Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Temping is Hell (Necessary Evil #1) by Cathy Yardley

 Kate needs a job, badly, after her uncle’s company folded and she was forced to move back in with her judgmental parents. Even as a temp, getting a job isn’t easy – she has an unfortunate habit of speaking her mind.

But never did she think she’d be working for Hell – big corporate, everything she despises. And that would be in a normal workplace – but what about when your boss, Thomas, has actually sold his soul?

Of course, he wants it back – and he also wants Kate, much as he tries to focus on the business at hand. The question is whether he can live with the choices he has to make to get his soul back – and how deeply Kate is going to get enmeshed in these infernal affairs.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to love this book. I thought this was a book with another corporation that was secretly a front for hell. I thought we were going to get another rich billionaire who is cruel and awful and mean but in would come the spunky manic pixie dream girl who would melt his heart and then everything would be hearts and flowers. I expected to hate it.

I was gleefully, wonderfully, blissfully wrong.

The whole concept of the book is one I haven’t come across before – Thomas trying to wriggle out of a contract he signed to sell his soul. He’s a really fascinating and surprisingly deep character that goes way beyond “oh he’s so rich and hot and rich and hot and hot and sexy and hot” we often see heroes described as. Yes he is hot, this is established early and then… not mentioned. Maggie’s attraction and shirtless pictures of him are allowed to speak volumes. Of course he’s hot, he wouldn’t appear shirtless in a glossy magazine if he weren’t, but that doesn’t mean every other chapter we need to describe every sculpted curve of abdominal muscles; so the book doesn’t. It was refreshing – Kate’s sexual attraction to Thomas was made clear and his appeal was maintained without devolving into the repetitive description that is so common. This allowed room for what really makes Thomas a meaty character – not just his sad tortured past (which is somewhat a requirement) but the issues he currently faces: the challenge of being sufficiently ruthless to actually get the job done. He has to kill people – and not only does he have to kill them, he has to be cruel to even get the names; as Yagi tells him repeatedly, if he’s not willing to be ruthless, to do anything, to risk anything to sacrifice anything how can he win against someone who is more than willing to do all of the above.

We have Thomas facing the possibility of metaphorically damning himself in order to save his soul. Especially since Yagi doesn’t see the point of wasting his time helping Thomas if he isn’t able to do what it takes to free himself.

Then we have Kate – the Crusading Fun Hippie Do Gooder, who always speaks up, will tolerate no evil and is ready to fight for the meek and the oppressed at all times. She has no filter, she says what she thinks with no censorship, regardless of how appropriate it is to the situation or how high and lofty the target of her criticism is.

Now take that archetype and add a heavy dose of realism. The crusader/Manic Pixie who faces the consequences of exposing his dad’s boss’s son’s crimes, who costs her father his dream job. The crusader who works in a whacky, non-conventional office that doesn’t follow the usual corporate rules – and it goes under. The dreamer, the moral crusader forced to move back in with her judgemental parents because she’s lost her job, the economy sucks and she can’t afford her standards and principles. Her family judges her and pressures her to “grow up” and “get a real job” and “join the real world.

And then they come together so excellently well, his ruthlessness mixed with both his lack of natural propensity for it and his own moral doubts he’s determined to be quashed meet her idealism – and her success with more compassionate means puts further doubt on his actions and path and draws him back to his conscience. While at the same time her passionate idealism gets diluted with a bit of heavy reality and the compromises that come with that; as well as being repeatedly confronted with the choice of a heavy paycheck (and the ability to rescue her family – and prove herself to them) vs her principles.

Take that extremely high potential, multiple levelled and rather deep story with a wide world and lots of demon levels waiting to be revealed and through in a whole lot of fun. Kate is fun, she’s funny and it’s a joy to read from her point of view. She’s a protagonist who is far from perfect but is very real and with a lot of depth – and a snarky wit that always gets me on board. Lots of fun, lots of humour and a story that moves along perfectly, no infodumping, no unnecessary scenes, no clumsiness, no over-descriptiveness – just the story, the characters and a whole lot of fun.

And my dislikes – with the inclusion. I’m disappointed here because it started so well, Kate has a friend, Prue, who is half-Black and half-Japanese and extremely fun and capable  - certainly far more so than Kate. And we meet her Black grandmother who, again, has a lot of potential to be a very interesting character in her own right. But circumstances quickly force Kate away from both of them, meaning neither develop and both end up as very very background PCO who provide special shiny woo-woo. Thomas also has Yagi, a Japanese assistant to provide his own very very special woo-woo. All of the woo-woo in this story comes from non-white people and it’s used entirely to serve the white characters.

I hope that as the series progresses these characters will become much more characterised in their own right, but they have a shaky foundation.

And there’s Maggie. I want to let this go, a strong part of me wants to let it go because she’s funny. As an inept (though not that inept) villain and foil for Kate she is utterly hilarious, her blundering, her flailing, her Angry Birds addiction, her Thomas wallpaper, her traumatisingly awful lack of taste – I loved to laugh at her, I found the way she was written hilarious and vastly amusing…

But she was the only other prominent female character beyond Kate and she was slut-shamed constantly, her clothes, her desperation for Thomas, how we’re supposed to laugh at the shirtless pictures she has of Thomas, her harassment of Thomas, her spiteful vindictive jealousy of Kate; these are some really destructive tropes without sufficient counter both in her as a humanised character or in other female characters that are developed and prominent and don’t fit the trope.

In all, I loved this book – it had some problems which I hope can be somewhat ironed out later in the series but I think that’s going to take a bit given the very dubious foundation. But the story, the main characters, the world are all great fun and immensely funny, definitely worth a read.

 A copy of this book was provided by the author for a review