Hell’s Belles by Jackie Kessler

7 Jan

Grade: B
According to Jane‘s review, this is really more of a ex-demon-redemption story with a chick lit twist than a traditional paranormal romance. I gotta say that after reading this book, I can’t help but agree with her. Check this out: a sexually aware woman has an identity crisis, flees to the big city for a new life, finds a job she really enjoys, bonds with the girls at her workplace, comes into her own, develops a romance with a new man even though she has unresolved issues with a previous lover, stumbles into one hijinx-high situation after the other, but realizes at the end of the book that she’s gonna make it after all. Tell me that ain’t the plot of about a hundred chick lit books out there. The biggest difference between this book and every single dime-a-dozen chick lit out there is its very high readability factor. I finished this sucker in three hours and found myself laughing or sympathizing with the heroine page after page. This book isn’t perfect, course: I had some issues with it, namely its shaky narrative and sometime questionable, kind of cheesy dialogue. Other than that, I had a lot of fun reading this book and can’t wait for the next one in the series (which should be coming out in November 2007, according to the author).

Jezebel is a happy-go-lucky demon who loves her job. And why shouldn’t she? As a succubus, her main task is to have sex with morally corrupt humans, suck out their souls, and usher their evil asses to hell. She’s been doing it for four thousand years and wouldn’t mind saying she’s damn good at it. On top of that, she’s got a best friend who wouldn’t betray her for anything in the universe, a gorgeous male demon friend who gives her good lovin’ whenever she demands it, and while she may not have the respect of her fellow demons (they are a very competitive, extremely spiteful lot who enjoy cutting each other down for sport), she wouldn’t trade her life (?) for anyone’s. That is, until the Announcement. In the blink of an eye, everything Jezebel has ever known has changed for… the worse. And that’s saying a lot considering she lives in hell. Her boss is taken out of commission and the new guy in charge is a complete dick who vows to make hers and the lives of her brethren a… shall we say… living hell? As if that’s not enough, she is reassigned to a department she totally hates and her supervisor is a total micro-managing bitch. After one particularly horrible assignment, Jezebel decides to make like Jerry McGuire and quits. In the guise of a mortal, she flees to Earth, steals a demon protector pendant from a witch, and goes to New York to live her new life. So what does an ex-succubus do in a big city to earn a living? Become a stripper, of course!

Jezebel is not your conventional romance novel heroine. One, she’s morally corrupt (she was a demon, for Pete’s sake). When I say morally corrupt, I mean she doesn’t mind lying, stealing, scheming, and oh, she has sex with other males even after she realizes she’s in love with the hero main love interest. She does a couple of “stupid chick” things, i.e, trusting the wrong people, acting like an over-emotional tard in the most inopportune times, and oddly being conveniently naive despite having been a demon for four thousand years, but for the most part, she’s strong, clever, and rather sympathetic. Unlike other heroines who are supposedly badass sexpots, Jezebel really delivers what she promises. She doesn’t simper like a ninny, nor does she whine pathetically about her plight in a dark corner somewhere waiting for the hero to save her. Instead she is a survivor. As a stripper, she really acts like one. She isn’t a wide-eyed, big-boobed bimbo type who wouldn’t know where her clitoris was if it developed its own awareness and bit her in the ass. She’s a woman who knows her own pleasure, is selfish enough to seek her own pleasure, and will mow down anyone who just happened to be standing in her way. Honestly, she made this book a lot of fun to read.

As I mentioned before, this book isn’t necessarily perfect. It is told from the first person point of view of the heroine, but the narrative isn’t linear. It jumps around from chapter to chapter, from Jesse’s present time in New York City to her adventures in hell who-knows-when. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If it weren’t for the handy-dandy chapter headings telling me the where and when, I’d probably get pretty confused. I guess my main problem with it is the author tends to end the chapter on a cliff-hanger, but instead of continuing the narrative progressively in the next chapter, it jumps to some other place in who-knows-when. For me, it decreased the impact of the pay-off, but I’m an old school kind of chick and frankly, the time-space hopping made me a little dizzy. My other issue with this book is the inconsistent pop culture references (Amen, Sister Jane). Jesse would be making obscure Ghostbuster references, but somehow she’d never eaten a chocolate before. She wonders about the absurd habits of humans, yet she was a demon who had observed them for four thousand years. Lastly—and I’m just nitpicking here—what’s with demonic characters named Lilith? I’m a little worried that all the upcoming demon-redemption-stories (the new bandwagon) will include a character named Lilith. Honestly, I’m getting nauseous just thinking about it.

On the other hand, I was amused by Kessler’s take on hell. Sure, the whole bureaucracy-is-the-real-hell thing is pretty much old hat, but it still made me laugh here. The author has a deft hand in making otherwise trite and contrived situations into something fresh and new. I also enjoyed Jesse’s interactions with her fellow strippers. It seemed genuine and sincere. The dialogue between them is snappy and clever and though they all seem to come from different backgrounds, there is an instant bond between them because all of them have had to use their bodies at some point to make a living. They understand each other. It’s all very girlfriendly, but not in an annoying Sex in the City kind of way. In short, I bought it.

Speaking of bonds, I wasn’t quite convinced about the relationship between Jesse and Paul, the too-good-to-be-true guy that she meets and hooks up with. Maybe it’s because everything is told from Jesse’s point of view, but I never really got a sense of who Paul really is. Is he really the kind of guy that Jesse would fight the hounds of hell for? He seems kind of… meh [which reminds me, and Sister Jane already pointed it out, why does Hell go after Paul? According to the world-building Hell only goes after the people who are already going to hell. Unless Paul turns out to be some kind of secret baby-raper]. And speaking of Paul, why the hell does Jesse keep calling him Cabin Boy? Was it because they shared a cabin in the train together? It was a little distracting and annoying because it kept reminding me of that awful Chris Elliott movie. Ugh. I was more interested in Daun, the incubus lover-man who seems to revel in being evil. He’s Mr. Bad Boy, but he’s also fiercely loyal to Jesse and will do anything for her. Kessler told me he’ll be starring in a book of his own, so I’ll be interested in seeing where she takes this character.

