by Larissa Ione, fantasy (2008)
Grand Central Publishing, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-446-40103-6
Pleasure Unbound is a pretty interesting story in that it is so enjoyable and yet so flawed at the same.
This is the first book in Larissa Ione's Demonica series and as you can guess from the name of the series, we have demons running around living among humans. And yes, we have a body of governing demons making sure that demons don't break their laws, and yes, there is one for the vampires too. Yes, there are werewolves in here. You're right, the heroine Tayla Mancuso is a demon slayer. Because this is an erotic urban fantasy romance, you've guessed it, the hero Eidolon is an incubus. Or, if you want to use their fancy term, a Seminus demon. How did you guess that the hero is undergoing some phase in his life where he must have sex or face dire consequences? I bet you didn't guess that the heroine has abilities that she is unaware of until she meets the hero, huh? You did? Bummer.
Still, despite the fact that this story has pretty much every item in the erotic urban fantasy formula, it isn't that generic. Eidolon is a doctor, for example, and he runs Underground General, a hospital magically hidden from human eyes and catering to demonkind. He meets the heroine when she is brought in, badly injured, after she and her now dead accomplice were attacked by a demon. The Hippocrates oath compels him to treat her just like he would treat any demon. Besides, perhaps this slayer can be used as a pawn for the demons to find out more about her organization, called the Aegis, right? Someone is killing demons to harvest body parts, and rumors strongly suggest that the Aegis is behind this. Thus, the story begins.
I have better warn you guys, the first love scene between Eidolon and Tayla take place under a circumstance best described as a controversial one as Tayla is induced into a fit of lust-maddened frenzy and therefore, the entire scene is one of dubious consent. Some readers may find that scene too much of a hot button for them. Nonetheless, I feel that the author has done a pretty good job in showing me that there is more between the two than mere biology of hormones in action. There are some credible developments of trust and friendship between the two that make their romance believable. Eidolon is an unique twist on the lust-crazed urban fantasy spook hero in that while he has his moments when he flexes his authority, he is generally a beta hero. He's a doctor and he also tries to keep his emotions in check. Tayla is generally a pretty good heroine as she is capable and smart, and her confusion as she tries to sort out who the good guys are as the story progresses rings true.
However, I am confused by what the author is trying to tell me in her story. The demons in this story are pretty cool in that they can do really bad things towards humans because it's their nature to do so. However, as the story progresses, the author tries to show me that there are shades of grey in her setting. Not all demons are evil, just as not all humans are good. That is fine, except even later on, the author presents some contradictory scenarios that leave me wondering what the real message she is trying to tell me here. Eidolon preaches to Tayla that not all demons are evil, and yet he protects his brothers every time they carry out some not-so-nice things on humans. I'm told that his late elder brother kills, rapes, and tortures his human victims... and yet he mourns the brother's passing and blames humans for this demon's destruction. I'm confused now. Maybe Eidolon makes an exception for his family members when it comes to his Pax Demonica messages of goodwill?
The author also seems to abandon her story in the late quarter or so to instead set up sequels. I'm not pleased with how blatantly she pins the villain tag on a secondary character so that this character's spouse is freed to bump ugly with the hero's buddy in a sequel. The author, fearing that I will be turned off from buying those sequels should the demons continue to behave like... well, demons, begins doing massive damage control that further muddles the Pax Demonica message. Every designated sequel bait is said to have done the "right" thing. Therefore, designated Aegis sequel-baits are revealed to have killed only the "deserving" demons (except when it comes to Eidolon's evil brother, because that guy is, I suppose, special). Likewise, designated demon sequel-baits are revealed to kill or feed on "deserving" victims. All of a sudden, the deliciously ambiguous nature of the story has morphed into a stark black-and-white "We're the good guys! Buy our books!" message.
Because a good part of my enjoyment of the parts of the story prior to the late quarter of the story hinges on the way the author develops her story and reveals how sometimes demons and humans may not be that different after all, her sudden turnaround and her insistence that all the designated sequel baits haven't done anything "bad" at the end of the day end up undermining the earlier parts of the story a lot.
Pleasure Unbound is a flawed book, therefore, in my opinion, and the author seems unsure on whether she wants her demons to be really bad-ass or angst-ridden emo boys. Nonetheless, the erotic tension between the main characters is excellent and I personally feel that the more controversial love scenes in this story fit the nature of the demons. That is, before Ms Ione attempts to turn her demons into woobies, sigh. The romance feels credible and there are ample character development to make both Tanya and Eidolon come off as fully-drawn characters. In short, I find the story a most memorable and enjoyable one despite its flaws and I look forward to the next book in the series. I just hope the author doesn't try too hard to make her demons the good guys, because some of them, especially Wraith, will make horribly unconvincing woobie characters.
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