I feel I must include a bit of a disclosure (disclaimer?) to this review. I love Meljean. It’s not a true lesbian love-fest and I’m not about to leave my one true lurve for her or anything (though if she ever became Nora Roberts-rich and was willing to support my bratty ass, I might), but I think the world of her. In fact, I consider her a good friend. We’ve shared geek laughs, drooled over the same geek boys (mostly over Bruce Wayne and Jesse Custer), and once, we even shared a chocolate mousse cupcake thingey without stabbing each other’s hands with forks. Now that’s fucking friendship, dude. Anyway, I’m going to try to keep my personal bias out of this review, but some fangirlishness might seep through in the vein of, “Like OMG, I totally KNOW her! Like, for real and stuff!” In fact, I wasn’t sure I should review this book because Meljean’s my buddy. It’s the reason I read but no longer review my friend and personal asskicker, Lilith Saintcrow. Plus I’ve had horrible experiences reviewing authors who are also friends (some of them ain’t my friends no’ mo’). BUT. Yes, BUT. You guys, this is her FIRST BIG BOOK and I wanted to get the word out on it. YOU SHOULD BUY AND READ THIS BOOK and I’m not just saying that because I think she looks like Julie from Growing Pains and I have a bit of a girl-crush on her. It’s good shit. Period. For real. And don’t worry. Friend or foe, I give fair and balanced reviews and not in a Fox News way, either. No more “eeee! she’s my friend!” gushing from here on out.
[Warning: this is probably my longest review… EVER, maybe even as long as this book. Ba-dump-bump!]
Anyway, I have one word for this book: Brilliant. It’s got breathtaking mythology, awesome world-building, spectacular character development, and it’s totally obvious in each and every one of its 432 pages that Ms. Brook put a lot of thought into it. A lot. And yet… [uh-oh] I can’t quite give it the A+++++ it theoretically deserves because—-and this is just based on my own personal grading standards—-I put it down three times. And I don’t mean to go to the bathroom (I bring books in there too, much to Tim’s consternation… eww, germs), eat, or sleep, but… okay, let’s just say that I read TWO (count it: one, two) books in the interim (dear science, why does it feel like cheating?). I had to put it down a third time because I had food poisoning. Yeah. It was fucking rough, dudes. Aaaaand… that’s not good. If I put your book down more than twice and it’s to read another book (counting homework… ESPECIALLY HOMEWORK), you ain’t getting an A from me. The thing is, this book is NOT getting an A from me NOT BECAUSE IT SUCKS—-it really, really doesn’t—-but because… what’s the word… dude, it’s fucking HEAVY. You GOTTA pay attention or you’ll miss crucial details that’ll make you go, “What the fuck just happened?” Ms. Brook ain’t a fan of info-dumping (thank Science!). No, instead she leaves… breadcrumbs. And this book requires a brain that works. And my brain don’t work right all the time
because I once smoked a football field’s worth of really good ganj and I had to go back a couple of times and re-read some passages to catch myself up on what the fuck’s going on. I hate that. Sometimes I re-read stuff because the prose is breathtakingly eloquent and as a lit-nerd, I gotta savor it. That’s not the same as going back because I read something and thought, “Beeyatch say ‘whuh’?” I think homegirl JaYne said it best with, “And sometimes there was just too much talking. Talk, talk, talk. Yes, it’s cerebral talk and made me really pay attention to catch all the nuances (good) but some scenes tended to drag a little (bad).” TALK, TALK, TALK. You know how I complain all the time about the hero and heroine not sitting down enough to just fucking TALK? Yeah. About that… um… Hugh and Lily talk. A lot. So much that I wish someone was getting pounded in the ass at the same time or slicing off demon heads. That shit would have owned me for sure.
