Title: Demon Angel
Author: Meljean Brook
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Stand Alone or Series: Book 2 of The Guardians series (although each book can be read as a stand alone volume)
Summary: (from meljeanbrook.com)
For two thousand years, Lilith wrought vengeance upon the evil and the damned, gathering souls for her father’s armies Below and proving her fealty to her Underworld liege. Bound by a bargain with the devil and forbidden to feel pleasure, she draws upon her dark powers and serpentine grace to lead men into temptation. That is, until she faces her greatest temptation—Heaven’s own Sir Hugh Castleford…
Once a knight and now a Guardian, Hugh spent centuries battling demons—and the cursed, blood-drinking nosferatu. His purpose has always been to thwart the demon Lilith, even as he battles his treacherous hunger for her. But when a deadly alliance unleashes a threat to both humans and Guardians in modern-day San Francisco, angel and demon must fight together against unholy evil—and against a desire that has been too long denied…
Who will be the first to succumb?
Why did I read this book: Ana is infatuated with The Guardians series (see her review of Demon Angel here), and has been imploring me to read this one for some time now. After a wonderful, witty interview with the fabulous Meljean Brook, I knew that it was time to bust this one off the shelf, and give it a thorough read!
I have to apologize in advance—this is going to be something of an essay. Please, bear with me! (or feel free to skip down, that’s ok too)
I was hesitant to read this book for a number of reasons, despite Ana’s emphatic recommendation and high praise. First and foremost, my encounters with paranormal romance books have been disastrous at best—having read and been less than impressed with books 1&2 of Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, I was dragging my feet with Demon Angel. Plus…I’m not crazy about the cover. But, “meeting” Meljean through her comments here and reading her blog, and then after the recent interview we had with her, I knew it was time to delve into the book. (I mean, a DC fangirl that shares the love for movies such as Willow, Labyrinth, The Goonies, Basket Case 2, links to a Wolverine-Jubilee fansite on her blog, AND has a kickass picture kissing R2-D2? What choice did I have?!)
And I am fully pleased to announce that I was not disappointed. Demon Angel is beyond a doubt the best paranormal romance that I have read.
But more than that—I feel like it kind of does the book a disservice to simply slap on the “PR” label and leave it at that. As Ana has said before me, this truly is an all-encompassing work that draws heavily on theology and literature, features breathtaking world building, strong complex characters, with an original ‘spin’ on the whole good/evil dichotomy. Truly…I’m awestruck. In my admittedly limited experience with paranormal romances, the common thread has been some crazy sexual animal attraction from the very beginning of the book, often involving some sort of blatant one true mate scenario (which is rejected for whatever reason—he’s Fey and she’s human/he’s a vampire and she’s valkyrie/and so on and so forth). I have to admit, this is what I was expecting here—an Angel and a Demon fall desperately in love on page 10 and spend the subsequent chapters resisting the electric, sexual attraction until finally getting down and dirty and living Happily Ever After.
Not so, with Demon Angel.
PART I: The book opens in 1217, Essex, England. A young, seventeen year old knight named Hugh Castleford is escorting his countess, Lady Isabel, to Fordham Castle on a dreary, foggy night—when the party sees an ominous figure in scarlet rise out in the mist. Hugh, aka Sir Pup, is dispatched to check ahead for thieves and bandits (though this is mostly a show for the fair Isabel and her maids in waiting), at the chuckles and encouragement of the other knights, including his mentor Sir Georges. So, the young, brave, noble Sir Pup takes off to thwart the imaginary villains—only to come across his Lord D’Aulnoy’s seneschal, bound, naked and blindfolded. And then there is the woman—in her fine scarlet cloak and dress, she surprises Hugh. While the woman is not beautiful (though she boasts a “fine pair of bubbies”), Hugh is drawn to her. She bargains with the young Knight—Hugh asks for the woman’s name (not what she is called by, but her true name). She replies, “Lilith.”
And thus, a relationship 800 years in the making is born.
Lilith, set on destroying as many lives as possible at Fordham Castle, sees the naive affection Hugh has for his Lady Isabel, and also notices that while the countess is virtuous, she is much younger than her Lord. She sets upon her manipulative scheme to break all three souls to her ends. And yet…Hugh inexplicably attracts Lilith. She cannot help but marvel at his beauty and his brashness—and she is taken in by his resistance to her own lies and schemes.
