Book Review

Working for the Devil by Lilith Saintcrow

B-

Title: Working for the Devil
Author: Lilith Saintcrow
Publication Info: Warner Books 2006
ISBN: 0446616702
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Working for the Devil; or, The Hades Bunch

Here’s the story of girl named Dante
A necromance, she could talk to all the dead.
She was sent to school where she was beaten,
Which fucked her in the head.

Here’s the story of Jaf the demon
An assassin, he killed demons for his boss;
Then one day, the Egg, it came up missing
Which made the Devil cross.

Satan figured out the culprit was Santino—
Demon used to kill psionics just for fun.
Gave Dante Jaf to use as her familiar,
That’s the way they started on this bounty hunt.

A bounty hunt, a bounty hunt,
With some friends, Jaf and Dante on a hunt.

Protracted spoiler-filled discussion between Sarah and me below the fold, O Readers.

Candy: Working for the Devil is much more polished than Dark Watchers, which was the first book of Saintcrow’s that I read and reviewed—and funnily enough, the hero of that book was named Dante, too. Ultimately, Working for the Devil was too flawed a read for me to give it anything more than a B-. Why? Mostly because Dante got on my tits too much. It’s not that I didn’t like her, because I don’t have to like somebody in order to read about them—or even root for them (witness my love of the Flashman novels). Mostly, it was because I didn’t find her convincing as a bad-ass warrior and martial artist, and here’s why:

She’s too angry.

No, more than that, she’s utterly lacking in any sort of calm. She keeps making assumptions and turning into Berserker Woman Who Will CUT CHOO LIKE A PIG, BITCH. Now, that could work to keep her alive for a while—a good long while, even, especially if you have the psi advantages Dante does—but I don’t buy that she can be THAT GOOD. The best martial artists learn to work with their surroundings and to go with the flow. One of the cornerstones is striving for clearheadedness—and Dante is anything but. She’s a royal mess, and she spends all the book literally in knots from stress and fucked-up headspace issues.

I mean, I can see why she’s a ball of neuroses, based on the glimpses of the past we’re provided, but her consistent inability to communicate clearly and her refusal to listen reminded me of those feisty old-skool heroines. She’s not stupid, she’s just impatient in a really irritating way, and I felt that her frustrating refusal to just slow down and listen was sometimes a way to artificially prolong the conflict.

Another problem I had with the story was how I felt strangely distant from Dante. I had ready access to her mental and physical space, but not really her emotional space. I find this difficult to explain, because on looking back, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint what exactly is keeping me from how she feels, because this is a first-person narrative, and it’s not as if Dante held back on what she really thought about things, even when she was obviously being an unreliable narrator.

It’s one thing for me to not like a character. It’s another for me to not be convinced by her. And for large portions of the book, Dante just didn’t strike me as being true, and having her be the sole voice of the book started to grate on me after a while.

Oh, and Japhrimel’s reason for falling in lurrrrve with Dante? Didn’t totally buy it. What he did was wildly romantic, but there was too much telling (“You treated me like an equal!”) and not enough showing, especially given the incredibly short time span of the book—the bulk of the action takes place in, what, a week? Dante was a dick to Japhrimel for a good proportion of that time, and when she finally softened up—well, I just didn’t buy that a demon, and not just any demon, but SATAN’S RIGHT HAND AND GODDAMN ASSASSIN, would soften up after such a short time, and for so little. If we’d had Jaf’s perspective, I might’ve bought into the scenario, but on the other hand, the emotional punch of what he did wouldn’t have been as great.

So really, if we’d had more time with Dante and Jaf to see their relationship develop, and if Dante hadn’t been such a stressed-out freakball, this book could’ve easily been in the A territory. Because it was a pretty good adventure yarn, and it says quite a bit that I was able to finish it in only a few days despite not being convinced by Dante as a character.

Sarah: I concur about the book’s readability. It definitely kept me interested, even as it kept me irritated.

YES and insert used of “Pwned” here re: Japhrimel’s sudden fall into the liquid hot magma of luuuurveâ„¢. I would understand a lot of dark fearsome lurkery from him, as Satan’s hot dude, with some inexplicable kindness out of nowhere that seemed to physically pain him because dude he’s a DEMON and he cannot be NICE, but the sudden, “You treat me like an equal!” was way too pat and said too much about Dante too easily. She treats him as an equal! Ergo he loves her! Ergo ergo – she is just too amazing for words and look at the generous river of honey-flavored love that flows through her soul that she treats a Demon who is, again THE RIGHT HAND OF SATAN, as an equal!