Anyway, I’m sure we’re all familiar with how the whole HELL thing came about, right? Well, for you heathens out there who never watched Superbook (and honestly, why didn’t you? that shit was awesome), lemme give you a primer as I understand it. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful angel called Morningstar and everyone loved him, especially God. He was so beloved that it became everyone’s routine to blow smoke up his ass every morning and tell him what a stellar, A-number #1, top-of-the-heap guy he was. But then he began to believe his own hype. BAD. Pride goeth before the fall, asshole! Morningstar, or as he was also known, LUCIFER thought he could BE the number #1 guy of all time and rule all of heaven, instead of that other guy! GOOD FOR HIM! A+ for ambition, I say! He began to gather his own troops among the other angels, telling them they don’t need God because they can rule Caellum (what Ms. Brook calls “heaven”) themselves. All of a sudden, it’s the goddamn (pardon the pun) West Side Story, except without the dancing and the singing and the Romeo & Juliet stuff, but don’t quote me on that (Leonard Bernstein conducts The Fall of Lucifer… fab-yoo-lous!). God got pissed and said, “Lu, just give me half of the rent and GHETTO-OUT! And take your homies wit’chu!” The angels who sided with God got to stay in heaven, the angels who rose up with Lu got sent down to HELL, and the angels who chose to sit and wait to see who won—-and this was so not in Superbooks—-well, their asses were transformed into Nosferatus, which are tall, pale, blood-sucking monster thingeys that are neither angel nor demon and have to stay out of the sun or they’ll be Cajun-fried. Thus the Angel VS Demon rivalry was born, with the demons trying to get back into Heaven not to get good with God again, but to take it over. They’re the little cartoon demon and angel sitting on either side of your shoulders telling you to “kill kill kill” or “hug puppies and kittens but don’t smother them!” (time for some Lithium, dude). Yeah, that’s them. It’s like an eternal checkers game. Each human soul a demon can sway towards the dark side is a point for Hell and each soul an angel can sway towards “the good” is a point for Heaven. This battle has been going on for millenia and to date, no one has won. Yay!
Which brings us to Lilith the Demon and Hugh the Angel. About eight hundred or so years ago, Hugh Castleford was a seventeen year old knight escorting a beautiful maiden to be with her mean, evil husband. He was your normal, average “for my lady’s honor” kind of guy back then, at least until he comes across Lilith who just happened to be in the act of torturing (and tempting) the blind-folded and tied-up mean, evil husband. Witnessing his master’s humiliation means Death for Hugh for sure, but he and Lilith strike a bargain: she won’t tell anyone about Hugh walking in on them and Hugh will owe Lilith a favor she will collect at a later date. The bargaining thing becomes a game of sorts for the two of them and Hugh finds himself inexplicably attracted to Lilith even though she’s not that cute (she’s described as “cow-like”). Lilith, on the other hand, is also attracted to Hugh, especially because he seems to be freakishly strong-willed and she gets stupid, fluttery, girly feelings around him. Lilith’s manipulation and schemes leads Hugh at the end of the sword of the mean, evil husband of his lady luuuuurve and it is too late when she realizes she doesn’t want him to die. To save his life, she initiates a ritual that will turn him into a halfling demon like herself, but decides instead to give him to Michael, the archangel who was masquerading as Hugh’s mentor. Thus Hugh becomes a Guardian, a type of angel that protects humans from the likes of Lilith, while Lilith remains a demon. Because theirs is a LOVE THAT CAN NEVER BE and both are too stubborn to admit their true feelings for each other, the two of them engage in an eight hundred year battle of wills, fighting sexual tension and Nosferatus side by side. That is, until Hugh becomes disillusioned with being a Guardian, gets tired of fighting with Lilith, and ends it all by sticking a sword through her chest, wrapping her lovingly in his monk’s robe, and burying her. For himself, he pleads with the POWERS THAT BE to turn him back into a human and “falls” back to earth.
