As a reviewer, I try my best to not only express my own opinion of a book, but to describe it in a way that readers likely to feel differently will know what to expect. This seems especially necessary as the limits of the romance genre continue to be pushed, increasing the chances readers may encounter something that makes them uncomfortable. In the case of Vivi Anna’s Hell Kat, I’m going to be more blunt than usual. If you’re the kind of reader with very traditional notions of the way a woman is supposed to behave, this is probably not the book for you. If you’re uncomfortable with too much blood or violence, I would give it a pass. If you’re appalled by very explicit sex, including forced bondage and the heroine having sex with partners other than her romantic lead, you should probably stay away far from your nearest bookstore for a few months to avoid coming anywhere near this book.
Now that I’ve scared off the fainthearted, let me say to everyone else, you may find Hell Kat worth a look, especially if you like action-driven stories powered by a strong heroine. This is a fast, absorbing read I ripped through in a couple of hours, although there are some weaknesses, none of which have to do with anything mentioned above.
The post-apocalyptic world of the year 2275 is a harsh place where only the tough survive. Our heroine, Kat, works as a treasure hunter, scavenging for items she can sell to the local junk dealers. Her partner and lover is Damian, a young man whose freedom she bought from one such dealer. Together, they make a good team, personally and professionally. Then they learn that Hades, a rival treasure hunter, is going after the Monolith, a fabled item so valuable its sale could significantly change their lives. Determined not to let him beat her to it, Kat quickly makes plans to retrieve it first.
The dangerous quest will force them to travel to the Vanquished City, a distant spot at ground zero of the nuclear blast that destroyed the world two centuries earlier. They find a guide in the mysterious Darquiel, who says she’s seen things they can’t even imagine and who has secrets of her own. But Hades becomes a rival for Darquiel’s services, and Kat reluctantly agrees to join forces with him on the hunt. The foursome make their way across the bleak landscape and soon face the dangers and surprises waiting in this unknown territory.
The future world these characters inhabit is a hard one not meant for wimps. The same can be said of the book. Kat is a tough woman who’s more kickass than most heroines who claim that distinction. She’s strong both physically and mentally, with an iron will that’s exactly what she needs to survive in this cutthroat environment. She wears an eye patch, having lost an eye in a bar fight, and we see her go toe-to-toe with more than one opponent over the course of the story. At the same time, she’s no one-note cartoon. The author gives her believable human emotions that show different shades to the character, making her more real and empathetic without turning her into a wimp.
The level of sensuality goes far beyond burning, verging on outright Erotica. Not all of it worked for me, especially in the later stages, but it’s certainly never boring. This is a rip-roaring read that moves at a propulsive pace. At the same time, it’s not all sex and action. There are quieter character moments over the course of their journey that are well-placed to enrich the narrative without slowing it. I really liked Kat, Hades, and Damian. They’re all interesting personalities who are appealing because of their rough edges rather than in spite of them. The main relationship that develops here is between Kat and Hades, and I was sort of surprised at how effective it was. While it happens very fast, it actually is a persuasive love story. However, readers looking for a conventional happy ending will be left wanting. The relationship does reach a conclusion of sorts, but the ending is left open, likely for future stories to come.
This book is being published by Aphrodisia, Kensington’s new erotic romance imprint, and was previously released by the e-publisher eXtasy Books in 2004. I don’t know if it’s been changed at all from its electronic version, but at 220 trade-sized pages, this is a short book that certainly could, and really should, have been longer. Just about every aspect of the storyline and the characters could be developed with more depth, the writing could be sharper at times, and the climax is rather abrupt. The worldbuilding is sketchy and fuzzed out along the margins. I wanted to know more about this fascinating universe the author devised than is developed here. It was particularly annoying that the author chose to remain vague about what exactly the Monolith is. All the reader, and evidently the characters, knows is that it’s valuable, but I couldn’t help but want to know what it was that the characters were risking their lives for.
I also have to admit that the initial premise was so unusual and intriguing that it was somewhat disappointing when the story ventured into overly familiar paranormal territory. When Darquiel’s secret was revealed rather early on, it was kind of a letdown, as the story ultimately turned into a futuristic spin on something we’ve seen a lot of lately. But this version was at least different enough to make it somewhat interesting, and some of the other cool discoveries the characters make along their journey make up for it and kept me intrigued.
I’m not going to pretend Hell Kat is for everyone. The fainthearted are advised to steer clear. But readers made of stronger stuff who have a taste for tough characters, fast-paced action and plenty of sex will find them in abundance here. By the end, I wanted more of these characters and this world, and I mean that in the good way. Here’s hoping these characters get to live, fight, and love another day.