Jackie is quite the taskmaster. I'm glad for the February challenge though; it helped me get back to more discipline about getting my reviews onto the blog. I've been a little lazy lately and hesitant to "make" myself blog -- once this starts feeling like a chore for me, I'm afraid that will be the end of Alpha Heroes, and nobody wants that!
So anyway, I have my eye on a certain ARC or two being offered in the prize package for this challenge, so I'm motivated. I hit Borders yesterday morning, looking for the first book in the Anton Strout series. However, they didn't have it. Diana Rowland's latest release caught my eye, but it's not the first in its series, so I went looking for Mark of the Demon. Which they didn't have either. This all made me a little grumpy, as I like to start at the beginning. Without Jackie's contest, I'd've just waited until I came across the first one for either series.
Stuff I Loved
So I read the first few pages of both books, standing in front of the shelves, and it turned out that I was more in the mood for this one:
The demon was little more than a mist of fog and teeth, barely visible to normal sight. It coiled in slow undulations in the backseat of my Taurus as I drove through the night, the tires of the car humming on the asphalt in low rhythmic counterpoint to the movement of the demon.With the very first sentences, Rowland makes me smile at the thought of a demon in a Taurus, at the same time that she sets an vividly atmospheric scene. I love the juxtaposition of the familiar and the otherworldly.
I should probably get less anal about reading series in order; I think most authors work pretty hard to make the books stand alone. I could tell there was a backstory between Kara and Rhyzkahl, enough to make me want to go back and read the first book, but never felt lost and had everything I needed to stay with this story. One of the things I really noticed about Rowland's writing is her deftness in seeding the information I needed along the way, intriguing me and playing me like a fish on a line. Unfortunately I was reading too fast to flag many of the perfect little bits, but whatever the opposite of info-dumping is, Blood of the Demon could be a tutorial.
This is a good skill for any author, but especially important when you're building an alternate world. I really, really like Rowland's world of the arcane and the alternate planes. We as readers, like Kara, may not understand very much about that world, but there's a very solid feeling that there ARE absolute rules that govern the alternate world, like gravity and conservation of matter govern rules in our world. An example:
The creatures I summoned had been named thousands of years ago, long before any of the world's religions had designated "demons" as agents of evil and residents of hell.
Now, this tidbit is given to us as a caution not to think of the demons as inherently evil, but we also can infer 1) that the "naming" is significant -- she didn't say they were created or born, but that they had been named. Which is consistent with the common (ie, not specific to Rowland's world) notion about demons which is that knowing their names grants power. We also get a sense of how old these creatures are-- all in one short sentence. Rowland reinforces these "facts" or rules about her universe in tiny ways: "He looked down at me, deep and ancient eyes searching." These are the kind of things that put the "reality" into an author's alternate reality-- when the the alien-ness is simply a part of the fabric of the storytelling.
The mystery plot here is complicated and tight; fans of police procedural mysteries will enjoy the unfolding network of politics, social connections, and scandal. Rowland weaves in Kara's unfolding knowledge of the arcane as a seamless extra element to the mystery as well as a hook for future books.
Stuff That I Didn't Love
I have to say that there's plot point I really didn't get, and I hope this doesn't qualify as a plot spoiler. Let's just say that:
1. you are recovering from a horrible incident involving powerful, amoral demons
2. you are able to summon these demons but don't know a whole lot about them
3. you inherited this ability from your beloved aunt, who right now lies in a coma caused by something arcane.
OK? Now, you need some information and your aunt can't provide it because of her coma. You want access to her library, but you discover that it is locked up so tight you can't get anywhere near it. Do you
a) Give up? (OK, not likely for an UF heroine)
b) Assume your aunt had a good reason for putting up Fort Knox security and find someone who can advise on either your original question or perhaps help you investigate what's behind the locks?
c) Hey, just tear it all down. What could happen?
I was a little annoyed that Kara just broke through all the wards and "locks" without ever thinking that um? there might be a REASON for it to be locked up. So the arcane portion of the mystery wasn't all that surprising to me.
Overall I'd say that the characters themselves are not the strongest part of the book, although I wouldn't call them weak. This is one point that I might have a different opinion about if I'd read the first book first. Kara's backstory includes traumatic violence and somehow dying and coming back to life -- I'll need to read the first book. In this book, she's a gumshoe with human insecurities, integrity, and arcane abilities to summon demons. As a heroine, I felt like she was likeable and adequate, but she didn't pop off the page for me like some of my favorites do.
Pah, I never know whether to lead or end with the things I like the least, either way seems to emphasize them too much. These last two bits are just the least good things, not awful or dealbreakers in any way.
Bottom line is, I really liked the story; tight plotting and pacing; interesting world-building; and I didn't touch on it much here, but the sexual tension with Rhyzkahl and the romantic tension and building mystery about Ryan are more than enough to draw me into the next release. Put it on your TBR list, if it isn't already!