At this point I should be finished with the summary and beginning with my commentary… BUT WE’RE NOT THROUGH! No, that was just the first part of the book. Sixteen years after Hugh slaughters Lilith to “free” her, he is now a thirty-three year old professor in San Francisco who is also a geek-enabler. I’m serious. Dude wrote a book detailing his relationship with Lilith in Latin, which was badly translated into English, and sent to a publisher by his precocious “sister” Savi (an orphan girl he saves from certain death). His book becomes the inspiration for an RPG (role-playing game), that smells like Dungeons & Dragons mixed with Vampire: The Masquerade, which gathers up the geeks in his class and has them playing the game at his Auntie’s (the woman who “raised” him) Indian restaurant. Hugh appears to be happy, but isn’t even dating anyone (thirty-three year old virgin) because he can’t stop thinking about Lilith and often indulges in brood sessions where he sits in the dark, contemplating how he could have truly saved Lilith. Unbeknownst to him, Lilith was Punished by Lucifer for giving Hugh to Michael, stripped most of her powers, and is now an FBI Agent who investigates the weird stuff. [Yes, we’ve got demons working for the government and holding bureaucratic positions… the Devil and the DMV! Mwahahaha] She is especially interested in the Nosferatus congregating in San Francisco because there seems to be an awful lot of them… and oh, yeah, they’re walking in the sun! Unfortunately, their targets seem to be Hugh’s students and because Hugh wrote that book that details all the rituals that seem to be involved in the killings, Hugh is the prime suspect. Now Lilith has to face Hugh again in order to save him from getting his ass hauled to the gas chamber and Hugh has to learn to trust Lilith in order to help stop the murders of his friends and the people close to him. Gasp! They have to work together! Will it work this time around? [Why do I have Just Once by James Ingram playing in my head?] Read it and find out!
Lilith is the original badass. Ms. Brook told me the inspiration for her is Wonder Woman and I totally believe it. She’s smart, powerful, stubborn (but not to the point of stupidity, thank Science), and sexy as all hell. She can kick Hugh’s ass, doesn’t hesitate to tell a lie, can wield a sword like nobody’s business, and is not afraid to get her hands dirty. I liked her. But what I liked most about Lilith is she doesn’t sit around pining for Hugh and wondering what could have been. She is a woman of action. She’s tough and resilient, but she’s not made of stone, either. I think the best scenes of this book are those of Lilith hanging out with her three-headed dog, Sir Pup, whom she named after Hugh. Oddly enough, it is with this dog that we see Lilith’s softer side. With Hugh, she is unable to truly let her guard down (try fighting with a guy for 800 hundred years and see what it does to your psyche), but with Sir Pup, she can just be a regular girl with a dog. Her biggest weakness, of course, is Hugh. Though her first instinct as a demon is to save her own ass and forsake him, she risks further Punishment from Lucifer in order to keep saving his ass. That has to be tiring after a while. If I were her, I would have said “forget it,” and headed out to Hollywood where I could have my pick of CW hotties. But you know, that’s just me and that’s why I’m not ever compared to Wonder Woman. Which reminds me, there is a scene in this book where Lilith risks it all in order to save some stupid kid and it made me want to stand up and applaud. That shit was inspiring.
Hugh, on the other hand, is not such a wimpy, useless guy, either. For a human with no super powers to speak of (and he’s got bad eyes, too), he really can hold his own. Of course he also has wisdom from eight hundred years of living to fall back on and if that doesn’t make a guy smart about life, I don’t know what will. Which brings me to ask: Why is Heaven letting these angels Fall and not erasing their memories? Isn’t that just bad business practice? They could sell your secrets to the competitor, for one thing. Anyway, I did enjoy Hugh’s evolution from a naive, courtly seventeen year old kid to a world-weary man who just wants to find love and peace. And I got a kick out of Hugh taking a vow of celibacy because he never got around to having sex as a teenaged human and a Guardian, but never wanted to have sex as a grown man because he couldn’t stop thinking about Lilith. What can I say, I’m a sucker for virgin heroes. MJB got me hook, line, and sinker with this guy. And he’s a geek, too. A real one. Not like those stupid fake nerds that populate Vicki Lewis Thompson‘s books (consequently, I have a friend who’s a HUGE nerd and she loves those books). Sure, he is a really buff, really suave nerd, but any guy who plays RPG and geeks out with glee is a true nerd to me. I also appreciated that he wasn’t a “growl-punch-fuck” alpha who thinks he knows what’s best for the heroine and presumes to do stupid shit “for her own good”. He knows what Lilith can do and steps aside to let her do her shit. Not that he’s a push-over or anything—-he’s got his own specialties—-but he recognizes Lilith’s talents and lets her shine. The two of them are a team and it works because they have their individual skills, but give each other room to practice them. And how happy was I that Ms. Brook allowed Hugh to grow up from a seventeen year old boy to a thirty-three year old man in this book? Sure, he was eight hundred years old… but dude, he also looked seventeen!
