Reviewed: July 17, 2011
Genres: Paranormal Romance
Series: The Company of Angels, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Length: 368 Pages
Formats: Mass Market Paperback
Disclosure: An Advance Reading Copy was provided by Harlequin's Mira Books via NetGalley. This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
She hasn't been an angel for even a year, but self sacrificing yoga teacher Serena St. Clair is a guardian with a difficult first assignee, a Hollywood playboy with a face and body made for sin and the desire to sin as often as possible. Drugs and prostitutes are his weaknesses, and trying to save him from himself draws Serena into one of the hottest nightclubs in town, the ominously named Devil's Paradise. She should have known better.
Archdemon Julian Ascher loves nothing more than corrupting and breaking women, damning them to the fires of hell as he was damned over two hundred years ago. When a pretty little angel dares step her delicate little toes into his domain like a shaft of warm summer sun slicing through all manner of dark debauchery, casting the tantalizing scent of the sea in her wake, something in Julian clenches in anticipation of the sweetest gauntlet thrown at his feet. She is a heavenly challenge to a demonic desire, and one he has every intention of crushing.
Their initial meeting is fraught with danger and heat, and the fledgling angel knows she is in way over her head. Her kind doesn't tangle with archdemons. Ever. But the soul of her assignee lies in the balance, and Serena has already proven herself willing to sacrifice herself for those who can't save themselves. Even if she has to tug on one very sexy demon's tail to do it.
It seems that vampires and wereanimals have become passé in paranormal romance books of late, judging by the recent proliferation of heavenly...and not so heavenly hosts in new books and series being released. Or maybe it's just that I seem to be stumbling across more of them lately and my perception is flawed. I hope it's the latter but fear it's the former, because due to personal reading preferences, I'm very particular about angel and demon mythology and how they are developed in books I read. And while the demons gave me no trouble in this book, I can't say the same for the angels and their mythology. I don't favor the concept of guardian angels to begin with, and to compound the problem, these guardian angels seemed uncomfortably blasé about failings and mistakes made in situations in which it seemed against their nature to be so.
Then there was the main character, Serena. Again, this is a personal preference, but I don't like weak female lead characters, be they the naive ingénue, the timid virgin, the airhead, the oblivious, the ignorant, etc. I prefer books that feature strong, competent, intelligent, independent women who can and do hold their own and triumph. I can tolerate weak female characters only if the story arc includes their evolution into some sort of strength and autonomy.
Serena was not a strong female lead character. There was a slight improvement in her towards the end, but it wasn't enough for me to feel mollified for spending the first three-quarters of the book with a timid, unsure newbie featherhead who was so conflicted about her feelings and desires that she did nothing but proclaim ad nauseum that she shouldn't/couldn't/wouldn't do exactly as she proceeded to do anyway. Serena's problems weren't limited to her being a naive newbie angel, either. There were inconsistencies in her character, and more than once her actions tread dangerously over the line of naivety and straight into stupidity.
I didn't have any problems or major complaints with Julian or the secondary characters. I'm well aware that I'm not nearly as critical of male leads as I am of females, but even with that, I felt like Chong had a firmer grip on Julian as a character and an easier time developing him in a well rounded and fully formed manner. He wasn't always likable, and frankly, some of his motivations for evil seemed more than a little petty, but he was three dimensional.
That being said, I was a little turned off by a storyline that focused on the romance between an angel and a demon at the expense of the ongoing corruption of a human soul. A storyline that proclaimed in a loud voice that the power of divine love was the be-all, end-all, which annoyed me as seeming too syrupy to begin with, also failed to encompass one who very much needed it, so it seemed rather fickle for its alleged divinity. I couldn't help but pity poor Nick, a guy who, at the core, just wanted to be loved by someone, so I couldn't lose myself in the romance while Nick's character got mostly overlooked. In the end it felt very much like the reader is being told that the soul of a demon is more important to redeem than the soul of a human who isn't yet condemned. That bothered me.
Be that as it may, there were also some positives. Stephanie Chong showed off quite a talent for creating truly malevolent antagonists and complex motivations for evil. The book also offers a few nicely sensual scenes between Julian and Serena. And while I wasn't a fan of the concept of the angels as they were described and written, I do think Chong did a nice job fleshing out the world and explaining them without bogging down the plot or taking away from the action, and there were some original and unique aspects to the plot that offered a break from the formulaic nature of paranormal romance.
Emotional transitions were too abrupt for me throughout. Serena's intention to remain resolute against Julian became capitulation a scant few pages later, and there was a similar about-face in Julian's case. Neither provided me the sort of relationship evolution that I prefer in romance, and it hampered the fluidity and complexity of the plot. Several scenes and plot threads that evolved from that romance didn't have the background and foundation necessary to make them fully emotionally successful.
Whatever my feelings for the book, it's clear that Chong has both the skill and ability to write. I freely admit that many of my issues with Where Demons Fear to Tread are based around my very subjective personal reading preferences. While I can't disregard them when I'm reading, I can look beyond them and see the bigger picture. As a debut novel, Chong has started something that could be truly entertaining and very popular. It didn't work for me, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it worked well for others.
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