Seduced by Shadows: a Novel of the Marked Souls
by Jessa Slade
(Signet, $7.99, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-451-22828-4
The Marked Souls series is an urban fantasy endeavor by newcomer Jessa Slade. She opens with a bang, throwing centuries-old, demon-possessed Ferris Archer with an enigma: Sera Littlejohn, counselor-turned-thalya. The thalya are - until this point, at least - men who share their bodies with what they call a "penitent" demon. In Slade's alter-universe, all demons are fallen angels; the penitent ones have decided they want another chance at heaven. This leaves the bodies they inhabit in a state of immortality; it also means that they have to fight the less-than-penitent demons until the day one finally manages to kill them.

Sera is the victim of a drunk driver: nearly crippled and never recovered from the psychological blows thrown at her by the accident - or from the suicide of her mother when Sera was a child. Archer, tracing a newfound and strong demon, is surprised when it leads him to the physically weak and obviously female Sera. Sera, who had thought Archer was merely a creepy stalker-type from the hospital where she had counseled hospice patients and grieving families, nonetheless allows the demon, in Archer's form, to seduce her. Unknowingly, of course, she also allows the demon access to her body, thus becoming one of the talya - the one none of them are going to understand for a long time, given that at least two millennia have passed since there was a female amongst their ranks.

Much to the distress of the fairly hard-to-catch-off-guard talya, the arrival of Sera's demon also heralds the coming of the Apocalypse. Bizarrely, Sera seems tied to the demon realm that no one but demons themselves has ever accessed and into which a talya's demon gives them no insight. This link, they believe, will allow demons into the earthly realm, literally creating Hell on Earth.

Archer, who, like most of the talya, is a tormented man on the best of days, finds himself feeling again. Most of the feelings, though somewhat of a relief, are in no way comforting. He holds this against Sera, partially for their own protection - when the two of them act together using what they believe is a special mate-bond, they create powers no one has ever before seen. Primarily, however, Archer is acting on guilt created from two centuries of painful loss - and, though Sera's life hasn't been nearly so long, most of her decisions are based on the same kinds of memories.

Regardless of the hows or whys Archer's determined to keep Sera protectively under his wing (not that demons have wings - that's only for the angels, who also have hosts on Earth). Sera is just as determined to do her part, especially once she discovers the true reason why her demon was brought here.

When two exceptionally headstrong people butt heads, it goes without saying that sparks fly. The romance between Archer and Sera is troubled in the best of times and will manage to keep readers guessing. Slade's world will also make people wonder - and not always in a good way. Coming at the demon-and angel-hosting from a scientific way is unusual, yes, but occasionally confusing. The sci-fi background may also throw off readers expecting a solid paranormal romance. For one thing, Seduced by Shadows isn't terribly romantic. Even the romance is world-weary; readers will never understand Archer's and Sera's feelings for one another because those two don't come to terms until they have absolutely no other choice.

If the sci-fi aspect of Seduced by Shadows and the Marked Souls series keeps readers from picking up the book, they're missing out. Even if you never grasp the science or the history behind the talya, the premise is clear, the main characters are fascinating (even if the secondary ones lack depth at this point), and the end of the world is always a good escapist means of avoiding your own problems.

--Sarrah Knight

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