Monday, October 26, 2009

Demon Forged, by Meljean Brook - Review

Risk Profile
Do you have a go-to author, one whom you KNOW, for every book, you're going to love certain things? That the heroine will be feisty, or sweet, or the hero will be wounded but honorable, etc. etc.? I don't want to say "predictable," but maybe... "reliable" ?

I think a lot of authors come to be repeat best-sellers by reliably providing what their readers like. Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz come to mind, to name just two.

The Guardian series isn't like that.

I can see why Brook might be a hit-or-miss author for some readers. Her characters are so different, so extreme, that readers who like a certain kind of hero or heroine are almost guaranteed to a) find that in at least one of her books and b) not find it in others. She goes out on a limb with every book, breaking fondly-held genre rules here, while taking others to new extremes there.

Because Brook is so skilled at bringing her diverse characters to life, I personally find something to love in every book. In Demon Forged, we have Irena, one of the oldest Guardians after Michael, and Alejandro, a dashing Spanish nobleman. ( He's a millenium or so younger than Irena, but that doesn't seem to bother anyone.)

These two have A History. With Baggage. And when your bad guys are actual demons, and you've spent centuries trying to deal without the benefit of a good therapist... well. You wind up with Issues.

One of the themes that intrigues me with every Guardian book is the idea of "humanity." What does this mean when most of the characters are not human? What does it do to a person (or Guardian) to exist for sixteen centuries?

While Brook doesn't explicitly dwell on this a lot, I did find Irena's character to glimmer with small, telling details consistent with an ancient character. Irena is barely literate. Her idea of relaxation is hiking or hunting or sculpting in her forge: elemental. She's blunt, straightforward, lacks subtlety. I loved this exchange:
"No." He straightened. His eyes shuttered. "I will not fight. I do not like the man I become with you."

The words stabbed her chest. Reflexively, her hands fisted. Irena held them at her sides, struggling against the fury and hurt that urged her to batter them into his face. He stared down at her and she thought, prayed, that he might take the words back.

Olek shook his head and turned. "Your vampire friend has gone into the city."

He walked away. Irena watched, her heart hammering.

*I do not like the man I become with you.*

He should have hit her. She'd have known how to respond to that. But this pain, she did not. [chapter end].

Irena and Alejandro/Olek have spent the last 400 years in a state of tension, avoiding each other or relieving the tension in violent training sessions. It's certainly valid to wonder, "why now?" Why is now the moment when this tension comes to a head? Brilliantly, it's because of

The Series Arc
Somewhere around the 5th or 6th book of a series, I tend to start getting series fatigue. Either the stories become repetitious, or the series arc starts to feel artificially drawn out... or maybe I just get bored.

Not so with the Guardians. Every book has revealed Big News about some aspect of the world, and this one is no different, except perhaps that it's more so. The shocking events of Demon Forged shakes the delicate balance of power to its core, and all without the least hint of contrivance. It's not easy to provide an individual book resolution while still building tension for the series, but Demon Forged does it in spades.

Meanwhile, the series as a whole posits our world on the brink of massive change: apocalyptic disaster, Biblical armageddon. The unseen (by humans) tension between Guardians and demons that keeps the realms in balance is threatened by the recent mass Ascension, by power struggles among the demons, and by the release of new powers into the playing field: nephilim and more. Select humans are drawn into the struggle and the Guardians are taxed to keep them safe.

This then, not only drives the series forward, but provides the change catalyst for Alejandro and Irena's relationship, as they can no longer afford to avoid each other. I just love how the individual story and character arcs weave in and out of the series arc, always complementing, never competing.

I feel like I should say more about Alejandro, about his and Irena's character arcs, and their romance... but I'm going to cop out and plead illness-- I've had a monster of a cold for over two weeks now and keeping my thoughts collected has been a ridiculous effort. I think it's safe to say that fans of the series won't be disappointed (of course, most of them have already read it by now!) and once again recommend that if you haven't read them? Do.

Series Reading Order:

1. Hot Spell*
2. Demon Angel
3. Wild Thing*
4. Demon Moon
5. Demon Night
6. First Blood*
7. Demon Bound
8. Demon Forged
9. Must Love Hellhounds*

*Anthologies containing a Guardian-universe novella

Disclaimer: Purchased at retail.


KT Grant said...

Meljean's Guardian books reminds me of the tv series Friends. Friends kept delivering the good all the way up to the end totaling 10 years. I can certainly say the Meljean's books will be excellent up to the end.

Nicola O. said...

I was thinking more like Lost, with these incredible season finale cliffhangers every season... only better, because the individual books have much more satisfying resolutions than any give Lost ep or season. :)


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