My problem was how the book dealt with the Obvious Comparisons. This book will Obviously be Compared to the series about Her Royal Humptyness, Anita Blake, and it marks an opportunity for a talented author – and this is not a throwaway compliment because Saintcrow is damn hell talented like damn hell whoa – to do a necromancer heroine Differently without so much damn sex. A wise friend of mine, and I’ve quoted her before, said that one of her chief complains about Blake was that she “collects magic powers like charms on a charm bracelet,” and that the acquisition of greater talents comes far, far too easy.

For Dante, she doesn’t easily walk through the book and pick up additional talents without consequence or effort, but there’s a similar sense of “it comes damn easy, don’t it, honey?” when it comes to her psi powers. She can animate a very dusty dead dude for an unheard-of amount of time and there’s no explanation as to why – where that surge of ability is coming from, whether it’s attributable to the presence of a Demon augmenting her already-strong ability, or whether it’s a sign that she has untapped depths of talent. When someone has powers that extraordinary, and then even among those with that set of strengths she’s even MORE extraordinary, I want to know WHY. I’m tired of psychic and psi-talented heroines just being extra more gooder just to set them apart as admirable. It’s like Harry Potter Syndrome: identify the hero by his/her extra more gooder specialness, even in a world where s/he is already special!

And here, a lesson for the copyeditor of this book on motherfarking comma splices because deeeeYAM was that distracting.

Note: I don’t actually blame the author. I blame the multitude of people whose freaking JOB IT IS TO KNOW THE RULES OF GRAMMAR WHEN PUBLISHING A BOOK THAT PEOPLE PAY FOR. If I can teach the concept of comma splices to remedial college composition students, surely someone whose JOB IT IS should not need a refresher. But alas, it seems it is true.

The official definition on Wiki:

A comma splice is when two independent clauses are joined by a comma.

This means two complete sentences that are strong enough to stand on their own are joined by a comma. A COMMA is NOT STRONG ENOUGH to JOIN THEM.

Here is a test as to whether your clause is independent:
1. It has own car, or job.
2. If you walk up to a stranger and say the clause aloud, it is a complete thought on its own.
3. If you walk up to a stranger and say the clause aloud, you still look like a treebat crazy person, AND the stranger waits for you to complete your crazy thought.

E.g.: Comma splices are the devil, I can’t stand to see them repeatedly in a novel.

EITHER you need an “and” or some other conjunction to join those two clauses, or you hook yourself up with another punctuation mark. As I told my students: the comma, it is not strong enough. Your comma needs to lift weights. Consider the semicolon: ; A comma that is lifting a barbell to PUMP IT UP. *clap*

I did not ever say I was not a completely dorky professor.

/ end rant

Candy: Yeah, the comma splices were pretty distracting. Thanks for the lesson, perfessor. Hee.

And good point about Dante getting superpowers and hot demon mens with amazing ease (and hot human mob boss mens of unspeakable wealth and power, for that matter). And actually, the ease with which Dante seemed to attract people, given she was about as cuddly as a titanium cactus, kind of puzzled me—until it occured to me that Dante is a sub-species of Mary Sue. Instead of being perfect and saving the world and having everybody in the world lurrrrve her, Dante is imperfect and angry and often downright awful to the people who care about her, but everybody in the world still lurrrrves her and she still saves the day. An Angry Sue, if you will. But the very fact that she’s so difficult to be around makes me wonder why she’s so compelling. She’s apparently a charismatic bitch, but I didn’t feel the pull of her personality the way I have other charismatic bitches in romance who did things that made me uncomfortable, like, say, Melanthe of For My Lady’s Heart.

Speaking of Mary Sue: Jace Monroe. I liked the fantasy of having this extremely hot and hugely wealthy bad-ass dude in the wings—and motherfucker had unlimited resources in the book—but I did wonder how in the hell he got this far. And the Big Misunderstanding between him and Dante was rather laughable but, given what an incendiary asshole Dante is, actually kind of believable.

OK, so we’ve bitched on and on about the book, we should probably talk about something it did right, yeah?

I really, really liked the action scenes. They’re some of the best I’ve read, and I’m in awe at how Saintcrow conveyed the chaos of being in a huge balls-out all-or-nothing fight while still keeping the action coherent. Fight scenes are freakin’ hard to write, and much respect to Saintcrow for pulling so many of them off without losing or confusing me.

The plotting was tight, and the twist was quite excellently twisty. And extra special bonus points: Saintcrow even had a decent excuse for Villain Exposition. None of that “And now, Mr. Bond, before I kill you in this unnecessarily elaborate way, let me explain to you in excruciating detail why I’m doing this; I do this not because it’s essential for my plan, but for no discernible reason other than I adore giving my enemies time to collect their senses and attempt an escape” nonsense.

