Pros: Interesting premise
Cons: Poor pacing; plodding; stiff emotional content; romance reads like parody; SF material is out of place and ill-used
Rating: 1.5 out of 5
The Guardian Keys are women who act as liaisons and enforcers between worlds. They’re born with tattoos that indicate which world each one interacts with; they can teleport from place to place; and they have special powers to aid in their jobs.
Gillian has super-strength to help her deal with the demons, and despite being a famous socialite (apparently supernatural entities are attracted to people with temporal power, so wealth and fame are more useful to the Keys than inconvenient) really enjoys taking demons’ heads off with a big sword when she isn’t running charity events or attending balls. Unfortunately, just as she’s gearing up for a big charity to benefit the arts in schools, all Hell breaks loose—literally. Dark magic is affecting the portals. Jumpers from various worlds are raiding here and there, making off with all sorts of treasures. And the new demon king, Arath, is surprisingly human in appearance, extremely powerful, and very, very attractive.
At first I definitely enjoyed this book. It’s an interesting setup with an unusual look at high society. I could forgive the overly-talky approach (the first person narration by Gilly stops to lovingly describe everything even when she really should be interested in other things). I could forgive the designer name dropping since at least for once it wasn’t Jimmy Choo & Manolo what’s-his-face. If the rest of Candace Havens’s The Demon King and I had lived up to that beginning, it was headed for a potential rating of 3 or 4 out of 5. Instead it dropped—and kept on dropping.
First I noticed that any time things got emotional, they also became stiff and stilted—particularly in the dialogue department. Romantic or sensual moments with Arath read literally like a parody of a romance novel rather than a romance novel. Some of the emotions just didn’t ring true for the characters, either. For instance, Gilly is being interviewed on the phone about the death of a good friend, and uses the fact that she’s still sad and in mourning to throw the reporter off of his rather rude questions regarding the murder. Afterward she laughs about it, and it makes her seem like a manipulative, conniving bitch who doesn’t actually care about her friend’s death but only fakes it when convenient. Which doesn’t match up with previous depictions.
Let’s see if I can explain this next one without giving any big plot points away. Let’s just say that at one point a bad guy is using leverage to try to force Gillian to do something she doesn’t want to do. It seems completely out of character for her to even consider doing it, particularly given that it seems absolutely obvious that doing it won’t stop the bad guy from doing whatever he darn well pleases. What she does end up doing feels ridiculous and forced, present just for the sake of throwing a monkeywrench into the budding romance.
I also must register my disgust at an entire accent being reduced to replacing “the” with “zee”. Good grief, just use normal words and say that the reporters have a French accent. This approach is cartoonish at best.
The bad guys’ identity is obvious and their behavior is comically villainous. Their scheming and manipulating seems amateurish and silly.
Very nearly on a par with the stiff emotional content, however, is the handling of powers and gizmos—the genre stuff. It’s handled incredibly nebulously, carelessly, and haphazardly. There’s no feel of consistency—in genre (this book can’t seem to decide if it’s sci-fi, paranormal, or fantasy, and while it’s possible to carry that off—see also Nalini Singh and Shiloh Walker—it’s difficult, and Havens didn’t manage it) or in detail. Characters volunteer random abilities, powers, items, and spell effects as needed with no overarching logic to it. Need to stay up without sleeping? Oh, no problem, I’ve got an herbal concoction that’ll do that without side effects and it’ll keep you alert and energized too. Various Keys have supposedly been doing their jobs for centuries, yet the family’s so reliant on the gizmos their brother cooks up that I can’t begin to imagine past generations having held up without them.
Then, in several of the climactic battles, the characters casually pull out a weapon that they simply hadn’t bothered using up until then and easily mowed down a bunch of enemies. Now, as much as I loved Voltron when I was a kid, it didn’t take long to start wondering why the good guys never formed Voltron and used the big weapon until the end of the battle. The same goes here—there’s a lame attempt to convince us that the characters have never really used these experimental weapons before so are reluctant to pull them out. Problem #1: when your life is on the line, if you’ve got a weapon, you’re probably going to use it before someone you love gets cut down. Problem #2: no one in their right mind takes a weapon out into the field without testing and training with it first, at least not if they’ve had the time and opportunity to do so, and I didn’t see anything in here to preclude that.
I wanted to like this book. I really, really did, because it started off well. Unfortunately the proliferation of convenient abilities and weapons became ridiculous; the unwillingness to use the right weapon until the climactic moment wasn’t sufficiently set up; and the emotional content was so incredibly stiff and stilted that it made me roll my eyes at a large number of places.