Demon Marked, by Meljean Brook

>> Tuesday, September 06, 2011

TITLE: Demon Marked (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Meljean Brook

COPYRIGHT: 2011 (comes out today)
PAGES: 336
PUBLISHER: Berkley Sensation

SETTING: Contemporary US and London
TYPE: Paranormal romance
SERIES: 7th full length novel int he Guardians series

Nicholas St. Croix is familiar with the evil of demons. After his father’s death, a demon took over his mother’s body and raised him. Six years ago, his “mother” was responsible for the disappearance of the woman he loved, and Nicholas swore he’d find her—even if he had to go to Hell and back. Except she finds him first—and with one tormented kiss, he knows she too is a demon. Now he is determined to take his revenge…

Ash is a half-demon with no memory of her past or how she got to Hell. All she knows is that Nicholas St. Croix holds the key to her identity. And though he’s clearly drawn to her, Nicholas makes no secret of his distrust of her. Yet one kiss at a time, he breaks down her defenses as they battle an array of demons and Guardians. But is Ash’s greatest enemy the man at her side?
Ash has no idea who (or what) she is. She has practically no memories from before the day she was dumped in a psychiatric hospital by a scary woman with mad eyes, who warned her not to kill anyone or interfere with their free will. In the three years since, she's discovered only a few things about herself: she doesn't feel anything (lacks affect and empathy, as her psychiatrist puts it), she doesn't need to sleep or eat, her senses are much stronger than those of people around her, and her eyes sometimes glow red. Her memories are very vague... a person with a terrifying voice calling her Ash-something-or-other and an explosion of pain, plus a vague sense of familiarity about some things.

Ash is determined to find out more about herself and after escaping the hospital, her research leads her to Nicholas St. Croix. Ash looks exactly like his former girlfriend, who disappeared into thin air after, according to Nicholas, being shot by his mother, Madelyn.

When Nicholas meets Ash he immediately knows she's a demon. He knows he should kill her straight away, as his Guardian contact advises, but the possibility of using her to further his life's mission is too tempting. Because Nicholas lives for revenge. When he was a young boy a demon took his mother's place and proceeded to make his and his father's lives hell. His father was finally driven to suicide, and Nicholas came really close to it. He's now bent on finding that demon again and forcing it to reveal what happened to his mother. Ash clearly has some sort of link to it, so even if her behaviour is disconcerting for a demon and she makes him come perilously close to laughter, when he should be hating her, they'll need to stick together.

So, this is going to be yet another gushing review of a Meljean Brook novel (in a way, I guess it wasn't so bad to have been disappointed by The Blushing Bounder -that might give me a bit more credibility regarding this author!). I loved it. Once I'd started it, I could barely put it down.

It's a book with two quite different halves, which can sometimes be a bit problematic, but worked perfectly here. Much as I enjoyed the second half, which brings us back into the heart of the Guardians' world and has more action, the first half was my favourite, for the intensity of the romance.

It's a bit of a road/cabin romance in this half, with Ash and Nicholas forced to spend time in close proximity and to get to know each other. Nicholas starts out very clear about the evil of demons, and the impossibility that any one of them could do anything that is not designed to make humans' lives hell. So Ash completely throws him. He just can't figure out what the twist is, why she's doing what she does and what's in it for her.

Ash is completely disarming, and very fun to read. Her role in this part of the book is a really cool twist on the wide-eyed innocent, first as a result of having no real emotions other than curiosity, and when she starts to feel again, as a result of having no inhibitions and, having entered a bargain, with Nicholas, it not being possible for her to lie. She soon becomes a bit of a mischief-maker, as well, so she delights in keeping Stone-Cold St. Croix permanently off-balance.

Nicholas changes massively in this relatively short time, but it was believable. His interactions with Ash were so intense that it made sense that he would be forced to reevaluate what was an almost irrational hatred, and the feelings that emerge are all the stronger for that.

And then the big action starts, which doesn't sideline the romance at all, because the romance is what brings even more significance to what's going on. It is, as always with Brook, a plot full of fantastic twists and turns. At one point I was surprised to think that the way out of the pickle Ash was in seemed quite clear. That didn't seem right for a Guardians book, and sure enough, not long after that, there was a twist that changed things, and moved this to a "how on earth are they going to get out of that?" situation. I loved it.

Now, what a lot of long-time readers of the Guardians are going to be wondering is yes, but what about Michael? All I will say is that this late in the series I was expecting to see some big developments in the bigger picture, and I got just that. I did find it a teeny bit disappointing that the a-ha moment, when what needed to happen became clear, felt a bit deus ex machina, when I would have preferred a more organic realisation, but it was not a big problem. It worked, and now I can't wait to see how things are resolved.

Part of me is gutted that the series is coming close to an end, but it's all just so exciting and I want to know that ending so badly that I don't mind!



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