I mean, I still rolled my eyes a little when the Big Reveal came, but it actually made sense for Santino to reveal what he did to Dante, so all was forgiven.

And speaking of Santino: I liked that he was a thoroughly despicable villain with very little to recommend him, but he had utterly convincing motivation. Very few people get villains right, especially romance authors, and Saintcrow did a great job.

And this one’s sort of spoilerish: I also really liked and was intrigued by the glimpses of the love story between Dante and Doreen that we sort of got to see via flashback. OMG HOT LESBIAN PSION SEX? One can only hope so, but we’ll see.

The world-building was really interesting, despite a tendency to infodump and an over-fondness for tacking the word “synth” in front of a buncha crap to indicate it’s something from the FUTAR. I like the concept of an Awakening for humankind; I’m curious to see what triggered it, and I hope the future books will elaborate on this.

Sarah: While I wish that the individual members of her posse were more developed, I like that Dante surrounded herself with people who in small ways took care of her, but also had a substantial amount of their own backstory to be revealed. They weren’t pawns for the present story but seem to have large story arcs of their own, which is always enticing.

And like you, I really dug the blocking and the pace of the fight scenes. Writing action is probably as hard, if not harder, than shooting it for film, and being able to see the action in my mind while ALSO getting a sense of the quick emotions going on at the time – well, Saintcrow did a damn fine job mixing tension and terror and her fight scenes kick ass.

Yes on the reveal, yes on the twisty twist, and yes yes on the larger story of Awakening that hasn’t been fully explained yet. But equally intriguing to me were the current-day themes of evil/good and the status thereof as very mixed up in wealth, privacy, and talent – such that this Awakening created a new hierarchy but enough of the “old” one remains to confuse things. So the reader doesn’t really know where anyone stands, and that fluidity in society is both chaotic and scary but intriguing and addictive to read about.

My grade on this book: C+. It was eminently readable, and certainly there is room for the series to pick up as a whole, but it was entirely too easy for me to identify what I perceived as flaws even after some time past my reading it.

Candy: I found the writing too compelling to drop it to a C. Most of the time, I take forever to finish B- and C+ books; they’re not bad enough to fascinate me with their trainwreckiness, but they’re not usually good enough to suck me in and keep me engaged. This was an exception, because once I got past the first 50 pages or so (which took me a couple of weeks to read), I finished the rest of the book in two big sittings, which is a rarity for me nowadays. I’m-a stick with the B-.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Raina_Dayz says:

    I can’t really follow up on this intelligently at all, because I read the book like a year ago, and passed it onto my sister, but my $.02 is that I loved this book.  Ya I felt the love story was kinda pat, but so much else was done right in my opinion.  I liked Dante, she didn’t anger me in the way she seemed to irritate you guys.  Maybe I’m just too much of a spicy meatball myself to be bothered by her anger gyrations.  I don’t know.  Loved this book and the second one as well.

  2. 2
    Robin says:

    Candy, one of the things I like about your comments is that you focus on and resolve something that I find to be a real tension point in Romance reviewing:  should a book be graded based on the emotional reaction of the reader to a) the characters, b) the plot, or c) whether it’s romantic? 

    Part of me feels that in Romance it counts when a reader finds that they dislike a character or find the book unromantic.  But another part of me feels that critique should be located in the logic and clarity of the book’s writing and execution—that it doesn’t matter so much whether you like something, but rather how well the author has pulled it off. 

    But of course those two things are related at some level, which is what your comments indicate, IMO.  You say you don’t like Dante, but then you go on to point out how the execution of her character *as written* fed your emotional response. 

    I’ve found as a reader that the reviews most helpful to me are those that ground an emotional response in the execution/writing issues.  Because even though I can’t guarantee that the review will anticipate my own issues, at least I know the reviewer has actually measured his/her reactions against the book itself, and I can get a sense of the book and not merely the reviewer’s likes and dislikes.

  3. 3
    Phyllis says:

    I just read this and the 2nd book in quick succession. You get a lot more of her past and she’s a lot… not softer or nicer… but Dante starts to figure out that she shouldn’t be such a badass asshole to her friends.

    And are these Romance? Much more definitely fantasy/scifi, especially since the endings… oh sorry, won’t spoil it.

  4. 4
    Candy says:

    I don’t consider this book a romance, no. It has a peripheral love story (well, a couple, actually), but the book revolves around Dante, her conflicts and the hunt for Santino and the egg, not necessarily the relationships, which is why we marked the book Non-Romance: SF/F.

