by Meljean Brook, fantasy (2007)
Berkley, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-21347-1
Hmm, I don't know how to sum up Demon Angel without revealing plot points that may reduce the enjoyment of future readers of this book. This story is about two characters who are polar opposites. Lilith is a creature of Lucifer, in this book she's akin to the Furies of Greek mythology where she exploits the weaknesses in her human victims' characters and bring them to a bad end. Hugh Castleford is a human knight when he encounters Lilith. Their story spans from the 1217 all the way to the present as they go through hell and back - sometimes literally - as they fall in love. This story has two acts, the second act set in the present, and throughout it all, Lilith and Hugh will be embroiled in hell/heaven conflicts even as they deal with the feelings between them.
I haven't deliberately given any specific details in this story because this story has an epic saga feel to it - the story and the character go places and therefore a crucial part of this story, I believe, is the way it takes the readers to places that these readers don't expect. I can however say that this story is an adroit mix of typical urban fantasy elements but the setting has a wider scope than a typical urban fantasy. Think, say, Highlander mixed with a TV show that can result if a certain FBI agent named Dana Scully has never met Fox Mulder but instead struck out on her own. The canon and world-building are very well done and more importantly, very well-rendered to the reader. We have the Guardians, humans granted divine powers by God to act as proxy for the angels on Earth when it comes to defending humans from creatures of Lucifer like Lilith, and Ms Brook does well in creating a brand new mythology around these Guardians.
Therefore, I hate saying this because I will come off as one very petty person that picks on one small thing after all the hard work Ms Brook has put in her story, but I have never warmed up to the romance between Lilith and Hugh in this story. I especially like Lilith as a character, but I can never get into her romance with Hugh. This is mostly due to my not really feeling it, as some people would say, for Hugh. He's this goody-goody fellow but while Ms Brook attempts to give him some conflicted thoughts and baggages about his role in the big scheme of things and his attraction to Lilith, I find Hugh too patronizing and high-handed for my liking. I cringe when Hugh gets this power of forcing people to tell the truth because he becomes very insufferable, forcing Lilith to tell him the truth and all. Too often Hugh acts like he's the final word on what right and wrong is and I especially am not keen on how even late in the story he seems to have no faith in Lilith's decision and judgment. To me, Lilith and Hugh don't have an equal relationship. Lilith isn't a bad person - in fact, she's a creature of darkness with conscience and heart - and she's fine as she is to me. But she often comes off as too eager for Hugh's approval or too easily hurt by what he thinks of her that she often ends up compromising too much of her own principles for him. Just once it will be nice if she tells Hugh to sod off if he can't accept her for what she is or at the very least, try to have some faith in her.
Nonetheless, I like Lilith as a character. Normally I don't like it too much if an author overcompensates her characters' perceived flaws by having a particular character become overly apologetic or too eager to please the designated good guys, but Lilith isn't that kind of overcompensated character. Ms Brook succeeds in making Lilith come off as a complex character with both good and dark aspects in her personality. I just wish Ms Brook has succeeded in convincing me that Hugh appreciates this depth in Lilith. Hugh comes off too much like a man who sees the world in his own version of black and white and it doesn't help that he makes several significant plot-moving decisions for the two of them in this story without consulting her. High-handed, often hypocritical sanctimony and angst bordering on self-absorption don't make a good romance hero combo for me. That kind of person may be great when it comes to Sunday confessionals since one only has to see him through a physical barrier only once a week, but it will be very hard to live with him and measure up to his standards.
But even with Hugh as the hero, I still manage to have a good time reading Demon Angel. I find it a well-written, fascinating, and most enjoyable story. The first act of the story can be very rushed while there are parts here and there in the second act that can be too slow with too much emphasis given on psychobabbles. Nonetheless, pacing isn't a particularly significant problem as this story holds my attention from page one and never lets go. I personally find this a more interesting urban fantasy story than a romance but readers who like Hugh will of course find the romance more compelling than I do. Demon Angel is a pretty good full-blown introduction to the setting she only hinted at in her short story Falling For Anthony in the anthology Hot Spell and I'm most intrigued to see what other stories she has to offer in the future.
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