more than to possess Sabine, except for the fact that her fate has been foretold as that of the Demon King’s mate. More importantly, perhaps, Rydstrom and Sabine’s child is destined to unlock the secret power of the Well of Souls, a supernatural vat of untapped power that each faction of the Lore wants to control.
So Omort simply waits and lusts, holding Sabine and Lanthe close with his own form of control (a deadly poison the women must ingest to stay alive), growing less and less stable in the stir of information that Rydstrom and his brother Cadeon may have found a way to end his life, via a magic sword forged by Omort’s similarly evil brother, Groot the Metallurgist. Unable to find a soothsayer who can unfailingly guarantee Omort’s ultimate triumph over his enemies or a union with Sabine, Omort’s desperation places even more urgency on Sabine’s plan to capture Rydstrom and seduce him into impregnating her so that she can claim the power of the Well and free herself and her sister from Omort’s sadistic control.
Unfortunately for Sabine, Rydstrom’s will is just as strong as hers, and his pride is just a little bit wounded at the fact that Sabine was able to weave her illusions effectively enough to make him prisoner in the dungeon of the very castle from which he used to rule the Kingdom of Rothkalina. Sabine may possess the power to weave illusions that seem real, but she does not have the supernatural power to force Rydstrom into serving as husband, mate, or stud, despite her numerous earthy (and earthly) gifts.
Anyone who read Dark Desires After Dusk is aware of the illusion Sabine uses to entrap Rydstrom, and those who haven’t will get a replay in Kiss of A Demon King. However, there is little overlap beyond that scene, as Kiss of A Demon King has enough to keep the reader occupied, what with the turmoil in Omort’s court, Sabine’s plan to mate with Rydstrom, Lanthe’s own troubles with a vengeful Vrekener (enemy of the sorceresses, one of whom may be Lanthe’s own mate in a future book?), Rydstrom and Sabine’s escape from Tornin and travels through the desert of Grave Realm, and Sabine’s inability to survive for long without her dose of Omort’s poison. If all of this sounds a bit confusing, that’s probably because it was for me, so I cannot express it more elegantly. In fact, I’m still not sure I picked up on everything in play, or understood why everything worked the way it did.
Consequently, it was the plotting aspects of Kiss of A Demon King that snagged me up, sometimes disorienting me and sometimes seeming unnecessarily overcomplicated. For example, I had to read the Prologue twice, once at the beginning of the book and once again after I finished it, not really feeling grounded until that second read. And then it felt like the only reason it was included was to provide some backstory for Sabine and fill in relevant details from previous books. Unfortunately, this resulted in something I don’t ever remember encountering in an IAD book: infodump. A downside to the complicated plotting and intersected stories framing Kiss of A Demon King was the periodic insertion of chucks of backstory:
So much was at stake in the fight to reclaim his crown-from Omort the Deathless, a foe who could never be killed.
Rydstrom had once faced him and knew from bit ¬ter experience that the sorcerer was undestroyable. Though he’d beheaded Omort, it was Rydstrom who’d barely escaped their confrontation nine hundred years before.
Now Rydstrom searched for a way to truly kill Omort forever. Backed by his brother Cadeon and Cadeon’s gang of mercenaries, Rydstrom doggedly tracked down one lead after another.
It is a tough call, I think, to know how much a reader might need to understand all that is going on, especially if she has not gotten through all the previous books in a series. An author may not want to alienate new readers while at the same time not wanting to bore veteran readers. Up until this book, I think Kresley Cole handled this difficult dance perfectly, but here it felt a bit clumsy to me.
Another byproduct of the complexity was that certain things didn’t make total sense to me. For example, there are these covenant tablets in Castle Tornin that signal a promise made. Sabine has one in which she promises that she will remain sexually pure if she can remain free from being sexually forced. It is clear the promise has been broken when the tablet falls and breaks. Omort has respected these covenants, essentially relying on others to remain loyal within a court that is hardly harmonious (and placing him in a reactive position should the alliances break). I know that in holding to the Sanctuary covenant Omort supposedly keeps Sabine’s loyalty and cooperation, but he clearly has other ways of ensuring that. Is it simply that there are many interwoven promises in those covenants, networks of loyalty that Omort needs to keep his rule? That may be the case, but since he can steal some the supernatural powers of other beings, why must he depend on such mundane promises of loyalty? I am still not completely clear about why Omort couldn’t just steal enough powers to disempower others like he did to Cade and Rydstrom, who could no longer trace. In fact, I’m not completely certain about how these powers are stolen or transferred from one being to another in general.
