by Lisa Desrochers, fantasy (2010)
Tor, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2808-3
Author Claudia Gray describes Lisa Desrochers's Personal Demons as a "scary" book. She must be one easily excitable lady, because the only thing that scares me in this story is how well the author takes on the love triangle trope typically found in the young adult paranormal genre ever since you-know-who sold a billion copies of that book. No, wait, it's even more scary how well that trope works on me this time around.
Mary Francis Cavanaugh is a typical emo teenage girl who is about to graduate from high school. Her family is a religious one, but she isn't sure whether there really is a God. Then one day, a hot guy shows up in her school, Haden High. Yes, I'm sure you know that story by now and you just want to know whether he's a werewolf, vampire, or unicorn. Wait, there's another guy too. Frannie is now in a love triangle with Lucifer Cain, who embodies everything hot about dark-haired guys, and Gabriel, who's just as hot, only he has blond hair. How can any girl resist?
The thing is, Luc is a demon. I know, he's not very subtle with a name like that. Gabe is an angel, a Dominion, to be exact. Luc is charged by his boss, Beherit, as well as the boss of everything, the other Lucifer, to corrupt Frannie and tag her soul for Hell. Meanwhile, Gabe is charged to protect Frannie from the likes of Luc. Frannie doesn't know it, but she possesses a special gift that marks her as a hot property wanted both by the forces of Hell and the armies of Heaven. What will happen to poor Frannie now?
Before you ask, and no, this is not a spoiler, it's pretty obvious from the start that Frannie will end up with Luc. Not just because we all know girls in romance novels go for bad boys without fail every single time, but also because Luc gets his share of first person narration alongside Frannie while Gabe is reserved for the spotlight in the next book in this series. Also, I should warn those readers who might not like this sort of thing that there is some theological mumbo-jumbo in this story. The whole faith and love thing is not overwhelming, but you can't ignore it either, so if you are allergic to God and His love in your fiction, tread with some degree of caution here.
Now, the good stuff. I really like this one. This is mostly because Frannie is a solidly written heroine. Yes, she's special, just like the rest of those heroines out there, but her angst is believable. She has some skeletons in her closet, and her pain and confusion comes off as pretty real here. I find myself thinking that I could very well had behaved like Frannie in my own teenage days - that's how believable I find Frannie to be. She's not annoying, she's not some fake plain girl, and she's not a Mary Sue heroine. Frannie is tad self-absorbed, but then again, which teenage girl isn't? Everything boils down to how Ms Desrochers portrayed Frannie, and for me, I find Frannie a believable teenage girl both sympathetic and fascinating to follow.
There is some degree of power imbalance at first in the relationship between Luc and Frannie as he can read her emotions and manipulate her accordingly. However, Frannie is not a gullible idiot - she puts up a good fight. It is especially delicious how by the second half of the book, Luc is the one scrambling to regain his footing as he realizes just how far gone he is when it comes to Frannie. As for Gabe, he doesn't really have much opportunity to shine here as Luc gets the most airtime in this story and it's clear to me that Frannie is more into Luc than Gabe, but he puts up a good fight to the point that Frannie is actually more afraid of him than Luc. Frannie actually finds Luc safe because she believes that she can disengage her heart in her relationship with Luc; with Gabe, she feels that he can see right into her soul and she could very well fall in love with him as a result.
Me, I think if we can somehow combine Luc and Gabe into one single person, we'd get the perfect man. Luc arouses Frannie's lust, but Gabe can fill up the empty places in her heart. I don't know which team I'm on even by the last page. Can I just pick the both of them?
The momentum of the story falters a little late in the story as the villains from Hell start showing up and just keep coming like a parody of an Energizer Bunny marathon, but these developments allow Luc to play the unexpected knight in shining armor for Frannie alongside Gabe. It's quite sweet, really, to see how the initially cocksure Luc being brought so low by love that he willingly lays down his life for the woman he loves. There is a question about just how much of each man's affections for Frannie is real - if you read this book and discover the nature of Frannie's gift, you will know what I'm getting at here - but I'm willing to wait and see how the author address this matter in future books in this series.
Perhaps the greatest triumph of Personal Demons is how it manages to be not just a story, but one that successfully taps into a potent female fantasy, one about being cherished and desired by a powerful man who would move mountains and even die for her. Ms Desrochers goes even further, splitting the man into two, so that Luc represents the forbidden kind of attraction while Gabe represents the more solid and dependable aspect of love. One is the delicious bad boy your mother warned you about, the other is the father figure who will make you believe that he will protect you from everything that is wrong about the world. In addition, the view is beautiful from the pedestal both men place the heroine on. I'm sold on the fantasy, I want a front row seat.
Initially, I bought this book because I was drawn to the oh-so-pretty cover. Am I glad I did - the cover artist did me a favor in this, because I wouldn't have bought this book based on the synopsis on the back cover, heh. I'd have preferred a ménage à trois kind of ending, but I guess we can't get too raunchy in a young adult novel, even if that is the most sensible kind of development I can think of. At any rate, the next book has my name on it. Personal Demons has been a most entertaining vicarious adventure, and I'm very impatient to read about what happens next to these people.
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