It’s tricky to review a book in a series you’ve followed as a reader since the beginning. I first read Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten in 2002, and it’s become one of my favorite novels. Sadly, Personal Demon, the 8th in Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, has only cemented something that has grown clearer for the last three books. This series is running out of steam.
Demon is narrated by Lucas, the hero of Dime Store Magic and Industrial Magic, and Hope, who was the narrator of an Armstrong short story. Interestingly, Lucas and Hope are not in a relationship. Hope’s hero is Karl Marsters (also a secondary character from previous books) but we never hear from him, which is sad. Karl is an intricate character, and I would have liked a visit to his point of view.
Hope is an Expisco demon, the rarest order, and an agent for the Supernatural council. She both senses and craves chaos – whether it be in a person’s darkest thoughts or as visions when in contact with a place where chaotic things happened. During a council mission not that long ago, Hope met Karl Marsters, a werewolf, and they both got into some trouble. Trouble that they were rescued from by Benicio Cortez, leader of the Cortez Cabal, Lucas’s father, and someone who doesn’t give favors freely. In order to repay that debt, Hope agrees to go undercover in a supernatural gang in Miami that’s been causing the Cabal some trouble and is drawn to some of its members who experience the same feelings of loss and isolation that she did growing up. After she joins, someone starts systematically killing off the gang members, and Hope begins to fear that she’s unwittingly aiding the gang members’ untimely demises.
A host of secondary characters from previous novels show up in this novel, and readers who aren’t familiar with Armstrong’s previous works will not be able to follow the ins and outs, nor the tensions that arise as Lucas returns to the family fold.
Using Lucas as a narrator instead of Karl helps move the series story arc forward significantly, but it also creates distance between the reader and the romantic sub-plot. By not using Karl as a narrator, I was in the same position as Hope – having to take what he said on faith, and hoping that he meant it. So, as a reader, I was reserved. Sure, I hope the love story will work out, but I don’t really believe in it.
The Otherworld world might be developing in an interesting manner, but I think that Armstrong is finding it hard to find the balance between the Urban Fantasy world and the Romance world. Because I’m such a fan of her love stories, I’m not mollified by a developing fantasy plot. The emotional depth and strong characterization, the intensity and sly humor that I loved so much in Armstrong’s earlier novels just don’t show up here. Add to that an eye-rolling denouement, and you’ve got a C read from a DIK author.