Saint City Sinners

To Hell and Back
by Lilith Saintcrow
(Orbit, 6.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0316001779
Six hundred years into the future, in a post-Apocalyptic world aware of - if not necessarily comfortable with - supernaturals, demons, and psychic powers, Dante Valentine has been fighting the devil himself. It started out with Danny simply being irritated that Lucifer was calling for her services as a bounty hunter and had sent his Eldest demon, Japhrimel, to ensure that things got done as he wished. Four books and a lot of bloodshed later, it has become more personal for all three.

In typical Lilith Saintcrow fashion, at the end of the previous novel, Saint City Sinners, we see Dante walk into a meeting with the devil. At the beginning of To Hell and Back, Dante has just been spit back out of Hell after months of torture at his hands. Dante is broken in more than one way, pregnant with satan spawn (literally), and lost. Not only has Japhrimel declared war on Lucifer, but all of Hell is at war. Dante and Japhrimel embark on a quest to retrieve both halves of the Knife - the only weapon that can be used by a mortal to kill a demon, and only a mortal may wield it.

Unfortunately, Japhrimel had previously hidden dummies of the Knife for Lucifer, and now they have to fruitlessly chase after those to keep up appearances since Lucifer was not aware of the deception. During one such debacle, Dante is kidnapped by the Androgyne Eve, who she feels loyal to because of their shared blood. Maybe, anyway: demons aren't known for being truthful; but Dante's a sucker for reminiscing, and Eve also looks like her other mother (and Dante's former lover), Doreen.  Danny strengthens her alliance with Eve despite the fact that she's still not sure Japhrimel will support her due to their broken oath to the devil.

As it has in previous novels, especially since Dante hasn't told Lucifer that Eve is supposedly her daughter, this hurts their relationship; in fact, in this book not a lot of progress is made in maturing said relationship. Japh and Danny do somewhat come to terms with the fact that there will always be things unsaid between them. Unfortunately for those of us really attached to the two of them, little is revealed about how that affects them or will affect them in the long run. And, since he's immortal and she's pretty close, it will be a long run. However, Dante and the reader both learn more about what being hedaira entails through contact with another Fallen demon. There never is a satisfactory answer given as to why Japhrimel doesn't want to tell Danny more about being his hedaira, or what being Fallen really means for him. Though this allows one to relate to our sometimes-gruff Dante, it is frustrating.

Dante spends a good chunk of this book avoiding Japhrimel. In fact, there isn't much for interpersonal relations in To Hell and Back.  Most of it's action, and for the first time it feels sci-fi. Most of the people that have meant anything to Danny in the previous books have been killed, and she has never developed an attachment to the individuals of Japhrimel's entourage. It's hard not to feel her torn emotions regarding her separation from Japhrimel, however. People who are looking for happy endings will not be happy with this one; as is her habit, Saintcrow has left some strands of the story blowing in the wind, this time with no promise of future books. And, though I don't necessarily feel that this book lived up to its predecessors in emotions, actions, or intent, it is a must-read for those who have read any of the other Dante Valentine novels.

Readers picking up To Hell and Back without reading Saint City Sinners at least (if not the other three) will be lost; these books read as serials. Over all, To Hell and Back is a fulfilling end to the series even if it doesn't take care of every single itch.

--Sarrah Knight

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