Sometimes the problem with a great beginning is that the rest of the book has trouble living up to it. Such is the case with Meljean Brook’s debut single-title Demon Angel. The first few chapters had me eagerly turning the pages, hungry for more. But a number of weaknesses gradually lowered my impression of this frequently engrossing, but imperfect, paranormal romance.
The book is divided into two parts. The first is essentially a 100-page prologue setting up the second. In 1219, a young knight named Hugh meets Lilith, a scandalously seductive noblewoman who seems to take pleasure in playing with his obvious attraction toward her. He doesn’t know that she’s actually a demon whose mission is to sow discontent between Hugh’s master and his new bride. Hugh himself is an integral part of her plan, but her own increasingly personal feelings for him might just put that plan in jeopardy.
This was easily my favorite part of the book. It kind of felt like a reverse Anne Stuart story, with a wicked, amoral heroine tempting the upright, virginal hero. Both are strong, compelling characters. The subject matter is deliciously dark, the banter is highly entertaining, and the sexual chemistry between the characters is thoroughly convincing.
Without giving too much away, the storyline eventually results in Hugh’s transformation into a supernatural creature as well. The rest of Part One speeds through the next several centuries, showing brief glimpses of their encounters over the years. This was the book’s first misstep. Part One builds to a climax that is dependent on what happened to and between the characters in those intervening years. In fact, much of the basis of their relationship in Part Two developed during this time. So to have the author basically give the reader the Cliff Notes version of this integral part of the story, skimming through the highlights without giving enough of the meat of it, felt like a letdown.
Part Two picks up in 2007, when Hugh and Lilith’s paths cross once more. He is now human again, living as an English professor at a university in San Francisco. Her current cover is as an FBI agent, which allows her to investigate crimes involving evil forces humans don’t know about. When several of his students go missing, Hugh becomes the prime suspect. He and Lilith both know there’s something much more evil at work, especially when one of the missing students turns up dead with demonic symbols written on his body.
The nosferatu, fallen angels cursed with a thirst for blood and intolerance for daylight, seem to be responsible. First they went after their spawn, the vampires (didn’t think there could be a paranormal romance without them, did you?). Now they’re going after humans, seemingly with the permission of someone in hell. With the futures of heaven and hell on the line, Hugh and Lilith may be the only ones who can make sure good wins in the end. But their own tortured relationship, Lilith’s orders to kill him, and several other complications raise the stakes and the odds against them.
This is an imaginative tale from an author who clearly has put a great deal of thought into developing a complex universe. On the other hand, she doesn’t always do the best job explaining that world to the reader, and some aspects feel vague or muddled. This may be why, while I was always engaged in the character drama between Hugh and Lilith, the larger plot involving the nosferatu and internal politics in hell was never as compelling. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t always maintain a good balance between the romantic and external plots, with the nosferatu/hell plot too easy to forget about at times. In addition, Brook has a strong voice, but occasionally in the action scenes her prose is a little too terse, not always describing everything with the most clarity.
The story moves quickly, with a number of juicy twists and dramatic developments along the way. At more than four hundred pages, this is no short read, but those pages flew by. The secondary cast is populated with an interesting and diverse group of characters (my favorite being Lilith’s dog, although calling him a mere dog may be too much of an understatement). However, none of them are developed very much, coming across as one- or two-dimensional. The possible exception is Colin, a vampire Hugh and Lilith have known for centuries, probably because he’s being set up for his own story in Brook’s follow-up, Demon Moon.
Demon Angel is an uneven, but entertaining read, good enough for a recommendation with reservations. It’s consistently intriguing and often fascinating, and I did like the main couple, especially the dark, strong, conflicted heroine. If the weaknesses in the execution kept the book from living up to that terrific beginning, the story itself still made for a pretty good read.