Review: Demon Bound, Meljean Brook

Cover comments: What do you think of the trend towards hero only covers? Those are some long arms, and his obvious youth makes me feel like a perp, but we can’t have the perfection of Ethan every time. Sigh.

Series? Yes, this is the 7th installment of the Guardian series, which includes shorter pieces.  Ms. Brook promises 8 full length novels, and since Demon Bound is (I think) the 4th, we’ll get a few more. Click on the cover above for more info.

Setting: The one really misleading thing about the cover, actually, is that it suggests an urban setting, like Demon Moon or Demon Night. In fact, most of the action takes place in Caelum (the heavenly realm where the Guardians hang out), in Hell, or excavating temples strewn around the world.

Main characters:

Alice Grey is a prim Victorian-era Guardian (a human who dies in sacrifice, and returns to immortal existence with wings and some other cool accessories, to fight demons, nosferatu, and misc. baddies) who has made a bargain with a demon, according to which she must either hand over the heart of her revered good guy boss, Michael, or submit to the everlasting fires of Hell. She’s known as the “Black Widow” because her Gift (superpower in Guardian speak) is communing with spiders in such a way that she can sense what they sense, and also because her bargain has led her to hold herself mysteriously separate from the other Guardians.

Jake Hawkins is a Vietnam veteran from Kansas (I had to keep expelling images of Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July from my brain while reading this, which made me realize how unfairly negative, in terms of a romantic ideal, my go-to image of Vietnam vets is. I thank Ms. Brook for that and for giving us a war vet who does NOT suffer from PTSD), a “Novice” Guardian, a fun loving sex obsessed young man with a good heart. He and Alice are of similar ages in human years but she’s got more than half a century on him in Guardian years, which sets up the uptight experienced older woman/young charmer dynamic. Jake’s official Gift is teleportation, but I think Alice might add a couple of others to that list.

Plot: I used to think the 11th circle of hell was having to recite the titles of Kresley Cole’s books in order without screwing up a single word, but now I realize that having to summarize the plot of a Guardian book is way more torturous. Suffice it to say that Alice wants out of the bargain, Jake has some growing up to do, and the world building takes several leaps forward with the realization that Michael has not been forthcoming about his extended family and their wacky history.

Distinctive features: Everything about this series is distinctive.

My take in brief: If you enjoyed the other books in this series, you will definitely enjoy this one. I felt the romance was somewhat weaker than the best in the series (Hugh and Lilith, and Colin and Savi), but I also felt that the plotting and action and worldbuilding were better and more compelling.

Word on the Web (many more to follow in the coming weeks):

Dear Author, Jane, B

Alpha Heroes, very positive

Romance Rookie, Jill D., B+

Lawson, TGTBTU, A

Book Binge, Holly, 4.75 (out of 5, but only because of the creep factor!)

Book Binge, Nath, 4.5/5.0 (A-)

Romance Novel TV, Kate,  4.75 stars

Ciara Lira, 4 hearts (out of 5) (I am not sure why only 4, because the review is 100% positive. Maybe this is wrong — and please let me know of you think so —  but I like to see criticisms when the review isn’t the top score.)

book Smugglers, Ana, 9 (out of 10)

The Racy Romance Review:

This is the fourth Guardians book I have read, but the first I have attempted to write a review for, and boy is it a challenge.  So I am resorting to that age old device of bad writers everywhere: the numbered list.

What I liked:

1. I have always enjoyed the world of the Guardians. This world is completely original in romance — compelling, airtight, and complex. I know the series has a finite length, but I feel Ms. Brook could do nothing else but keep writing for the various intriguing characters in this world for the rest of her career, and not lose me as a reader. In previous installments, I have sometimes felt confused or lost by the elaborate mythology, no matter how carefully I read, but in Demon Bound, I felt the right balance was struck: the mythology was presented simply enough not to make it work to read, while remaining complex enough to be interesting. The book opens in Tunisia, when Jake accidentally teleports to a site Alice is excavating to try to find out more about a Prophesy that might offer her a way out of her bargain. They are beset by demons, and the story doesn’t let up from there.

2. The characters. This is a major strength of this writer. As I type this, I could tell you, in some detail, about each of the heroes and heroines in the 3 other Guardians books I have read (and even about some of the secondary folks). They are so distinct they leap off the page. I contrast this with the many members of the British peerage who have by now all blended in my mind into one tall male form with an aquiline nose and soft full lips. Alice is weird, quiet, mysterious, and lives with spiders. She actually wears Victorian era designs made out of spider webbing. She has a really interesting back story and believable motives for everything she has done and become. The journey Jake takes from being repulsed by her, to desiring her, to loving her is wonderful to read, because it is also his journey from being a footloose novice to a, for lack of a better term, “real man”, by which I mean not a rutting beer swilling beast, but a strong, loving, responsible person (who never loses his terrific sense of humor).

3. The psychology. (Maybe this should be 2b). I love the way these characters have complex motivations, which they are constantly questioning and trying to label. I love the moral universe Brook has created, in which these complex motivations mean that nobody is purely good nor purely evil.  Here’s an example. In this scene, Alice is talking with another Guardian, Irena, about their mutual desire to slay demons, and whether it’s the same:

There was a feral edge to Irena’s grin. “We do not have a common measure. Hate does not drive you; compassion does. A sense of fairness. You slay demons because you care for humans, because you know they are evil, because they take advantage of and twist everything good.

Alice’s eyebrows furrowed. “We all hate them.”

“You despise what they are, what they do.” Green fire burned in her eyes. “I hate them. every single demon, and every single drop of blood in their veins. You thrill at a fight, and relish a victory. I relish the break of their bones, the rending of their flesh — and above all, the kill.”

