Monday, January 30, 2012

Review: Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland, Book 1 of the Kara Gillian series

Kara Gillian is a police detective in Beaulac, Louisiana and has finally had her big break - she’s moving from property crimes to homicide - and her first case is a doozey - the Symbol Man, a serial killer who has been inactive for years has restarted his killings. And Kara is in charge of solving the case - not bad for her first murder case.

Of course, she has advantages. Not only has she read all the files on the Symbol Man killings, but she also has her own Arcane connections. Kara Gillian is a summoner - as in, she summons demons. of course that doesn’t simplify anything, especially when she comes to the attention of the Demon Lord Rhyzkahl.

But then, it seems there is something arcane behind the killings and she has to tread the delicate balance between using her magic to discover the killer and what he’s up to, while at the same time keeping her case reality-based enough not to alert the police.

Reading this book, it is really clear that Rowland has a background in policing.  The victims of the Symbol Man are drug addicts, drunks and homeless.  This means they constitute a class of citizenry that are oft overlooked. Rowland makes it a point of saying repeatedly that this is why they were chosen and had the Symbol Man chosen someone from a different class location, that this case would be getting a lot more attention from both the higher up and the media. It is one of the better comments we have seen about class, with society’s callous contempt being starkly and unmercifully underlined. And, as in My Life as a White Trash Zombie, these issues are presented clearly and starkly, but without lecturing. It is however, disturbing that when questioned by Lord Rhyzkahl as to why she is working so hard to save people that she would not invite into her home, her only response is that this is the right thing to do.  It troubles me that Rowland went to such great lengths to affirm the neglect of the police department but did not take this opportunity to affirm the humanity and self worth of those who were essentially the prey of the Symbol Man.

This story takes place in Louisiana and as such the population demographics necessitates the inclusion of people of colour.  Rowland does take care to do so but unfortunately they only appear as the victims of the Symbol Man, which makes them, prostitutes, homeless, drug addicts etc,. This does not count as inclusion and in fact works to further stigmatize people of colour.  

When speaking with Tio and informant to raise awareness to the murders, Rowland’s White protagonist Kara switches her mode of speech:
He curled his lip, “Wit warrants? No one here gonna help you snatch up folk.”

I shook my head. “No man, it ain’t like that. I ain’t hookin anyone.  I’m looking for some people to make sure they don’t get hurt. You know, I’m doing that protecting and serving shit.” (pg 129)
This is the only time in the entire story that her language switches.  Kara makes a point of saying that she knows how to talk to people, but this approach is absolutely patronizing and insulting. It reads like a mockery of the dialect that these people speak and is forced. It is also worth noting that POC aren’t the only minorities to get shoddy treatment in this book.  GLBT characters are absolutely absent, as well as disabled characters.

One thing that does deserve praise is the treatment of Ms. Nora. Ms. Nora is a nosey neighbour filled to the gills with nasty prejudices and she is most beautifully slapped down and treated exactly as she deserves - that is how you include a prejudiced character - you have the other cast members make it clear that their nasty prejudices are unacceptable.

After Kara has sex with Lord Rhyzkahl she has several regrets. some of them are quite reasonable - after all, sleeping with a Demon Lord of such power and rage is probably rather disquieting to say the least. However, some of her misgivings cross the line from being merely worried about the situation to shame about the casual sex, which is a shame and completely unnecessary. Kara is strong, independent and confident, I saw no reason for her to feel embarrassed by her sex life.

Especially since Kara is generally a great, strong character. She’s facing a challenge but she’s ready to meet it. She’s reasonable, she’s intelligent, she’s meticulous and thorough - she’s the very opposite of Spunky Agency. She faces sexism, it isn’t glossed over or diminished but Kara responds to it with grace, snark and wit. She’s capable and skilled in both her power and her work. In general, she’s nearly everything we could want from a strong female character - I want to use her as a text book example and make other authors take notes.

Plot wise, it was a murder-mystery and honestly a very good one. It had the requisite twists and turns - and, no, neither of us guessed the perpetrator. The questions, the tension and general good pacing that keeps a good mystery going and keeps you turning the page. I think pacing is normally a major problem with mysteries - either they run too fast to be mysterious (and the main character often runs behind them trying to keep up) or they drag as the characters spend their time navel gazing and ruminating. With this book we have near perfect mystery pacing, with sufficient side topics and interactions to further keep things interesting and intriguing.

Similarly, the world with the different levels of demons, the demon lords and enough hints about different kinds of the arcane is extremely intriguing - and introduced perfectly. Enough information to keep us informed and interested and wanting to know more, without drowning us in excessive, unnecessary detail or info-dumping - again, very well done.

All in all, the book did have issues - sadly, we haven’t found many books that don’t - but the story, world and protagonist were all excellent and it had some stellar class commentary.

As mentioned on our Podcast on the 23/1/12, this is our Book of the Week that we will be discussing on tonight’s Podcast. We will continue to read this series as our Book of the Week for our next 2 Podcasts.