As for the secondary characters, I liked them. There are shades of sequel-pimping, but no one just stands around like a billboard ad for the next book. They’re all integral parts of the story and have their own specific uses. I was a little annoyed by the overly precocious Savi (dude, she’s twenty-five years old) because she’s a know it all and smelled a little bit like a Mary Sue, but thankfully, she disappears halfway through the book and we don’t see her again till the end. YESSSS! The demons were appropriately menacing and scary, but I was absolutely charmed by the portrayal of Lucifer in this book. He isn’t some overly broody guy who’s all about pain and whining and misery; instead, he’s a middle-aged Daddy-like guy sporting a sweater. It makes him scarier because you don’t expect a guy like that to order his demons to skin you alive and eat your organs right out of your still living body, do you? Creepy. I also enjoyed the Mulder and Scully-like banter of the two cops investigating Hugh. They had good chemistry and was fun to read about. When do they get their book?
As I mentioned before, the BIGGEST thing that drags this grade down to a B+ is the pacing. Good Science, this book is heavy. Lilith and Hugh talk and talk and talk and talk and talk… WHAT THE FUCK else could they talk about when they’ve been arguing about the same old shit for eight hundred years? They banter, make out, banter some more… sure, it all sounds smart and witty and stuff, but daaaaamn… it does get repetitive. I could have done with a lot less talk and a lot more ass-kicking. These two are supposed to be Big Damn Warriors from their own respective teams and yet the actual fighting scenes? Very little. Yes, Lilith and Hugh are very clever; yes, they can trade barbs back and forth like champs; and yes, they’re very sexy together, but you know what? By the time I got to page 358, I was officially sick of them talking. I continued reading because the writing is really very good, but mostly I was skimming because I wanted them to get on with it all ready and you guys, THIS IS NOT A BOOK TO SKIM, and I don’t even know what crucial info I may have missed. Too much talking, not enough fighting or fizznucking. Not cool. Yes, I finished this book, but near the end, it felt like a chore and I really didn’t want to feel that way about it because it is fricking well-written and I thought it deserved better than my dismissal. The GOOD STUFF happens in the last fifty pages of the book and goddamn it, this is four-hundred and something pages. But daaaamn… did I mention the bitch can write? Yes, she can. If only she’d used it to show me some ass-kicking, blood-spatter, and decapitations, we’d be in business.
Are you guys familiar with the book The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy and how people used to say it would make a HORRIBLE movie because a lot of it is in Tristram’s head and he can’t narrate a straight tale without weirdly deviating into some tangent? If this book were made into a movie, a lot of it would be Lilith sitting all saucy and hot in her leather get-up and Hugh looking professor-like in his khaki pants and sweater while the two of them discussed Milton and Dante and the state of their relationship and shit. It’s talky like a Kevin Smith movie… or a precocious child that has learned something new and won’t shut up about it. In any other book, you may be able to ignore the talking parts and get right to the juicy stuff, but if you do it with this book, you’ll get so hopelessly lost that you’d have to go back and read over the parts you skipped just so you’ll understand why the characters are doing what they’re doing. Nevertheless, this is nothing like I’ve ever read in a very long time and I admire Ms. Brook for writing it, much less coming up with the idea for it. It’s original, intelligent, and absolutely impressive. You can take any page from this book, read the dialogue, and come away impressed. Sure, you won’t know what the fuck is going on, but you’d be like, “Damn, whoever Lilith and Hugh are, they have awesome chemistry. And they talk pretty.” The dialogue… OH THE DIALOGUE… so so very beautiful and eloquent… if only there weren’t so much of it. Anyway, that’s really my only complaint about this book. Other than that, it blew my socks off. I’m soooooo looking forward to Colin’s story and I hope Meljean doesn’t get pissed off by this review and cross me off her ARC list because I sooooo want to read it before any of you guys do. [grin] So check Demon Angel out. It’s really a very impressive full-length debut from this author and I expect great things from her. But do yourself a favor and read Falling for Anthony first. It introduces Hugh and Lilith to us and you’ll see a side of Lilith that, frankly, was kind of scary. So buy this book now. Go. What are you waiting for? GO!
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