All and all, this book didn’t turn out to be the book I thought it would be. In the first few chapters, I thought for sure that Jesse was going to be a badass demon slayer who’ll be kicking demon ass left and right, but like I previously mentioned, this is really more chick-lit with a paranormal twist than anything. Since this is just the beginning of a series, however, I’m going to give Jesse the benefit of doubt. Maybe she will evolve into some kickass demon slayer. All and all, there’s really a lot less action in this book than I thought there would be. There’s not a lot of chase scenes and only once did I feel worried for Jesse’s welfare. Oddly enough, there isn’t a sense of urgency considering every frickin’ hell resident and his brother is supposed to be after Jesse especially since she’s supposed to have a huge bounty on her head. Thankfully, there isn’t a “curse your sudden, but inevitable (and out of nowhere) betrayal!” scene, either. It’s just a fun, quick read and I’m really curious about the direction the author will take the series. Anyway, check it out, especially if you’re tired of silly, stupid heroines who whine and whinge about their pathetic, miserable little lives. Jezebel is all that and a bag of chips, y’all. Pass the salsa!

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6 Responses to “Hell’s Belles by Jackie Kessler”

  1. rhian January 8, 2007 at 3:48 am #

    Now this is where we diverge in taste, Bammie – I totally LOVED the book and thought it was a unique take on the “I am Demon, Hear me Roar” tale.
    I loved Jezebel’s experiences learning to be human and thought she kicked ass on many levels… it’s not always about the blood trail.
    As for her goober moments – uh, that would so be me, tripping over my own damn feet while big bads were on my ass, so the relatability factor was there for me. It also made for an interesting counterpoint between her “programmed” bad self and her developing good self.
    Paul was very much a minor character in conjunction to Jez… which I liked. Who gave a shit what he thought/felt – it was all about her.
    I thought the political battles in hell and the heirarchy descriptions were very well done and added to the sense of Jez being a “fallout” victim, just trying to get by. Even Lucifer ended up falling victim to circumstance, which was a nice tie back into her situation. (Jeez – i hope mentioning that point doesn’t ruin it for anyone – it’s tough to talk points without giving away surprises.)
    Regarding: “why does Hell go after Paul” question, if you recall, Jez had just been demoted to the trashman job of being a Nightmare. She wasn’t out collecting souls, just scaring the wee outa them.
    My opinion: Jackie totally kicked ass with this book and I’m REALLY anxiously awaiting the next one!

  2. Jackie January 8, 2007 at 4:12 am #

    You so rock my world, Bam. Thanks for the review!

    Lastly—and I’m just nitpicking here—what’s with demonic characters named Lilith?

    Heh. Dude, in mine, it’s “Lillith.” Three Ls. Makes a difference. ;-) Seriously, though, according to some sources, Lilith (spelled incorrectly, in my opinion) was like a mother demon, giving birth to li’l succubi/ae called the Lillim. I thought it would be neat to have the Queen of the Succubi in my book named Lillith.

    Man, I’d LURVE to pick your brain about some things. :-) Thanks so much for the feedback — uber helpful, on many levels.

    Rhian is spot-on about the “why does Hell go after Paul question” (and thanks so much for the comments, Rhian!) — but I’ll also say this: it’s a clue. ((Insert evil music here.))

    And yep, THE ROAD TO HELL comes out in November. HOTTER THAN HELL comes out some time in 2008 (summer, please — “This summer’s gonna be HOT!” — groan, but hey, it would be fun…).

    Thanks again, Bam.

  3. Wylie January 8, 2007 at 7:15 am #

    Sound like an awesome book. It’s in my Amazon cart!

    btw -
    “… who wouldn’t know where her clitoris was if it developed its own awareness and bit her in the ass”
    is the reason I keep coming back. You are so freaking funny.

  4. Jane January 8, 2007 at 7:36 am #

    I didn’t get the whole Paul being tortured by Hell thing either. of course, I didn’t pick up on the “serve and protect” clue until the end. I am a very dense reader at times.

    Ultimately, the real problem was as Rhian and Bam articulated and that the story was so much about Jezebel that Paul, the man for whom she makes her most meaningful change, was really not very important to the story. It’s as if it could have been any other male character. It’s not he who evokes change, but rather the idea of him – a male human lover.

    . I was more interested in Daun, the incubus lover-man who seems to revel in being evil. He’s Mr. Bad Boy, but he’s also fiercely loyal to Jesse and will do anything for her.

    Word. I thought Daun was by far the most interesting male character and frankly, I thought Jessie believed that too.

  5. shuzluva January 8, 2007 at 9:46 am #

    Well, another book to add to the pile. This looks like it will be fun and not in an annoying, it’s trying too hard way.

    Her boss is taken out of commission and the new guy in charge is a complete dick who vows to make hers and the lives of her brethren a… shall we say… living hell?

    Hee hee…all the hell references in your review were hilarious. As usual!

  6. Catherine January 8, 2007 at 4:44 pm #

    This is my first time posting, but I really enjoy your reviews. I appreciate the fact that you don’t think every book is golden. I’ve been thinking about getting this book but was undecided. Now I’m going to have to rush to the bookstore.