For me, the problem was that in virtually all the scenes taking place in Tornin I was not fully oriented to everything that was occurring, especially in the latter portions of the book where the scene was being set for the ultimate standoff between Omort and his final destiny. I am one of those readers who has a difficult time visualizing busy actions scenes to begin with, and in this book there was just so much that needed to be played out and wrapped up that I didn’t feel like I was keeping up very well. For example, characters travel between planes through the use of portals, and I kept wondering why these portals limited travel to the extent that they did. Why, for example, was Rydstrom able to facilitate the transportation of many demons through a portal from a desolate plane called Grave Realm to various places in the United States (and why did people remain in less than ideal place to begin with?), but his brother couldn’t follow him through from New Orleans to Tornin?
Lest it seem like I did not like Kiss of A Demon King, though, let me turn to what I loved about the book: the relationship between Rydstrom and Sabine. You know how there are movies where an actor will emit such power on screen that you simply can’t look away from them when they are in a scene? Well, that’s how I felt about Rydstrom and Sabine. These two are so powerful as characters, so vividly portrayed and potently alive on the page, that I found them riveting. And fortunately, almost the entire middle section of the novel is taken up with their growing relationship.
I am not sure I have ever met a character like Sabine. A virgin, she has both incredible sexual awareness and seemingly unflappable self-confidence; Sabine is definitely not Romance’s stock virgin heroine. Capable of steadfast loyalty, she is unsentimental, ruthless when she needs to be, and unapologetic about her love of gold. In Rydstrom, she’s not looking for love or even a good time; she’s seeking the means to her preservation and a way for she and Lanthe to rule Rothkalina themselves.
And although we have been acquainted with Rydstrom for several books now, we have not really seen the depth of his pain over losing the crown or his loneliness in not finding his mate yet and not knowing what his future holds. On the one hand Rydstrom wants to regain the power stolen from him, but his overweening sense of responsibility has also bred some resentment toward the beings he once ruled. In short, Rydstrom faces the dilemma of the hyper-responsible in that he is driven to do the right thing but frustrated that so much rests on his shoulders.
There is no lack of irony and conflict between Rydstrom and Sabine. She knows that the Demon King is her mate but seeks no lasting relationship. Rydstrom wants his mate but refuses to give in to Sabine’s advances, even when his instincts tell him she is his. She is a nuevo-nihilist who “cares “about nothing very much” as opposed to not caring about anything, while Rydstrom constantly feels the burden of authority. But all of that just makes for a stronger – and more difficult – attraction:
“Are you falling for him?”
“Could there be a more doomed relationship? It is ridiculous even to contemplate.” His husky voice . . . the way his smooth skin tasted, “He’s just so… so good.”
“I think that intrigues you,” Lanthe said. “He’s a male as strong as you, and one you can’t defeat.”
The truth is, that neither can defeat the other, which both fuels and frustrates their mutual appeal. Especially because Sabine represents everything Rydstrom disdains – well, at least appears to disdain:
She sat at the foot of the bed. “That’s the difference between me and you. I won’t try to convert you. Do I like that you never lie and esteem things like valor? Of course not. But I don’t try to rid you of those traits. Why does your kind forever seek to change ours?” That was what she hated most about them-not their odd, counterintuitive beliefs per se, but that they would force them on others.
“Because we live more contented lives. We have loy ¬alty, fidelity, honor-”
“All three are overrated. The only chance you have to demonstrate any of them is to deny yourself some ¬thing or someone that you desire.”
What Sabine soon discovers, though, is that Rydstrom is more attracted to her badness than he lets on, which gives her a certain amount of power over him, which is in turn matched by Rydstrom’s unwillingness to cooperate with Sabine’s need to be queen and to carry Rydstrom’s legitimate heir.
How one goes about bringing two characters together who do not have obvious chinks in their emotional armor is no small feat. There is a fine balance between keeping the sexual tension alive and not surrendering either character’s emotional guard too soon or too cheaply. Kiss of A Demon King keeps this balance beautifully, by slowly, slowly wearing down Rydstrom and Sabine, allowing them to torment each other, allowing each of them to take the upper hand in turn, forcing them to remain together long enough to be revealed to each other in new, unexpected ways.
Her lids slid closed. Peaceful. Perfect. . . . When she opened her eyes, she found him studying her face. The possessiveness in his gaze made her breath hitch. “My naked body is spread out before you, and you’re looking at my face?”
“I’m trying to figure out how your mind works. If I can do that, then this”-he trailed his fingers between her breasts and lower-“will always be mine to enjoy.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I have to, Sabine.”
This process is facilitated by a road trip, so to speak, with Rydstrom and Sabine getting the chance to escape Tornin for Grave Realm, a barren outpost of Rothkalina that contains portals allowing for transport off plane. But the portals are remote, requiring days of arduous hiking through desert-like conditions, and it is it through this section of the novel that Rydstrom and Sabine grow closer. True to their characters, however, neither simply lies down for the other, and both carry numerous secrets. Rydstrom, for example, has lied to Sabine about the oath he delivered to her in captivity, an oath she believes is a wedding vow (it’s actually a vow for revenge), and Sabine allows Rydstrom to falsely believe that she might be carrying his child.