  5. 5
    Candy says:

    Also, Robin: I’m glad you appreciate my long-winded attempts at explaining why I did or didn’t like something, or how something worked for me.

    And Raina_Dayz: From what I understand, a fair number of people love this book and Dante doesn’t bother them much, and really, I couldn’t be happier, because Lili’s a friend and I hope she wins plenty of readers.

  6. 6
    Victoria Dahl says:

    I gotta tell you, I consider comma splices to be a stylistic choice. I’d wager that’s why the copyeditor didn’t take them out. I loves me some comma splices, but I do try to use them in moderation, and my copyeditor didn’t take mine out.

    (And yes, I know quite well that’s what the semicolon is for. I hate the semicolon.)

  7. 7
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Anticipating that someone will ask “Why not just use semicolons?”. . . Aside from the fact that semicolons are clearly evil little bastards, comma splices convey a sort of staccato thought process for me. When the scene is chaotic, either emotionally or physically, I feel comma splices give the narrative a rough quickness that helps convey that urgency. I guess it doesn’t work like that for Sarah. *g*

  8. 8
    Katidid says:

    I concur: comma splices are the work of the devil and should be purged. Purged!

    Also, semi-colons are my favourite punctuation mark. Yes, I freely admit to having a favourite punctuation mark. Really, editing was the only career choice for a sick-o like me…

  9. 9
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Aw, Katidid, I’ll CUT CHOO LIKE A PIG, BITCH.

    Sorry. I couldn’t resist. *snicker* It’s a punctuation rumble!

  10. 10
    DS says:

    Add me to the semi-colon side.  I owe my love of punctuation to a Jr. High English teacher with a bit of an alcohol problem.  In order to keep her classes out of her hair while she dozed off over her cup of spiked coffee, she set us endless grammatical exercises.  I don’t always use correct grammar but I know it when I see it—and can diagram it as well.

  11. 11
    Jenyfer says:

    I’m with you guys, but FYI – my publisher HATES HATES HATES semicolons. They prefer authors either to break it up or use a dash.

    I once had a professor beat the comma splices out of me too :)

  12. 12
    Lisa says:

    Out of curiousity, have you read/did you enjoy the Weather Warden books? They sound similar to this, what with the excellent basic plot ideas and failings with the main character sue. Which is a shame, because the smokin’ hot genie lover was totally wasted on her. They’re definitely more chick lit than romance, though.

  13. 13
    Keishon says:

    Enjoyed the review. I read this book a year ago, I think, too and couldn’t finish it. I thought the heroine was annoying (and that doesn’t usually influence my reading much either if the story is compelling enough), the prose/voice style didn’t suit. To each their own as they say. Cool, wicked ass covers, tho.

  14. 14
    Kim says:

    I’m with Jenyfer on my publisher hating, possibly even loathing semi-colons.

    Me?  I love them. *sigh*

  15. 15
    dl says:

    Also read these when first published, so commenting from impressionville. I enjoyed them (which is a compliment in itself because I don’t usually like tradegy).  For me there is a black cloud of concern hovering over this series…concern it will go the same direction as Caine’s Weather Wardens.  Ie lots of action, but when you look back there is endless drama & crisis with no real resolution or direction. Also no HEA! 

    When a series goes non-directional, I quit reading (several books ago for Rachel Caine, her YA titles have the same flaw).  Looking forward to #3 from Lilith.

  16. 16
    Raina_Dayz says:

    I totally know what you mean about the weather warden books.  It’s like constant stress with no real payoff.  I have the most recent one and I haven’t cracked it yet.  A shame too, because I really enjoyed the start of that series.

  17. 17
    Lynne says:

    Totally agree about the Weather Warden series. I started out absolutely loving it and then somewhere around book three put it aside in disgust over the way the “smokin’ hot genie lover” (great summary!) was treated. The first person POV was a huge drawback after a while because the heroine had become so unlikable to me. Nobody’s that hot, that cool, whatever. Had the same issue with Merry Gentry and Tinker, FWIW.

  18. 18
    Ann Aguirre says:

    Oh, and Japhrimel’s reason for falling in lurrrrve with Dante? Didn’t totally buy it. What he did was wildly romantic, but there was too much telling (“You treated me like an equal!”) and not enough showing, especially given the incredibly short time span of the book—the bulk of the action takes place in, what, a week? Dante was a dick to Japhrimel for a good proportion of that time, and when she finally softened up—well, I just didn’t buy that a demon, and not just any demon, but SATAN’S RIGHT HAND AND GODDAMN ASSASSIN, would soften up after such a short time, and for so little.