Hugh soon discovers that Lilith is not some idle noble lady, but is in fact a demon—and he comes by this information from none other than Sir Georges; that is, the legendary George who staid the dragon in the Second Battle between the Seraphim and the Demons, he who is now known as the Guardian Michael (the Doyen, the first and most powerful of his kind). Hugh is devout, and unyielding in his beliefs and morals—he even does not believe Georges’ heresy (for the story of mortals becoming like angels and assuming the role of the Guardians is indeed blasphemous) until Georges shows Hugh his true form as Michael, obsidian eyes flashing brilliantly, black wings and toga in all its beautiful, terrible glory.
“The Fall of the Rebel Angels” by Peter Breughel the Elder
Despite this knowledge, Hugh cannot leave Lilith be—even after he sees her true form as a demon, with her horns and crimson skin and burning embers for eyes, he cannot help but feel for her because of her strength and wit, and her wicked tongue. When Lilith’s schemes come to fruition, Hugh manages to outsmart the demon and sacrifices his own life to save his Lady and Lord…and Lilith cannot let the noble fool die. She tries to save Hugh with her forbidden form, but cannot complete the task—but Michael is able to take Hugh as his own, and Hugh becomes a Guardian. Lilith is severely punished for her actions on Earth (and when I say severely, I MEAN severely); but is released from her torture in the Pit of Hell eventually. For the next 800 years, Lilith and Hugh continue to meet, to debate, and to battle. Always Lilith tempts Hugh, bargaining and stealing kisses, always ending in a clash of blades. And always, Hugh vows that he will find a way to save her (even though she does not care to be saved).
After so many centuries of fighting, however, Hugh no longer believes that there is a place for Guardians in the world—he grows tired of the inability to mete out justice or intervene, and he chooses to Fall. Before he does, however, he meets Lilith one final time and kills her, trying to release her from Lucifer’s cruel service.
This is merely the first part of the book—the prologue, if you will. Already, 100 pages into the book, I found myself incredibly impressed with Meljean’s imagined world, and the complexity of issues she had begun to tackle. This is something I look for in my most beloved fantasy novels—and certainly not something I expected to find in a paranormal romance (not to knock the genre—I hardly expect to find this level of provocation in Urban Fantasy or Horror or even most modern fancyshmancy literary fiction)!
In the second portion of the book, where the meat and potatoes of the plot really is, readers learn that Lilith is not dead at all—she is working as an FBI agent, and she has a new case involving a growing legion of nosferatu in San Francisco. **Not to be confused with vampires, the nosferatu are those Angels who did not choose a side when Morningstar defected from Heaven above; as punishment, they became creatures ruled by bloodlust and hunted by both Guardians and Demons alike for their lukewarm-ness in the First Battle. Vampires also suffer from bloodlust, but not always; they are able to slake that thirst through daily feeding.** Since his fall sixteen years prior, Hugh has become a university professor, also in the city of San Francisco. Unfortunately for Hugh, the string of murders caused by the nosferatu is being manufactured to look as though he is the guilty party.
Once again, Lilith and Hugh’s paths intertwine.
Since Lilith’s death, Lucifer has stripped her of her shapeshifting abilities (save the ability to change into her demon form), and as punishment forces her to wear her former human face—Lilith is no ordinary demon, but a Halfling, and the last of her kind. This knowledge explains a lot about Lilith–why she FEELS certain emotions, why she feels pleasure and lust with Hugh. In The Guardians universe, Demons cannot feel sexual pleasure–in a departure from the standard sex demon sort of trappings, it is the Guardians’ home of Caelum that is the lovefest, where lust and pleasure are not frowned upon as machinations of evil; and in Hell below, Demons derive no pleasure from sex (although they can have sex and use it to their own ends).
After more bargains, lies and deals, Lilith and Hugh must work together to unravel the complex mystery of the rising nosferatu, and the implications this will have on both Hell and Caelum.
On the plot and themes:
Needless to say, the plot is incredibly complex and intricate, as is Meljean’s created universe. The system of rules created here are clear and reverberate in every chapter of this book, in every dialogue: Free Will is always to be respected, and cannot be impeded by either Guardian or Demon. As Michael says, ” ‘Free will and life are the two gifts bestowed upon humanity which may not be compromised…And as few men will bring injury upon themselves, the demons could not hurt them.’ “
While this sounds simple and fairly straightforward, numerous drawbacks and benefits to this one rule are examined at length in Demon Angel. While this means that a Demon absolutely cannot enslave or torture or harm or force a human into anything they do not specifically want, they are free to manipulate and influence humans, turning their own thoughts/desires/perceptions against them. Similarly, while Guardians can protect humans from any creature that would seek to harm their free will, they cannot intervene when a human decides to murder/harm/torture another. Hugh feels desperation and impotence in the face of Vlad the Impaler and his atrocities, but he cannot intervene. In the period shortly before the American Civil War, Lilith tries to manipulate an adolescent slave into killing the female master that abuses him and his mother–while Hugh tries to shield the boy from her influence:
“If he kills her, he will have a noose around his neck and his mother would still suffer–perhaps still beaten and sold. That is not justice.” [said Hugh]
“And what is your alternative?” [said Lilith]
His fists clenched; his mouth hardened, and she briefly felt his psychic despair before he closed his mind to her.