4. The romance. I loved the romance between this unlikely pair. Alice is every inch the proper Victorian lady, from her pointy boots to her ankle and wrist length dresses with their many buttons. Her speech also reflects this: it’s clipped, proper, spare. Jake, with his jeans and rock and roll t-shirts, his swearing, his toothpick chewing, is your typical 60s Kansas boy. She’s mysterious and complex, he has no verbal filter and  wears his emotions on his sleeve. It works. Once he decides to befriend her (and more), he will not let her close him off, and his gentle persistence is crystallized for me in two images: one, when Jake is flying underneath Alice, face up to her, and another when he is walking ahead of her, backwards.

I really enjoyed reading this one, and Ms. Brook stays on my vanishingly small autobuy list. But there were a few things that didn’t work as well for me.

–One was the sex, of which there was almost none until the end of the book, a change from the fairly sizzling nature of the previous three installments (in fact, one of those erotic scenes made my personal top 9 most romantic sex scenes in romance). That was fine. I get that (a) Alice is not a sex kitten (she has “issues”), and (b) Alice and Jake have a few other things to worry about. SPOILER AHEAD–

But when they do finally get together, it was actually kind of wince inducing, and then he teleports away from her — to Kansas to work out some family issues, of all things —  the minute it’s over.

–A second was what I felt were two plot contrivances: (1)  Jake and Alice “accidentally” teleport to exactly the place the author needs them to to further the plot, and (2) the resolution felt slightly trickstery to me (see postscript query below)

–A third was the info dumping the reader is subjected to by a character they meet in a fiery place.

–And finally, there is so much going on — Jake and Alice both have fairly complex back stories (one of which becomes a front story), there’s the Bargain, there’s a whole host of other Guardian history stuff, that, in comparison to the other three Guardian books I read, the romance was shortchanged a bit. The book is only a bit over 300 pages, and while Jake and Alice were together for most of the book, they were often side by side rather than facing each other. I guess in a way that complaint is a compliment: it’s a testament to how much I liked them as a couple that I wanted more from these two.

Postscript plea: I also have a question about the resolution. Someone is fooled, and I cannot figure out how they could have been. Could someone email me at jessica@racyromancereviews.com. Thanks!

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Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 9:11 pm  Comments (10)  
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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Isn’t it hard to write reviews for her books? because there is so so much to talk about, plot, characters, writing, worldbuilding and it’s all so complex. I am struggling with mine as well.

    Jake has become my favorite of her heroes – his “journey” is so incredible from fuck-up in Demon Night to being a “real man” as you said….

    I had none of the problems you had though but maybe that’s my Meljean bias speaking, I simply adore her writing and her books.

    and…come to the blog tomorrow, she will be doing a guest post about her dorky inspirations for the book. It is an amazing piece.

    Great review, as usual, Jessica.

    what you say here: “and his gentle persistence is crystallized for me in two images: one, when Jake is flying underneath Alice, face up to her, and another when he is walking ahead of her, backwards.” is spot on making it clear how Meljean Brook’s book this rich imagery – the way she writes, it’s easy to SEE the scenes in your head. At least, for me.

  2. and I forgot to say – I heart the cover. LOL. It’s my favorite – the guy in the cover IS Jake for me.

  3. Ana,

    I can’t wait for your review and interview. I really enjoyed this one, and as I mention, Brook is an autobuy for me.

    This was me this weekend:
    –get paper cuts Friday tearing open the Amazon box with my fingers
    –bring it to the voting booth, and actually CURSE the short lines
    –cook Saturday dinner one handed while reading with the other (with apologies to Demon Bound for the orange stains it now sports)
    –join spousal unit for viewing of Atonement, but read the entire time. Did it end happily? I’ll never know.
    –get awakened in the wee hours of Sunday morning by noisy cat, and instead of the usual string of curses, look at the clock which reads 4:14 and think, “Hey I can get up and finish Demon Bound” and proceed to do exactly that!

  4. LOL, I know it all too well! Best part? You missed nothing on Atonement – Demon Bound is 100 times better! *wink*

  5. I don’t know what it is about WordPress but my laptop doesn’t seem to recognise updates for days on end. I looked at this blog yesterday and the last thing was the Linnea Sinclair review and now today 5 more posts pop up! I get this with Dear Author too….

  6. I had a horrible time writing my review for this book, too. I tried to keep it as spoiler free and short as possible, but I kept wanting to ramble on about the plot and Jake and the story arc and Jake and Alice and Jake. 😀

    It was a beautiful story, though, wasn’t it? I love that Meljean seems to just get better with each book.

    Did someone email you about the final resolution? I will if not. 😉

  7. Thanks, Holly, for filling me in! Tumperkin, I hope wordpress is not still giving you trouble.

  8. I love how Meljean slides little things in there about the characters such as how Jake died and how Alice’s husband thought she was hysterical and needed to be cured just because she wanted better sex with her husband.
    I can’t wait to see what Meljean does with Michael’s story!

  9. Katiebabs,

    Yes, I totally agree. It was amazing how Brook was able to weave in the history of Victorian attitudes towards sex and not have it seem like a history lesson.

    I also cannot wait for Michael’s story, although I always have some fear that this type of “long held back leader’s tale, the one we’ve all been waiting soooo long for” will not live up to expectations, a la Acheron (and indeed, could not).

    Thank you for visiting and commenting!

  10. I love the details to Ms. Brook’s writing. I think it’s what makes her writing really strong for me. I have really been enjoying this series and can’t wait to see what Meljean comes up with next.


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