    That was my main issue with the book as well, but I loved the writing and the world-building so much, I kinda just went “eh” and let it slide. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

  19. 19
    Katidid says:

    Ooooh! I haven’t been in a good punctuation rumble in years. Bring it, VD; I’m taking you down!

    Heh. Semi-colons: even useful when threatening. What more can you ask?

  20. 20
    DS says:

    I don’t understand the aversion of certain publishers to the semicolon.  Can someone explain?

  21. 21
    Jaynie R says:

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

    Most famous comma splice ever.  But, yeah, usually – they just piss me off.  Not as bad as the run-on sentence though.

    …and did you have to put the Brady Bunch song in my head?  I mean really – I don’t need to be singing this all day.  The kids already think I’m nuts.

  22. 22

    I don’t understand the aversion of certain publishers to the semicolon.  Can someone explain?

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me the semicolon feels formal. I want my writing to be informal and friendly. The punctuation unnoticeable. I notice semicolons. I just do. Some of you notice comma splices, though, so there’s no good way to go about it, I suppose, which is why I say it’s sytlistic.

    I think of semicolons as *almost* a full stop. I do use them when called for, but if I want barely a beat, not a full breath between thoughts. . . then I go to the comma splice.

    Katidid, I’m gonna put that semicolon someplace tender, bi-yotch! (See? Now doesn’t it look like an obscene gesture? ; It’s mocking us all!)

  23. 23
    Victoria Dahl says:

    Oops. Sorry about the run-on sentence. Ha!

  24. 24
    Jenyfer says:

    My publisher doesn’t even like commas! I think because they feel like it slows the reader down or something. My eye glosses over a well placed comma but really stumbles when I feel like punctuation is used incorrectly or is missing entirely…

  25. 25
    SB Sarah says:

    My understanding is that some publishers feel semicolons send a message of elitist formality. I think that’s crap; I love me some semicolons. And since I was teaching formal college essays at the time, the more the better. As far as a stylistic effort, using a comma to join two independent clauses – speaking for myself as a reader – doesn’t convey pace or a sense of rapid movement. It conveys a copyeditor who didn’t know what s/he was doing. 

    As for frequency of commas, I went to grad school with a student who had a BA in English and a BA in Music as well. Her theory, which was I believe the subject of her MA Thesis, was that any or some musical training tends to create a more frequent use of commas when writing, as it indicates a pause for breath. She was a voice student, and IIRC her struggle in her thesis was to apply her theory to students of instruments who don’t have to worry about breath control (i.e. violinists, etc.) but it was still a very interesting theory.

    As for me as a reader, commas are very friendly, and not having one where it’s needed irritates me to no end.

  26. 26
    DS says:

    If they are phobic about the semicolon I don’t think I could stand to know what they feel about the colon. 

    However, I did look up the opening sentence of A Tale of Two Cities which has to be the mother of all comma splices. It’s legal because it is a compare and contrast sentence but I have this image of publishers in a more formal period arguing with Dickens that he needed to replace the commas with semi-colons.  (And I must be showing my age or something but I keep putting that hyphen into the word.

  27. 27
    Gennita Low says:

    Hyphen?  I hate hyphens! One of my copy editors hyphenated like a serious case of hiccups.

    magic word: love94, hmmm

  28. 28
    Sarah Frantz says:

    As an 18thC scholar, I way overuse commas according to our modern-day usage, just because I’m so influenced by what I read where they were still trying to figure out “correct” usage.

    AND I know whether anal retentive gets a hyphen!  Woohoo!

  29. 29

    “…tends to create a more frequent use of commas when writing, as it indicates a pause for breath…”

    I can totally agree with that.  In my past, not-quite-as-lucrative career in professional theatre, I trained myself to consider a comma as a pause in the sentence, using it to take a breath or to allow the character to consider her next thought or transition.  As a writer, I tend to use commas in much the same way.  I consider it a natural point to allow the reader to catch up with me—if that makes sense.

    My editor and publishers, on the other hand, (“on the other hand used as an aside so I get to keep my commas nyaaaaaaaah!) absolutely hate the fact that I am comma heavy in my writing.  Despite my assertion that at least I can spell, they continue to pester me about it.  *sigh*

  30. 30
    Kalen Hughes says:

    And yes, I know quite well that’s what the semicolon is for. I hate the semicolon

    I love semicolons . . . my CE did not. I think she changed every damn one to a comma. After a while I just gave up.

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