It was answer enough: there was nothing.
And this is no isolated incident–the concept of Free Will and the effects this has on both Demons and Guardians is examined at length throughout the book. It became apparent to me from the very first chapter that Meljean Brook has done her homework and is incredibly well read. The concepts of Free Will and the hierarchy/politics of Demons, the influence of works like Milton’s Paradise Lost or influences like Doctor Faustus and “The Garden of Earthly Delights” are omnipresent; even the name of our heroine, Lilith, is cleverly chosen as she is a Demon that gets around–from her presence in the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh to the Dead Sea Scrolls, to the Faust legend (where Lilith is Adam’s first wife, as in other traditions), etc.
“The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch
Similarly, the concept of bargaining, of the twisted and very precise nature of deals that the Demons strike–Lilith and Lucifer in particular–are dizzying, and marvelously crafted. This theme of bargaining runs strong throughout the book and plays an integral part to the plot–especially in the ultimate outcome with the final bargain struck between Lucifer and Michael concerning Hell and Caelum. When you hear the phrase, to “deal with the devil”, the sinister, diabolical plots dreamed up here in Demon Angel are a perfect fit. Again, I’m awestruck by the level of detail and the detailed planning this must have taken Meljean to construct.
On the world building:
On a word building scale, in terms of originality and thoroughness, I would give a perfect 10. Not only is the history of Demons and the Guardians wonderful in its strong drawings on the older works of Milton (and Marlowe, and Donne, and many others) and the newer sensibilities of say Neil Gaiman a la The Sandman and Good Omens (as Ana has pointed out before me), but it is the application of these concepts in a unique universe with changes to the traditional lore (involving Caelum, the missing seraphim, the nosferatu, the Doyen, his sword) that makes this completely Meljean’s own creation–and a brilliant one at that. **on a side note my bf was an English major when we were in university together, and I frequently sat in during his classes and helped him with organizing/editing his papers; otherwise I would have no knowledge of any of this, I’m much more of a contemporary history type of gal**
On the Characters:
“Lilith” by John Collier
I adore Lilith. Have a huge girl crush on Lilith. Heck, have a huge girl crush on Meljean for WRITING Lilith this way.
As a demon over 2000 years old, Lilith is, necessarily, a badass. She’s a liar, a seductress, a crafty bargainer, and a wicked fighter. She’s a manipulative bitch and she’s also completely unapologetic for anything that she has done in the past, and will do whatever she needs to in order to pursue her own ends. The whole first portion of the book, with Hugh trying to ‘save her’ and Lilith’s continued snark at his attempts owns me. Usually I have a low tolerance for nasty badass female characters–but that is because they are often written badly, with no reason for their PMSy attitudes, or their snark comes off as cheeseball. Not so with Lilith. As the last of her kind, daughter of Lucifer, and over 2000 years old, Lilith is entitled to being a nasty beeyotch if she wants to be–and what’s more than that, she is cruel and provokes people because, hey, she’s a demon! That’s how she’s supposed to be!
I love that Lilith looks the part as a demon too–complete with horns, scales, wings, the forked tongue, crimson eyes and skin…the whole shebang.
I love that we are given glimpses of Lilith’s inner dialogue, of her stubborn humanity’s continued mutinous attempts to surface, and how she struggles to keep it apart from her.
But most of all, I love that even when Lilith and Hugh are together, she is still a liar and she still is cruel…she doesn’t transform into some good hearted ninny that has been enslaved in her demonic exterior waiting for her prince to rescue her.
On the flip side, there’s Hugh. In comparison to Lilith’s vivacity, Hugh is kind of ho-hum. Don’t get me wrong–he’s a wonderful, idyllic hero. Everything a girl could want (hot, rippling abs, noble, good hearted, etc). It’s in his nature to be so damn GOOD; he was a Guardian for 800 years. And he does have his moments–in his first encounter with Lilith in her true form back in 1217, for example, Hugh’s brazen attitude and his ability to stand up to Lilith was brilliant. However, Hugh’s a bit too little-goody-two-shoes for my tastes. With a serious martyr complex.
But that’s just my opinion of course–I am pretty sure many readers will find Hugh to be the complete package.
