The Fallen: Demon
Pocket, May 31, 2011, $7.99 (print and digital)
Once the Fallen’s fearless ruler, a grieving Azazel must find the legendary siren meant to take his lost lover’s place...and kill her.
He’s a devil of an angel.
Azazel should have extinguished the deadly Lilith when he had the chance. Now, faced with a prophecy that will force him to betray the memory of his one true love and wed the Demon Queen, he cannot end her life until she leads him to Lucifer. Finding the First is the Fallen’s only hope for protecting mankind from Uriel’s destruction, but Azazel knows that ignoring his simmering desire for the Lilith will be almost as impossible.
She’s an angel of a demon.
Rachel Fitzpatrick wonders how Azazel could confuse her with an evil seductress. She’s never even been interested in sex! At least not before she set eyes on her breathtaking captor. And now she can’t think about anything else—besides escape.
Angels and demons don’t mix.
Rachel stirs a carnal need in Azazel that he never thought he’d feel again. Falling for a demon—even if she has no idea she’s the Lilith—means surrendering his very soul. But if he lets her go, he risks abandoning his heart, his dangerous lover, and possibly all of humanity, to Uriel’s deadly wrath.
[Oh, is that all?...]
I need to get this out of the way first: I think Anne Stuart, a.k.a. Kristina Douglas, is awesome. Four of her books sit on my all-time keeper shelf, and what I notice more and more is that as her heroes go farther in skirting the edge or going over it in terms of acceptable behavior, the more I seem to love it. She skirted the edge of it with her heroes in the four that I read of her five-book Ice series, and she took them over it in her 2010 historical House of Rohan series, culminating with possibly the biggest prick in my experience reading romance: Lucien De Malheur, the ’hero’ in Breathless. So I had high expectations for Demon, the second in her Fallen series written under the pseudonym Kristina Douglas. Demon will not be joining Breathless, Ice Storm, A Rose at Midnight, and To Love a Dark Lord on my all-time keeper shelf because I’m stingy when it comes to annointing books and it’s nowhere near her best work, but it offered plenty of nougaty goodness nonetheless. I’ll focus on two nougats.
1) The book features the demonic elements I’ve found increasingly important to my urban fantasy/urban fantasy romance reading, although as yet there’s not an apocalypse in sight. Douglas deviates from Biblical theology in terms of the Nephilim and the Fallen Angels (my memory of the archangel Michael, for instance, is that he led God’s army against Satan; in Douglas’ series he’s one of the Fallen), but hews to it when describing Lilith, Adam’s first mate, because she addresses all of Lilith’s contradictions. Just last year I watched the Naked Archaeologist’s Lilith episode, and much of what Douglas includes in her story—such as the reason she left Adam (he wouldn’t let her be on top during sex, hence the missionary position) and the patriarchal views that perhaps led to her being quite literally demonized in the Bible, are featured in Simcha Jacobivici’s exploration of her. Below is an excerpt from that particular episode.
The “modern” notion of Lilith as a succubus, draining the essence of men, and as a killer of children, began to develop way back in the 8th century. Early in Demon, Rachel instinctively knows it’s time to skip town when her friend’s baby has trouble breathing and lands in the hospital. If she stays, for some reason the baby will die, along with scores of other babies. It’s happened before, and the only thing that stops the cycle is for her to pull up stakes and move on. Later, after Azazel tells her that she is none other than the Lilith herself, she beings to have vague recollections of her past that don’t quite gibe with the demonic view of Lilith as baby-killer:
I could feel the children, the babies, in my arms. Sweet newborns, sleeping toddlers, helpless infants wrapped in my gentle, protective arms and smiling up at me. I would coo at them, tickle them under the chin, kiss their soft, sweet foreheads and tiny noses, and breath in the baby smell of them.
And I would carry them, oh so carefully, to the same place on the mountaintop, and hand them over into the waiting arms of the mother goddess who had many names, and in my dreams I wept for them, the tears that were denied me in life.
I hadn’t killed them, smothered them, stolen their breath. The cruelty and nature of an unreachable god had done that. I had merely been there to comfort them, sing to them, bring them home to the mother goddess until they were ready to be reborn again, this time living out a full life.