These lies are enough to bind the two but not enough to seal their relationship. After all Sabine is still supposedly an “evil sorceress” (“It’s not my fault the truth and 1 are strangers-we were never properly introduced.”) and Rydstrom is still supposedly a straight-laced King. Watching their personalities fill out within the context of the novel was a true pleasure. For these two, it’s not enough that they are attracted to each other, and it’s not even enough that they ultimately love each other; for them it’s about trust and the incredible risk they take in trusting the other when all signs show that to be dangerous.
Had the whole of the novel read with the same taughtness, emotional impact, and even pacing as the middle sections of the book, this would have been a straight A for me, as the relationship between Sabine and Rydstrom is among my favorites in the series. Assigning a grade that adequately expresses my reading experience of Kiss of A Demon King is difficult, but a B seems fair on balance.
This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or ebook format from the Sony Store.
Someday? That made me laugh. I tried to find it in eformat earlier today but couldn’t find it :(
I hate to be a complainer but I just can’t get into this series. If I skipped the first book, would I be able to follow? I think I asked Jane this question, too. Sorry.
Keishon, I read the first book and then didn’t read any of the rest for years, so I wouldn’t call the first fresh in my mind, but I picked up on the stories with no problem. So I think you could skip the first and move on to the others. And I’m a compulsive “must read in order” reader.
Me, too. *sigh*
YES! If it weren’t for a friend of mine who kept encouraging me, I probably would have stopped after A Hunger Like No Other, which didn’t knock my socks off. But once I read the novella in Playing Easy To Get I was back in the game, and No Rest For the Wicked, the second book in the series, hooked me. Technically, though, you could start anywhere, although I think NRFTW, Dark Needs At Night’s Edge, and Kiss of A Demon King all kind of go together.
Thanks Angela!!! Appreciate it. I think I will dig in then.
ETA: Just saw Robin’s response, too, thank you very much.
Keishon: I usually skip over glossaries in paranormals, but I have to recommend Cole’s, which are not only ever-changing, but they’re really funny and actually informative. So wherever you start, the glossary might help orient you.
You know, I’m not sure I ever read the novella. I need to go back and look for that. I dislike series books that go into anthologies. Maybe with the increasing popularity of ebooks, publishers will consider releasing each as an individual ebook, for readers like me who want to keep up with series (like JD Robb) but don’t want to read or buy an entire anthology to do it.
These books are fantastic. I hate the corny titles, and the goofy covers, but the writing is excellent, and the characters are fantastically real AND realistic.
I can’t wait to spend a couple hours with this story…
and then wait 6-9 months for another… sigh.
Thanks, I was hoping DA would review it. It sounds like this will be another keeper. I love this series.
Sorry Keishon, the first book introduces many of the characters and sets things up for future books so I don’t know if it would be a good idea to skip it.
I enjoyed this one as well. I think that the series has kept its strength. I first read book No. 4 (name is asking too much:-), and then I went back and read the others and I will keep reading them:-). I think that last three or four are more closely connected, but still not enough to miss out on romance.
I loved this book and would have given it an A-. I think that the power struggle between Sabine and Rydstrom was so delicious that it made up for the little plot holes in the deployment of the magic.
Keishon – I think you don’t have to read the entirety of the series to get the flavor of the book, but I would recommend reading book 4 – the one with Cade and Holly – before this one. Cade and Rydstrom are brothers and there is some overlap in the stories.
*** possible spoilers, read at your own risk***
Great review, very thorough. I do see your point about some of the aspects of this book. I had to re-read the prologue about midway through the story as well. But I just didn’t care, there was so much going on here and I loved it.
This book is my favorite of the Immortals After Dark series. I believe that Cole’s characters are developing ever more depth. I love that Sabine is EVIL, but not really, but still evil enough to not be the standard simpering misunderstood good girl. She’s hot, she’s bad, she’s single-minded….
One of my favorite parts of this story is near the end when Sabine finds out that Rydstrom committed a big bad lie, and instead of getting angry she commends him for pulling one over on her. Too funny.
Kresley Cole’s women are women I would love to be friends with.
Angela James wrote:
And this anthology: Playing Easy to Get I found particularly crappy. The Kresley Cole story was great, I loved Myst and Nikolai’s story, but the other two were just sad (IMO). I generally hate anthologies. I just don’t believe it’s possible to build up characters and create the needed sexual tension in such a format.
Will do, Jane, thanks. I just want to get a foot in the door and I am not a die hard ‘read in order kind of gal’ either so skipping ahead is what I will do.
***possible spoilers, read at your own risk***
Oh, me too! Not only because it worked for her character, but also because it was a gentle tweak of a standard Romance relationship cliche.
