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Book Review: Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong

It used to be in romance novels that when the girl fell for the guy who had a dark side, it was that he made his living as an international jewel thief or something along those lines. Those bad boys of the past have been superseded in today’s newest entry in the soft-core world of romance novels: the paranormal romance. How can a simple jet setting jewel thief compete with a vampire or a werewolf when it comes to falling for the bad guy?

Talk about a girl getting in touch with her dark side! The paranormal sex thing is nothing new of course, as the movies have been playing up the sexy side of blood sucking for ages, with all kinds of night moves being made on the necks of low-cut bodices for years now. Violence and sex, all in one scene? What more could a Hollywood producer want? I guess the only surprising thing is that it’s taken this long for the Harlequin world to start exploring its supernatural side.

The only thing better than having a boyfriend from the dark side is a heroine who likes to walk on the wild side as well. In these liberated days you can’t get away with having your heroine only getting weak-kneed over the boy anymore. Spending the book worrying about whether or not he’s Mr. Right isn’t enough or a role for today’s leading lady. No; she has to be a successful career girl now, or in the case of the paranormal world, have her own personal demons to deal with.

Kelley Armstong.jpgKelley Armstrong has seven previous titles to her name in the paranormal romance field, so she’s well on her way to becoming a franchise. In the world she’s created for her characters, human and supernatural co-exist – with the former mostly unaware of the latter’s existence. Supernatural is a catch-all term that seems to cover everybody from vampires and werewolves to the children of demons who can read the trail left by strong emotions to create a picture of past events.

In Ms. Armstrong’s latest installment, Personal Demon, published by Random House Canada, her heroine, Hope Adams, is a part demon beauty who can recreate events based on the taste of strong emotions left behind at the scene of a crime. This skill comes with a price (which is her personal demon of the title): that she can become addicted to the chaotic sensations caused by extreme emotions. Put her next to someone who’s just been the victim of a violent crime and she will forget everything except the sensation of experiencing the chaos of their emotions.

While Hope tries to pass as human by holding down a job working for one of the tabloids reporting on the supernatural, the majority of those like her work for one of three or four crime-style families called the Cabals. These Cabals are more like feudal overlords for their employees, providing them with everything from communities to be a part of to safe doctors to attend to their specific illnesses. All they require in return is your life. Once you sign on with a Cabal, the only way you leave is usually feet first – or natural causes, if you play by the rules, or slightly less natural ones if you decide to seek other employment.

The supernatural world isn’t that much different from the human world, and comes complete with its own set of ingrained prejudices. Like any other corporate environment, men still rule the roost. If you’re a werewolf, you need not even bother filling out an application.

Then there are those pesky young folk who don’t want to play by the rules and set up their own little operations – or gangs. The Cabals let them operate in their territory as long as they stay within certain boundaries, like not making it obvious to humans that there are supernatural elements among them. If they start stepping over the line, the Cabals step in and put them in their place. In Personal Demon one of these gangs has started to step over the line and a Cabal that Hope owes a debt to calls in their marker to get her to infiltrate them to find out what’s going on.

It’s not just Hope who owes the debt to the Cabal; her sort of ex-boyfriend Karl owes as well. Karl has issues though, not the least of those being he’s a werewolf whose been a lone wolf for way too many years. The thought of permanency had sent him scurrying with his tail between his legs. Hope’s a big girl now, though, and doesn’t need anybody’s help to get the job done.

That doesn’t turn out to be the case and Karl ends up sticking his snout in. Predictably, once Hope had infiltrated the gang, she had managed to find a young man to get hot and bothered with. Not just physically, either. He was just full of lovely, chaotic emotions she could feed off as well. That relationship is cut short, not just because Karl shows up, but also because her young man and his best friend in the gang are kidnapped. When all the clues point to the Cabal who hired her as the culprits for the snatch, Hope and Karl soon find themselves investigating what looks like an internal coup within the Cabal.

While they are investigating, they manage to re-ignite the old flame and let Karl get over his issues. They get to have their obligatory supernatural soft-core sex scene, with him feeding her some of his milder adrenaline rushes to give her an extra thrill. The storyline progresses along, with Hope having to deal with her attraction to the dark side of her powers before they can bring everything to it’s final resolution.

Ultimately this is a romance novel, and if you come into it with any expectations for anything else you will be disappointed. The characters are cardboard, the dialogue is stilted, and the action contrived. The pity is that the premise of the novel — which is what attracted me, by the way — could have been interesting if the characters and their lives had been the real focus and the world of the supernatural not just another exotic locale in which to put a heroine and her manly man.

This time the jewel thief happens to be a werewolf, and the international gangs have supernatural powers, but Personal Demon proves that a bodice ripper by any other name is still a bodice ripper. For those interested, you can pick up a copy after its release date of March 25th, 2008, either directly from Random House Canada, through Amazon Canada, or through another online retailer.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.