Look up complex in the dictionary and one of the definitions will be “novels by Meljean Brook, esp the Guardian series.” Ms. Brook can also be found in the thesaurus under antonyms for “brain candy.” Hers are not the type of books that you read between phone calls or on your lunch break. Concentration is required and is well rewarded. Demon Marked is no exception, so get comfortable somewhere and be prepared to lose some sleep.
After three years of treatment – and scaring the heck out of the staff – at the mental institution where she’s been held, Ash escapes in order to find clues to her identity. All she knows about herself is that she is a total amnesiac, she suffers from “lack of affect”, meaning she’s emotionless, and that she greatly resembles a newspaper picture of a dead woman. Well, beside the fact that she’s tattooed from face to thigh with complicated sigils, her eyes can turn red, and sometimes her clothes simply disappear from her body. Her search leads her to the home of Nicholas St. Croix, the man implicated in the murder of the dead woman in the newspaper.
Nick has been waiting years to take revenge on the demon that killed his mother and stole her identity. She killed Nick’s father and made Nick’s childhood a misery, and then when Nick was grown, killed his girlfriend and set him up to take the fall for her murder. Nick’s spent the last several years learning how to identify demons and how to kill them. When Ash shows up at Nick’s former home he assumes that she is also a demon – if not the same one that took the place of his mother, then one that must be able to lead him in the right direction to get his revenge. Ash is certain that she’s not the demon who ruined Nick’s life, but otherwise has no idea of who or what she is, so she makes a bargain with Nick. Ash will help Nick avenge his parents and Nick will help Ash find out who she is.
First of all, don’t even try to read this book without reading at least some of the previous books in the series. The backstory is intricate and hugely important. While the major issues are explained somewhat, there are definitely assumptions about what the reader already knows. Important characters in Demon Marked are heroes from earlier books, whose actions would be baffling to someone not already introduced. Fans of the previous books will be glad to read that progress is made in the Michael/Taylor situation, treated as a secondary but very-confusing-to-a-newcomer plot in this book. Lilith’s hellhound, one of my favorite characters, has a major role here, also.
Not since Hugh and Lilith’s story in the first book has there been such a crazy romance. It’s pretty cockeyed, but I’ll try to explain a little. Since Nick believes that Ash is a demon, and since he knows demon behavior very well, he has to assume that Ash’s every word or action is questionable. If she admits to an emotion, he is certain that she’s lying because demons don’t have emotions, can only imitate them to fool humans into making a mistake that will lead them to a place in hell. Ash’s most innocent statement must be examined from all sides, else she could trip him up and make him vulnerable or weak or depressed, all demonic tools for destroying the human soul. This causes Ash, who, again, is not at all sure she’s a demon, to question her own motives. During the most benign conversation she’ll stop and wonder if she isn’t probing for weaknesses or trying to lead Nick astray somehow. The reader has to play close attention so as not to miss a second of their mental maneuverings. Somehow, even in the midst of all this back-and-forth, the author paints a believable and satisfying love story.
This is a huge book. Not in page length, but in action and occurrences, which leads to my one complaint. The denouement felt rushed. There was build up, build up, build up…then wham, it was over in a few sentences. One situation that I felt deserved more time was left unresolved, hopefully saved for the very next book. While I didn’t quite feel cheated, I found myself saying “wait, that was it?”