Demon Angel by Meljean Brook
(Berkeley Sensation, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-425-21347-6
*****
An original plot, highly appealing characters, a well-drawn alternative universe, a strong voice and a great sense of humor - there’s very little not to like in Meljean Brook’s extremely engaging first single title.

The novel opens in the tumultuous Middle Ages. Sir Hugh, a pure- hearted, virgin knight, struggles with his unwarranted attraction for the lusty Lilith, who taunts and tempts him mercilessly. Little does he know she is a demon in disguise, bent on sowing discord between Hugh’s feudal overlord and his young wife. He is even less aware of the part he plays in her plans. These plans fall through, and Hugh becomes a Guardian, a group of warrior angels who battle hell-bound demons for human souls. The two groups occasionally collaborate to fight against nosferatu, demonic creatures who feed off vampires. Thus, over the centuries, Lilith’s and Hugh’s paths continue to cross.

We are only given passing glimpses of those moments, which are reserved for other books in this series (the first one, “Falling for Anthony” appeared in the Hot Spell anthology; the second single title will be out shortly). Most of Demon Angel focuses on the present moment, some sixteen years after both Hugh and Lilith have, as a result of events I don’t want to reveal, lost their immortal status and “fallen” a second time. He now works as a college English professor. She is an FBI agent and is frequently assigned to phenomena human agents are not equipped to handle.

The dreaded nosferatu are beginning to attack humans. When one of Hugh’s students is discovered dead and brutalized and another goes missing, he is an immediate suspect. And when Lilith tries to redirect the investigation away from him, they meet again. With all the demonic creatures on the loose, not to mention wagers, spells, rituals and (since this is as much about humans as fallen angels) the tortuous question of free will on the agenda, they find themselves entangled — quite literally — in a hell of a mess.

Hugh is 4-h hero material: handsome, hunky, honorable, and humorous. He does have a human flaw or two, but his inherent goodness and overriding gentleness is a refreshing change from the usual run of domineering alpha vampires. Lilith has the more unusual role of the temptress. She carries it off wonderfully, in part because of her wicked sense of fun, in part because of her complex two-thousand-year old history (imagine how many issues you can accumulate in that amount of time!). Their romance, though not lacking lust and passion, is not consummated until more than half way into the book. It is well worth the wait: this scene is erotic, sensual, kinky and quite moving all at once.

Hugh and Lillith exchange some great lines, but the humor doesn’t end with the sexual banter. Many jokes are aimed at English majors: John Donne, John Milton, Bram Stoker, and even the minor writer, John Polidori, are all targets of light-hearted pokes. Canonical literature isn’t the only one in for tongue-in-cheek treatment: Harry Potter takes a little whipping. Then there’s the fact that in addition to being a college professor, Hugh is also the author of a cult novel about a demon-hunter. The bad writing is attributed to the fact that the original Latin was translated with an on-line computer tool (something to remember the next time you take out your red pen on a runaway bestseller).

Demon Angel is a relatively complicated story, set in a multi-layered world, populated with a variety of different creatures: demons, angles, nosferatu, vampires, not to mention a grinning three-headed dog. Overall, Brook maintains an admirable balance between feeding us information and hinting at hidden developments, but I occasionally felt left behind. Lilith pulls an unexpected paranormal trick out of thin air to ensure she has the winning hand. I’m also not sure I understand the complex layout of heaven and hell (no Virgil to guide us through these seven circles) or the exact relationship between the vampires and the other creatures. I suspect we’ll discover more in Brook’s next novel. In any case, what’s one or two minor problems in a fiendishly good book? Demon Angel is outstanding.

--Mary Benn


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