Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Meljean Brook – “Demon” (or Guardian) Series

Here’s what I have to say about book one (Demon Angel): eight hundred years of foreplay.

Eight. Hundred. Years.

Get out the ice buckets, readers.

The way Brook sets up this first book particularly appeals to me because 1) I like longer books and 2) I like character-driven stories. The way these two main characters develop over the centuries is like nothing I’ve ever read before. It’s complicated – as you might expect an affair between a guardian angel and a millennia-old demon to be – and (I think I say this without spoilering anything) Hugh’s fall from angel to human was as thrilling as Lilith’s redemption from evil. God, I love Hugh’s dark side.

A unique premise is golden in the ever-more-crowded world of paranormal romances, and I looooove the premise for these books. Brook builds a world that effortlessly blends biblical mythology, Good vs. Evil, urban fantasy, and erotic romantic story arcs.

Entertainingly, this format allows Brook to cover all the bases in terms of archetypical heroes – knight in shining armour? Hugh. Gorgeous GQ model type? Colin. Got a little thang for cowboys? Meet Ethan. Next up this fall is wisecracking Vietnam vet and Fledgling Guardian Jake. Very hip.

O'Donovan adds: I agree about the archetypes, although the latter two - Colin and Ethan- were imperfectly rendered. What we get in the human/supernatural romances is a snapshot - nearly a caricature - of the archetypes after however many years of modern life.

Nicola responds: True. But they still have that flavor.

Nicola continues: The heroines of this series stack up nicely, too. I mean, how often do you come across a heroine who is a consummate liar, with red scaly skin, black horns, and razor-sharp nipples, who's sold her soul to the devil? Not every day, that's for sure. To watch Hugh unhesitantly love Lilith in all her darkness and light, is to feel at least a *little* reassured that the average reader's soft underbelly might survive exposure.

Her follow-up heroines, human women who are turned to vampires in Demon Moon and Demon Night, are completely different -- one a brainy hacker video-game creator/player, the other a shell-shocked ex-con just getting back on her feet. I like that Brook doesn't try to pack every virtue and every virtue-disguised-as-flaw into every main character. Lots more room for individuality.

O'Donovan adds: I think the Hugh/Lilith romance is more perfectly rendered because we see them across the swath of history. Eight hundred year of foreplay really, uh, worked for me.

Nicola continues: Brook constructs unusual, layered characters whose strengths and weaknesses compliment each other perfectly – but only after they solve a rubik’s cube of discovery — of themselves, of each other, of their relationship, and coming to terms with the loss (or recovery) of their humanity.

There's no lack for wit or humor, either. A favorite snip:

bearing in mind that Lillith is particularly talented at lying, and Hugh is particularly talented at discerning truth:

"Making a bargain with Lucifer is completely different than working covertly for the government," Lilith said.

Silence fell for a moment, then Hugh lowered his face into his hands and his shoulders began shaking. Unable to contain her own laughter, Savi sat down and bent forward, holding her sides.

"Lilith," he said finally, wiping his eyes. "That's a lie."

Now, I have to say that these books aren’t perfect… I’m rarely one to complain about a long book, but I did feel like there were places that any one of these three sagged a little. As a nitpick, her fight/action scenes could be a little more clearly rendered—the romance genre has always been a little more forgiving of this sort of fuzziness, but with all the urban fantasy out there right now, I think the bar for a tight action scene is floating up higher.

After finishing the third book, it’s clear to me that Brook has a very definite vision of how the various categories of non-human beings interlock together (“follow the blood”) but there were times when she sort of lost me. I also have to wonder why she needs vampires in the mix – seems like demons (including the devil himself), angels, humans, & halflings ought to be adequate for any series, and with the biblical roots, the vampires seem like sort of a mis-fit. I’m not really up on my Old Testament, but there weren’t any vampires in there, were there?

O'Donovan adds: The only other flaw that struck me was a weird teasing about some characters' back stories. In a book where Colin is the hero, one expects to learn his story. Instead, we get bits and pieces strewn across three books. If we don't get the skinny soon, I may start to lose patience.

Nicola responds: Totally agree. I think though, that Colin's story is complete -- what we were supposed to glean from the bits of his letters in book 2 is that his non-reflective curse was self-inflicted and irreversible. I don't think we're going to see much more. The one that bugged me was about Charlie's scarring. She starts off telling a tall tale about it, but we don't know her well enough to know it's a tall tale. Its cause is alluded to but I thought it was too ambiguous.

Nicola continues: Generally though, these are thoroughly readable books with a lot of what I want in a romance of any subgenre.

O'Donovan adds: I wholeheartedly appreciate a new concept in paranormals, especially one that's executed with nuance and a fearless approach to complicated plotting.

We agree: well worth the read, and will be purchasing Demon Bound when it comes out later this year.

postscript from Nicola: I’d like to give credit to someone in particular for recommending this series to me, but I think I just sort of picked up the name by osmosis, after reading it on various favorites lists in the blogosphere. I clicked over to Brook’s website and read an excerpt from Demon Night and there was just no going back from there.


Anonymous said...

I LURVE this series! Love, love, love. I think it's because it has great creative world building and still has heart string pulling romance. Sometimes I feel like I have to pick between good world building but no romance in Urban Fantasy and good romance but bad world building in Paranormal romance. Ever feel that way? But Meljean has the best of both worlds. I'll read everything she puts out. Still haven't found Wild Thing but I've read all the others.

Nicola O. said...

So, I just figured out that Colin has a backstory in print -- there's an anthology called Hot Spell that covers his turning.

I'm definitely going to check it out -- normally I'm not that fond of novellas and short stories, but it seems to be the norm in paranormals/urban fantasy, and it's not a bad way to taste new authors. I've been curious about Emma Holly, too.


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