Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Wicked Road to Hell, by Juliana Stone - Review

Title: Wicked Road to Hell
Author: Juliana Stone
Publisher: Avon
Publication Date: April 24, 2012 (better late than never)
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Series: League of Guardians, Book 1
The Buzz: this one came in one of the Avon Addict packages (those abs on the cover didn't hurt its chances for being pulled out of the TBR pile, either.)

Overall, I think this is a promising series beginning.  I believe the characters are introduced in Stone's Jaguar Warrior series, and some earlier actions are referenced in the book but it stands alone just fine.

So, the basic premise that there are a number of Otherworldly types in this world.  There are several familiar paranormal categories - shifters, vampires, and sorcerers, like our hero. Seraphim police the world for the forces of good, and demons are evil, obviously.

First rule of paranormal series?  Never assume the obvious.  I don't think I'm spoiling to reveal that in this book we learn about a coalition of all the Otherworldly representatives - an IAD of sorts - that reveal allies in unexpected places.  In fact, it does read a bit like a gritty cop story, with a paranormal overlay.

Go to Hell!
Stone evokes a pretty amazing version of Hell, consistent with religious and mythological imaginings, but manages to embed just enough concreteness to make it plausible as a real place the characters can travel to - and escape from.  If you like Meljean Brook's and Ann Bishop's visions of the underworld, I'd say this one in in the same neighborhood.

Usually when authors make their characters go through Hell, it's not quite this literal. Declan O'Hara is in for a wild ride indeed in his story. First, he finds his dream woman from his past, presumed dead from his own mistakes - not at all dead, powerful beyond his dreams, and politically wayyy out of his reach.  But before he can even start to solve those problems, he's got to save the world by walking through Hell... for a second time.

OK, so I love the world-building here.  There is a delicate balance of power and kryptonite that is tough to pull off when you start dabbling with Ultimate Evil.  The magic in this world is believable, powerful, and balanced, and I love the beginnings of the series arc.  Lots of good stuff to look forward to without too much sequel-baiting.  Stone's scenes are visually evocative, cinematic even, and the action/fight scenes flow well.

The Characters
There is a troublesome power imbalance between the hero and the heroine, though.  As a sorcerer, Declan is much more powerful than a typical human, but no match for Ana's vampiric capabilities.  One of my favorite quotes:
"Don't touch me." She barely managed to get the words out.

"You want me to touch you."

His hands were on her, his touch burning. Ana's eyes flew open and she whirled around, knocking his hand from her body as she did so.

"No." Her chest was heaving, her hands clenched into fists. "I don't want your touch, Declan, let's be honest here. I want to *eat* you." Ana said every word carefully as she glared at him. "There's a huge difference between the two."
These two quite literally go through Hell to be together (how often do I get to say that? Abuse of the word "literally" is one of my hot-buttons) and when they get their resolution, I think you'll be as pleased as I was.  I'm not sure I can use the term "Happily Ever After," because the series arc calls into question the longevity of the World As We Know It (heh), plus the meaning of words like "ever" and "dead" and so forth becomes a bit hazy when you're dealing with immortals.

A Few Bumps
I felt like the characters were strong and interesting and connected, and the main conflict was resolved well, but there were a few loose ends around the vampire culture that ended in a bit of a deus ex machina - guess that's hard to avoid when you're dealing with angels and devils.

The other bit that threw me out of the story were the huge round balls.  First, there were Declan's: "His eyes dilated until they were huge, round balls of ebony." Which makes kind of a weird picture in my head, I don't know about yours.  And then there were someone else's:  "Her eyes were huge, round balls of chocolate and they looked at the Seraph with a hunger that was quickly hidden."  Even weirder.  I dunno, a small thing but kinda made me go "Whaaa..??"

Bottom Line
If you're a fan of angels and demons in your paranormal romance, and you're looking for something new, I think this is a promising new series.  The world-building is strong, the characters sexy, the villains are scary, and the action moves along nicely.

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