I finished Meljean Brook’s Demon Angel last night, and I agree wholeheartedly with Robin’s review and her grade. Here are some other thoughts about the book, most of them rather silly nitpicks and things I liked. I initially thought I’d stick all of this into the comments section of the review, but writing it sparked some other thoughts that I’d like to share with the audience-at-large. So here goes:
1. Brook snuck in an All Your Base joke in the book. Holy shit, I love this woman.
2. I was heartily sick of the word “arousal” by the end of the book. I never thought I’d be so happy to see the word “erection” in a book, but oh dear sweet lord I was heartily sick of Hugh’s never-ending pants-tenting arousal that I would’ve settled for ANY other euphemism, up to and including “purple-helmeted soldier of love” and “quivering arrow of passion.”
On a related note: the passion Hugh and Lilith felt for each other once they started bumping formerly-supernatural uglies was so constant, so over the top, so out-of-control that it felt…silly. There was an oppressive air of arousal (gaaah, that word!) that hung around them, and even in the midst of life and death events, they couldn’t stop thinking about each other’s fiddly bits. Really, at that point, I wanted to smack them a little for being Too Horny To Live.
3. Dorian Gray references = WIN. But then I’m an Oscar Wilde dork.
4. The dialogue was weirdly clunky in a lot of spots. I understood she was going for an archaic, old-fashioned feel with Hugh’s speech, but it only worked half the time.
5. This is perhaps the first instance in which I’ve read a book marketed as a romance novel that contains world-building on par with some of the best fantasy novels. There are all sorts of nifty details in here, such as the deal with Colin’s blood (and why he covers all his mirrors), the different realms of Hell and the ongoing civil war between Lucifer and Belial. I closed the book feeling impatient for more, but especially for Michael’s story and the Further Adventures of His Sword (in all senses of the word, heh heh).
6. As Robin noted in the review, Brook over-explains certain aspects of the story; as I read it, my fingers itched for a red pen to strip away the unnecessary sentences. This is a problem many romance novelists have, however, and I’m not sure if it’s a tendency in the authors themselves or if the editors are the ones pushing them to signal things like HAY GUYZ THEIR REALLY IN LURVE OK AND LOOK OMG HE’S CRYING NOW louder and ever louder.
7. Conversely, Brook doesn’t really spoonfeed the world-building, the plot or the setting. For example: I’ve never taken a class in English history, so my knowledge is fuzzy at best, but I managed to figure out from context that the very first part of the book concerned the events surrounding the Magna Carta and King John’s turbulent relationship with his barons, even though Brook never mentions either by name. That’s some serious skill there.
I also appreciated that Brook didn’t infodump as soon as some new aspect of the world showed up or some reference was made (though she came close a couple of times), and that she didn’t bother to over-explain the plot, such as how Our Daring Heroes managed to wriggle themselves out of the tangles of wagers and bargains they’d gotten themselves into.
I did e-mail Brook afterwards, asking her “OK, this one aspect confused me, and does it mean what I think it means?” and she wrote back and said “No, Lilith was doing THIS” and I was all “OH, that’s right, never mind then.” And Brook apologized for not being clear enough, but I brushed away the apology, because seriously, it was all quite clearly there; I’d just missed it because I wasn’t reading carefully enough.
And this got me thinking about how very lazy and impatient I’ve become as a romance reader. Romance novels do a lot of things really well, but they’re not particularly subtle, and many seem to assume that the reader knows little to nothing. Romances tend towards clarifying everything, which sometimes leads to awkward, infodumpy clumps or (sometimes this is worst of all) the ruin of a wonderful set-up or joke with over-explanation.
This difference was underscored recently when I re-read the beginning of Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth, one of my favorite books. (I love it so much, I gave it as a Valentine’s Day gift once, because hey, what’s more romantic than slavery, torture, death, insanity, social ruin, megalomania and bankruptcy?) The book proper begins:
The ship he meant was the Liverpool Merchant, Captain Saul Thurso, and he had never seen her, though she carried the seeds of all his dreams in her hold.
She carried death for the cotton broker who owned her, or so at least his son believed. For Erasmus Kemp it was always to seem that the ship had killed his father, and the thought poisoned his memories. Grief works its own perversions and betrayals; the shape of what we have lost is as subject to corruption as the mortal body, and Erasmus could never afterwards escape the idea that his father had been scenting his own death that drab afternoon in the timber yard on the banks of the Mersey when, amid colors of mud and saffron, he had lowered himself rather awkwardly down to sniff at the newly cut sections of mast for his ship. Not odours of embalmment, nothing sacramental; the reek of his own death.
Now that I’ve read the book three times, the introduction makes complete sense to me, but I remember feeling confused yet excited the first time I read the first chapter. Who were these people? How did the ship kill Erasmus’s father? How did all of this tie in with the introduction? But slowly, organically, the gaps were filled in, just as new mysteries sprang to fill their place and were in turn resolved.
Science fiction and fantasy do the same thing, too—good science fiction and fantasy, that is. I much prefer to figure out aspects of the alien culture from context rather than having somebody sit down and go “Oh, you know very well what the fibbertigoo is, young Snikersnak, but once again, I will explain to you what it does…” This sort of exposition style bothers me so much, it’s part of the reason I set down Sharon Shinn’s Mystic and Rider. It was truly a disappointment after the way she set up the world in the Samaria series, when she revealed the nature of the god Jovah over the course of three books and gave no real inkling in the first book as to what was really going on vs. what the settlers believed in.
But back to Demon Angel.
When I read Brook’s first foray into the Demon Angel universe, i.e., “Falling for Anthony,” I experienced moments of impatience. She’d introduce new terminology without explaining what she meant, and I’d feel mildly indignant. “The Doyen? Who’s that? And what the hell are the Scrolls?” I caught myself, though and realized that if I’d been reading any other sort of story, I’d have faith in the author and wait for her to show me what these things meant down the road. And Brook did. The explanations sometimes creaked and clanked instead of flowing smoothly, but it all worked out quite well.
Demon Angel utilizes a similar worldbuilding/storytelling method, but I knew what to expect and didn’t balk this time. One of the more consistent complaints I’ve heard about this book is that it’s confusing, but I didn’t find it that way until the very end, when I had difficulty keeping track of which parties had bargains and wagers with the other, not to mention the assorted possible outcomes. However, this wasn’t necessarily a flaw on Brook’s part; it was more a mark of how lazy I’d become as a reader. Demon Angel forced me to keep track of events a lot more closely than I normally do with a romance novel, and really, that’s a good thing.
So what do you think? Have you noticed a tendency towards impatience or laziness in yourself when you’re reading romance novels? Do you have different expectations regarding infodumpiness and the obliqueness with which information is delivered in romance vs. other genres? Do you hate being spoonfed, or does it peeve you when authors make references or quote bits of foreign text without bothering to explain them within the story itself?