Reading from Lilith’s perspective in Douglas’ book reminded me of a short story Neil Gaiman wrote for the Comic Book Defense Fund many, many years ago. Snow, Glass, & Apples retells Snow White from the wicked step-mother’s point of view, at one time was available as a free online read, but now it’s only available in his short story compiliation Smoke and Mirrors. When I interviewed the author way back in 1999, I asked him about it. Here’s what he said:
I was lying in the bath with a book edited by Neil Phillip, called the Penguin Book of English Folktales, which is a collection of about a hundred Gaelic legends, and I was surprised because they presented some stories in ways I hadn’t read them before. One was the original English re-telling of Snow White. In the English telling of Snow White it’s made very, very explicit that Snow White ages when she’s under the witch’s spell in the glass coffin. She ages from being a girl to coming into her sexual bloom in the coffin in this old folk story. And all of a sudden I had the idea.
An author once said that you can look at something 999 times and not see it, but if you at it the thousandth time, you run the risk of seeing it. All of a sudden I saw it. There was this moment when I said to myself, “What kind of prince sees a corpse in a glass coffin and says, ’Oh boy, I’m in love, I’m gonna have her, I’m taking her back home with me.’?” This is seriously kinky. This is rather depraved. Having thought that, I thought well, what kind of young lady can you put in a coffin with skin as white as snow, lips as read as blood, and hair as black as coal for a couple of years who isn’t gonna die?
Once I thought that through, the entire story was there. And I got to tell this sort of monstrous story of this little vampire Snow White and this necropheliac prince and this poor woman, possibly not quite as blameless as she makes out, but is, certainly maligned by history. And so I told the story from the point of view of the wicked witch. It was a delight.
The playing around with ethics and morals that are inherent in Lilith’s biblical story features heavily in other ways in Demon. I imagine it might not go down so well with evangelicals, but then, I doubt they are the intended readershp of this series. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but Good and Bad are shaken around like flakes in a snow globe, particularly in the last part of the book. Douglas weaves into her narrative compellingly and imaginatively the negative results of going too far in the name of religious righteousness. Can I hear an Amen?
2) One of the things I loved about Bastien, the hero in Black Ice, was that he, like the heroes in Ice Storm and Breathless, remained true to himself throughout his story. In most romances, if somebody plays chicken with the heroine’s life, the hero stops it before it gets very ugly. Azazel, like Bastien before him, does not; both allow their heroines to be brutalized before rescuing them. It’s not that I’m advocating violence, just appreciating the fact that these are dark characters with darkness inside them that is not easily set aside. To take a dark character and “reform” him too much would be to neuter him and change the essence of what and who he is. Anne Stuart/Kristina Douglas realizes this, and that’s one of the things that sets her apart from most other romance authors.
Bastien acts as a double agent In Black Ice. Early on, while in the company of the story’s baddies, he believes Chloe, the heroine, might be a spy, and sexually asserts himself over her in a room sure to have cameras trained on them. Later, in order to protect his cover, he leaves her to a man who will torture and kill her because to Bastien she’s nothing more than collateral damage. He returns to the scene of the crime in the middle of Chloe’s torture, and does nothing, although he eventually rescues her. Most heroes, though, would have taken action far sooner, if not found a way to subvert the situation entirely.
In Demon there’s a scene faily early on in which Azazel drives Rachel out to an isolated location in the middle of East Bumfuck, Australia, chains her to a chair, and leaves her for the Nephilim to devour. After having driven away he has second thoughts and rescues her. Later in the story, though, he actually goes Bastien one better. Immediately after fucking Rachael against a wall in the Dark City, Azazel turns her over to the untender mercies of the vicious Nightmen so she can be handed off to the Truth Breakers, who will torture her for information stored deep in her subconscious. He does so with the full realization that she won’t be strong enough to survive the experience. Indeed, by the time he rescues her hours and hours later, she’s nearly dead.
Unfortunately, when it comes time to confessing that he was her eventual savior, he balks. His “in for a penny, in for a pound” thinking—since she already thinks the worst of him, why bother setting the record straight?—seemed copied straight from the “nobility” page of the Hero Handbook of Romancelandia. I hate when that happens!
Whether or not the already crowded field of urban fantasy romance needs another series, Kristina Douglas does the sub-genre as you’d expect Anne Stuart would, with sardonic humor and characters who make no apologies for themselves. Rachel and Azazel are at their most revealing in bleak situations and in romantic ones, and the story’s skewed theology will appeal to those, like me, who find fascination in religious history.
For more about this book, visit www.kristinadouglas.com.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.