Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: Touch of the Demon by Diana Rowland, Book 5 of the Kara Gillian Series

 It was awesome, go buy it.

Why are you still here? Go go now! Go buy and read it?

Have you read it yet? Then what are you doing here? Get reading! Never mind sleep, read, people, read. What, you haven’t read the previous books? Go read them too!

Ok, now I’m assuming you’ve read it, you’re allowed a brief diversion before reading it a second time.

I can’t even begin to recap this – so much happens and to truly grasp it I’d have to spoil which would be a crime. Kara enters the demon world, finds out so much she knew was wrong, discovers a whole new reality, discovers so much more about her magic – and a lot more about the Lords, who she can trust and who she can’t.  There are many twists in that, some awesome world building, a great plot and some excellent characters.

There was so much to love here. Kara is plunged into the demon world where everything is so different yet so similar to Earth. The lands and settings are described beautifully, enough information to get a true sense of the place while at the same time not drowning us in unnecessary detail or pages and pages of over the top description. I just loved the setting here and how it, in turn helped describe the demons, the different forms, their lives, the way they behave (like the demon snowball fight – which was awesome) without needing to create Wikipedia articles about each kind. We got all the information about them and them much more filled out by these events and daily behaviour than ever we could through dry lectures.

And info dumping was always going to be a risk here. Kara arrives on this brand new world, she’s surrounded by every kind of demon and she discovers that a lot of what she (and other demon summoners) thought they knew about the demons and the demon world was laughably wrong (I loved that as well, how her old knowledge wasn’t infallible). Then we’ve got to learn about the 11 demon lords, what actually happened to Szerin, the past cataclysm that nearly destroyed the world, the blades, this alien force, the groves not to mention Kara studying bran new forms of summoning and using symbols.

There was a lot of information there and none of it was dumped. Of course some was lectured in a teaching situation but it was all really well balanced. The pacing was excellent, events prevented us having long screeds of info. When Kara is traumatised it is presented respectfully without Kara getting over it over night and without endlessly melodramatic pages of angst and navel gazing – and she has ongoing issues, especially about trust and her appearance, that stem from that. It’s a very natural, very real presentation of her as a survivor and, again, is balanced perfectly with the plot and the world building and the exploration to prevent us having pages and pages of repetition or dry exposition that just drags. Kara doesn’t trust people around her, for obvious reasons, but it never reaches a point of foolishness or the whole plot scuppering over Kara failing to see the obvious out of sheer mistrust – even though it takes a long time to ever gain her full trust. Again, an excellent and real balance.

The plot was twisty and surprising with revelation after revelation and I constantly had to challenge my assumptions. I thought I knew what Kara was before this book began – I was wrong. I thought I knew what she was after talking to Mzatal. I was wrong. I thought I knew what she was after the Grove – and I was wrong! I thought I knew who her enemy was – I was really really really wrong. I thought I knew what the goal was and was wrong, I thought I knew what various things meant and was, again, allll wrong. I have never been so wrong so often reading a book, the plot was just so much deeper and with more twists than I imagined.

Of course part of that is that these books are so original. I don’t think there’s a world setting quite like these books, nor do I think there’s a character quite like Kara. Or even an antagonist quite like… the antagonist in this book (curse you spoiler dodging!) or a love interest. And I love that the love interests are still not entirely clear – I mean, by book 6 you’ve normally got the characters locked in so tight into their established relationship that “Here Comes the Bride” is playing when you open the book (like one of those musical cards) not here, I’m still not sure where she’s going to jump, it’s definitely not simple.

This would have been one of those books where it would have been easy to erase. For most of the book there are, pretty much, only 2 human characters and the rest are demons (and when it comes to non-human it’s easy to shuffle them into a “race/sexuality not applicable e.g. let’s make ‘em straight and white”), it would have been easy to erase on the simple answer that there weren’t many opportunities to include. However, several of the demons lords are POC, 2 are gay and while the gay demon lords don’t play much of a role, one of the POC demon lords, Mzatal, is central to the plot.

There were a lot of other excellent moments – like Kara thinking back to Jill’s excellent advice dismissing slut shaming and encouraging her to embrace sex without shame if that’s what she want. We had an excellent note where a demon lord refused to have sex with a woman because she was drunk and, even though she was willing and eager, he refused when her judgement was impaired. We followed old characters who had gone into the demon world and were remembered – not dismissed because they were disabled and confused or poor and addicted, we followed up on their stories, they were remembered.

All in all, an awesome book that we’d been desperately looking forward to and worth every second of the wait – it’s the kind of book that, when it finishes, you look at it quite sadly and think “noooo, it’s over!!!!” I am trying to fight my desperate fanpoodling to find something negative to say, but I can’t, it’s a truly excellent book and my main problem now is that it’s set such very high expectations for the whole year.