by Jackie Kessler, fantasy (2007)
Kensington, $15.00, ISBN 978-0-8217-8103-6
The Road To Hell is best read after Hell's Belles because this book is a genuine follow-up to that book - same main characters, ongoing storyline, and all. If you are new to the author's Hell On Earth series, feel free to check out the review of the previous book for the 101 on the cast and all.
When this story begins, it's been about a month since our heroine Jezebel has become human. As "Jesse Harris", she is having a pretty good time dancing at the gentleman's club Spice while cuddling up to her grand love, the cop Paul Hamilton. Unfortunately, Hell isn't going to let her move on with her new life so easily. The Erinyes Alecto shows up ordering Jesse to go back to Hell, telling her that Jesse's friend Megaera will suffer really terribly should Jesse refuse to obey her. Jesse's former partner-in-crime, the incubus Daunuan, often shows up as well. He makes it clear to Jesse that he can easily seduce and enslave Jesse for his own amusement should he choose to do so because Jesse, now human, is vulnerable to his, er, charms. Is he a friend or foe? If all that isn't enough for poor Jesse to lose sleep over, Paul begins to show signs of being unhappy about Jesse's job at Spice.
The Road To Hell has many of the strengths (and flaws) of Hell's Belles so chances are if you enjoy the previous book, you will have fun with this one too. Jesse isn't as ignorant of human behavior in this book as she was in the previous book, but she still has a tendency to act before she thinks, which lands her into trouble far too often in this story. Nonetheless, she is still the witty and sarcastic gal who can easily carry the story with the strength of her personality alone. This time around, Jesse is determined to embrace her human side and be faithful to the man she loves. She will soon realize that her enemies back in Hell will not hesitate to exploit her softer side to gain an advantage over her.
Daun makes a most interesting friend-or-foe character here as Ms Kessler allows that naughty demon to steal pretty much every scene that he is in. Daun's angelic underling, who is supposed to serve as a succubus now that there is a new administration in Hell, provides some amusing moments too. With her being an angel, complete with righteous temperament and all, she's really not cut out to be a Seducer.
And yet, Paul remains a one-dimensional boring character for nearly the entire story. For the most part he is this dull character who behaves in a most predictable manner as he gets jealous over the men Jesse dances for. His behavior is understandable, but nonetheless, he is a dull stereotype for too long in this story. In the last chapter, he loosens up a bit as he interacts with Daun. He is nearly interesting here. But on the whole, this guy is completely flat as a character. Therefore, the whole "the things Jessie does for love" theme in this book doesn't work too well with me since I find all this "grand love" between Jesse and Paul too dull for words. A part of me is actually hoping that Paul and Jesse will break up permanently so that she can move on to a more interesting guy.
I'm also not too keen on the whole "everyone in Hell is insanely jealous of the very special Jesse" emerging theme as the whole thing reminds me too much of the favorite storylines in Mary Sue fanfictions. I'd prefer people hating on the heroine because of something she does rather than because of who she is. I have no problems with bad guys being resentful of Jesse for daring to escape from Hell to live her own life, but the whole "Jesse is a special person because she's born that way - stay tuned as the secrets of her parentage are revealed in upcoming books!" thing that is developing in this book worries me a little.
Still, The Road To Hell is a fabulous read. The humor is fabulous - this story is funny but not farcical while the heroine isn't too ditsy - and the author's timing is just great. When Jesse has to be more serious, the author manages to convey a sense of poignancy very well despite the word "love" often being bandied around in a frequency that makes me cringe, especially considering how indifferent I am to the relationship between Paul and Jesse. The climatic moments of this story are a little anticlimatic actually, in my opinion, but on the whole this is a very entertaining story. I like Jesse and I adore Daun and his Angel underling. I also find the poor demented Archangel Michael an interesting character despite his tendency to launch into stark raving mad rants, mostly because this guy comes off as genuinely menacing and even frightening as this is one fellow who carries out, in the name of his own twisted kind of righteousness, acts of cruelty that make even the most hardened bad boys and girls in Hell cower in terror.
If the premise of this story isn't enough to put Ms Kessler on the receiving end of all kinds of angry "You and that gay Albus Dumbledore are minions of the devil!" emails from the usual suspects, this one is also much more erotic than the previous book. If you find that book is hot, this one is a nuclear meltdown in comparison.
All in all, The Road To Hell is an enjoyable trip from beginning to end.
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