This review was already too long, and I could have gone on much longer, pointing out things here and there that I loved or wondered about. Puck, for example, was an interesting addition (and I wondered if his name was an intentional shout out to Shakespeare), and Lanthe’s secret relationship with that Vrekener dude, and the update on Cade and Holly, and the update on Nix’s relationship with Mike Rowe, and, well, you get the idea, lol.
I know this is a review thread but not everyone reading this has actually read the book yet. Perhaps, there could be *spoiler* warnings?
*closing eyes so not to see anything*
I’m dying for this book. I’ve gotten hooked on this series. Her Immortals and Viehl’s Darkyn books are my fave paranormal romance books.
I’m sorry anon; I didn’t think anything in the review or comments constituted a spoiler, but I will certainly add a spoiler warning to any further comments I make that refer to the book. I’ll also put a spoiler warning on my previous comment and April’s, as well.
Not necessarily a spoiler, but didn’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read yet.
Did anyone else notice the reference to Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld or was that just me? :) I *heart* Nix. he-he
Kresley Cole stated in her email announcing the book’s release, that ebook and Kindle editions would be released on 2/1/09.
Doesn’t seem fair. You would think that S&S would have the mechanisms in place to release the print and ebook versions at the same time.
Lady of the Review wrote:
I’ve not read Showalter’s series, would you recommend it based on my LOVE of Cole’s series?
I totally love Nix, and the Valkyrie sisterhood dynamic going on in this series. My favorite parts are the banter between Nix or other Valkyrie and whoever they happen to be talking to.
So, in a round-up of characters’ stories dangling to be told in this series, Cole added several more in Kiss of the Demon King:
(already dangling out there)
Murdoch Wroth and Danii
Gareth and Lucia
Regin and her berserker
Nix and ??
Kristoff (I’m thinking Furie and Kristoff but who knows)
Tena the Elf
(added in the latest book)
Lanthe and Thronos
Lothaire (possibly–is he evil or not?)
@JLFerg I absolutely hate this. My understanding (not confirmed by S&S) is that they believe that ebook sales can canabalize print book sales which reduces the number of units counted as sold by bestseller lists.
Yay! KOADK arrived today and I totally glommed it. Loved loved loved it! Will reread soon to get all the enjoyment out of it. Anyone else do that? Pretty much speed read through the latest book in a series -as soon as you get your hands on it- to find out what happens, and then go back and just luxuriate in the pleasure of rereading once you know how it ends? Catching all the bits that were missed the first time through because of, you know, swallowing without chewing…
I enjoyed the references to books/series. Didn’t catch the Lords of the Underworld one because I haven’t read those (yet) but Aslan the Lion (from Narnia) and Clan of the Cave Bear’s Ayla… WIN! (Although Cave Bear was unfortunately misspelled as one word.)
I’d love to be reading this….but it’s not in the Kindle format yet. Boo. :*(
Lothaire (possibly-is he evil or not?)
I think he’s good – I thought the favor Rydstrom owes him was a set up for his own book.
@Serena I agree. Maybe Lothaire and the Hag?
Oh I just noticed today that there is another anthology slated to come out this summer featuring Murdoch and Danii’s story, as well as a Sherrilyn Kenyon and Gena Showalter story.
Maybe Lothaire and the Hag?
Mmm well it could be possible, but I’m convinced whoever the Hag’s hero is going to be, she already knows him (I think her “I’m 500 years late for a date” was a clue, maybe she had planned to meet with a man and was captured?) and if it were Lothaire, wouldn’t she have contacted him, since they both lived in the Castle?
Or maybe I’m thinking about this way too much.
@Serena No, you are probably right. It’s been a while since I read the book so I forgot that passage.
Just thought I would let everyone know that Kiss of a Demon King is available at the Sony eBookstore. I just went over to get a different book and discovered it for $7.19.
It’s available on Kindle now, too. I paid 6.39.
It’s in Mobi only at Books on Board, too, for $7.79
I heard that KDK hit No. 1 on the NYT Bestseller list.
Since the ebook versions were released? Or do they count? Sorry, don’t know these things.
@Bonnie No, ebook sales are not counted in the overall sales of a book when determining bestseller status.
@Bonnie – I checked the price today and it is $7.99 at the Kindle store. I guess they adjust the prices periodically? There’s no discount for this ebook at all. I wonder if this is will be a new trend.
Okay Personally I think that Nix will be hooking up with Paris from the “Lords of the Underworld series” OR ETLEAST thats what I am hoping.. I mean common.. (Paris:Keeper of Promiscuity) If she can’t make him commit then who can?? She’s a commited rake herself.. That would make an interesting story. :)
Dear Ms. Cole can you please tell me who edited your book kiss of a demon king?
What an exceelent jod