The secondary characters were all good fun, but as in most books, the Evil guys are always so much more interesting than the Good guys. Lucifer, in his mild mannered appearance and encounters with Lilith were awesome (see his nasty punishments for his daughter–not just the physical dismemberments, but also his brand of emotional torture). Err, well, awesome in an evil way. You know what I mean.
Similarly, the characters of Colin the vain and self absorbed but ever so witty vampire, and dear loveable Sir Pup (hellhound, child of Cerberus) were fantastic. NOW I see what all the obsession with this “Sir Pup” is! I want one. There are a number of characters that are introduced (Savitri, a few other Guardians, the investigators on the case, Belial, a few other minor demons) that we get a little taste of, and I am excited to see more of them in the next novels to come!
On the Romance…
What can I say other than it was pretty damn good? Even if Hugh isn’t exactly my favorite as a stand alone character, he is the only guy who could ever be with Lilith and earn her affections. Even if I don’t *like* the character, he is who he is–and the romance works brilliantly because of these characters. The romance here is an integral part of the story–not because these two are ‘meant to be’ (HAH! This is the polar opposite of a destined onetruemate story), but because they inexplicably NEED each other.
There is a good smattering of sexual tension throughout the book, but the actual sex doesn’t happen until much later in the story (but never fear, it is well worth the wait!).
So…what’s the verdict?
This is a wonderful book. The universe creation, complete with lore and intricate back story, is awesome–as I said before, a perfect 10 in my book. The only real drawback to Demon Angel, I felt was in some of the plotting, and in the execution. While the universe was superbly imagined and the characters well realized, the only element to suffer a bit was the plotting. The middle portion felt a bit draggy at times–but considering the broad scope of the book (I mean, heck it covers 800 years, introduces a whole new detailed mythology), perhaps this is to be expected. I also felt that for some situations (particularly the climax, and Lilith’s resolution at the end of the novel), I could see what Meljean intended, but it didn’t translate that well onto the page.
My only other gripe is that this book feels like the opening to an epic, and I actually found myself not wanting a Happy Ever After *gasps* It’s the masochist in me, I guess, but I felt that the impossible situation that Lilith and Hugh are in by the end of the novel should not have been resolved so quickly! (In an email to Ana after finishing this book, I said that this is kinda like if Juliet woke up five minutes earlier and she and Romeo moved to the Bahamas to live happily ever after on the beach sipping Mai Tais). The resolution, in my opinion, felt out of place with the high stakes and dark tone to the book, and I wanted a darker ending…but of course, to be continued in the next book. Then again, I understand that the nature of this genre is that each character/couple gets a single book devoted to them, and then the next volume moves on to focus on someone else. I think the reason I love urban fantasy/fantasy so much is because you get to know your characters intimately as it’s not a ‘one and done’ situation for them; I love finishing one book but knowing there’s another adventure for my favorite character right around the corner. Is it wrong to want more Lilith and Hugh? I wanna read more about them and their story, and not anyone else’s!
Although, the good thing is, Ana tells me that the ending implications from this book are carried on to the next, and the overall plot is continuous, even if the characters change…which is very reassuring for me.
With these minor gripes aside, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book! Demon Angel is by no means an easy or quick read; but again, as Ana said in her review, it is a rewarding one. And, with those assurances of an overarching plot, I *will* be reading the next few in the series!
Notable Quotes/Parts: Two quotes from my two favorite characters:
” ‘We should speak,’ Colin said quickly.
‘Of things past? I think not.’
‘Things past have a way of presenting themselves in the present.’ He paused, and his voice lightened. ‘Well, that was a bloody awkward way of saying: I have much to tell you.'” –Colin the vampire, in a phone conversation with Hugh
“There was a wicked tilt to her lips as she finally turned to glance at the hellhound. ‘Don’t eat his pussy.'” –Lilith, to her hellhound Sir Pup regarding Hugh’s cat
Additional Thoughts: With regards to the world building and the mythos created here, and to be continued throughout The Guardians series, while I absolutely loved it, and I loved rushing online, back and forth between the page and online resources to figure out exactly how everything worked in this universe–I also know that I am a freak when it comes to fangirl minutia (see: LOST obsession and secret career as a theoryslut). Some new readers might not be comfortable/find themselves lost with all the details–and to assuage any fears, Meljean’s website is a fantastic resource to clear up any confusion.
Verdict: What else can I say? I loved the world building and the clever characters–especially Lilith, I give them top marks! I do think there were some minor issues with plot and pacing of the book, but overall this is a definite keeper. It’s one of those books that gets better the more you think about it. Easily the best paranormal romance book I have ever read. I will definitely be picking up the next books in the series!
Rating: 8 Excellent (Can I do an 8.5 here? No?)
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