Genre: supernatural fiction, urban fantasy
Series: The Fairwick Chronicles #1
Pages: 416 (nool version of NetGalley ARC)
Published: expected December 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Source: publishers via NetGalley
I went into this novel perhaps expecting a bit too much. I think I might have fallen in love with the gorgeous cover, and was waiting for a tour-de-force to knock me off my feet. The beginning introduction, an in media res glimpse at the world/monsters of the novel seemed to reinforce my notion: it was a genuinely creepy and intriguing way to introduce the reader to this world. Sadly, my hopes remained unfounded for the most part of the story, I will say I enjoyed this novel and had fun while reading it - I just never fell in love with it, nor the characters, nor the plot. Juliet Dark, an alias of the well-known author Carol Goodman, does a fine job of nearly all the elements in her premier foray into the supernatural/urban fantasy genre: I just never loved the story the way I wanted to. Set in Fairwick, New York, The Demon Lover is a first-person novel, told in the steady voice of associate professor twenty-six year old Cailleach "Callie" McFay (first quibble: "McFay"? Really? Obvious, much?) In Fairwick, as Callie quickly learns, the fae/faerie/brownies/vampires/incubi she believed to be entirely myth and legend are revealed as living, breathing, and often malicious beings.
Callie herself was one of my main issues with the story. I never really "got" Callie, or her apparently irresistible appeal for the men of the book. She was always just fine to me; never terribly riveting in her own right or conflicted enough to merit more than a cursory interest. As a lead character, she comes across as occasionally weak or milquetoast. I wanted to like Callie, but her personality is kind of blah and she lacks the vivacity and verve that makes me love characters the most. She's definitely a well-rounded and three-dimensional woman in her own right (family issues, an orphan with a 'forbidding' grandmother, a lackluster boyfriend) and even quite intelligent, but for me, she just fell flat. The few times I did see a spark of rapport with Callie were usually when she was interacting with a supernatural being in her community. One thing I did truly like about Professor McFay was the approach she took to the supernatural: mature, kind and open-minded - a total reverse for what I had expected from the character. No silly or annoying back-and-forth about how she only teaches fairy-tales, they can't be real! Callie is too intelligent for that, happily, and another major pet peeve of mine was avoided.
Another issue I had with the book was with the incubus. As a spirit that sucks the life from his victims through sex, the women are unaware that the "vivid dream" they're experiencing is, in fact, sexual intercourse. This genuinely skeeved me out - to me that edges a little to closely into nonconsent and rape. Having a dream about sex with another person is not the same as actually desiring, and consenting to, having sex with that person. The sex scenes might have been hot - Dark can clearly create some steamy scenes - it never obscured the memory of how the scene was created. It left a bad taste in my mouth that I recalled every time the incubus was an essential part of the flow of the story. There are some obvious Scottish influences at work in the novel ("Cailleach" and her history, the myth of the Ganconer) which added a layer of atmosphere the novel was otherwise lacking. I liked the random, but appropriate allusions to Celtic lore and myth: not every mythology has to be about the Greeks or Romans. The pace itself might falter a bit from time to time (the timeline of the actual novel rushes by so fast I was constantly surprised by how fast Christmas, New Year's, etc. were referenced) but that is a minor complaint in the face of my much larger one with the incubus and his victims. I will also say Dark is a brilliant descriptive writer often in the pages: the description of the Honeysuckle House at first appearance stands out particularly in my mind as vivid and filled with life.
Now that I've complained for a number of paragraphs, I want to throw out there what I did enjoy about this modern-day fairy tale. I appreciated the author's creativity and ingenuity by choosing an off-the-beaten-path "creature" for her story: the oft-ignored incubus. Though vampires, witches and fairies may be present, I find I will forgive much if there is something new supernaturally present. Much like Sarah Beth Durst's unicorn in Drink, Slay, Love I couldn't help but love the original choice of the author's. I found the incubus a cypher not easily deciphered or understood that served as the main force of antagonism and tension for the novel. There were several (slight) additional/mundane plot lines to keep the pace moving along, but none had the malevolent interest the incubus fostered upon the reader. I felt the most affinity and interest while simply figuring out the mystery of the incubus, or in exploring the mythology and history of myriad races in Fairwick's supernatural community than I ever did with Callie's romantical dilemmas.
Another area that Ms. Dark excelled within were the largeish cast of secondary and background characters. From the drunkenly amusing - if a taaad overdone - Phoenix, who seems to be a corollary to Callie herself (both young writers, struggling with a second novel with painful childhoods) to the sexy Irish writer with a broken heart, I felt more involved with them than Callie. Especially with the supernatural/fae characters: Dory Browne, the Brownie (see? again with the super-obvious surname), Diana, Casper, Fiona... all were interesting, dynamic, if not wholly rounded out individually. The book succeeds the most when it is centered around Callie and Company, rather than Callie alone, or Callie with Love Interest. I do intend to continue this series, though not much is known about the next book(s). I hope for more about/interaction with the community of Fairwick, more growth for Callie and interesting, original creatures to keep the magic alive in the promising forthcoming series.