Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review of Stephanie Chong's Where Demons Fear to Tread

Title: Where Demons Fear to Tread
Author: Stephanie Chong
Publisher: MIRA Books
Format: Mass Market Paperback, ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Rating: 3 out of 5

I think the overall message of Stephanie Chong’s Where Demons Fear to Tread was supposed to be that love conquers all, but what I took away from the book is that Good is really, really boring. Good doesn’t have fun and is about as bland as white bread. The truth is that the heroine in this book is annoyingly good, so good, in fact, that she’s pretty uninspiring. And why would you read a book with a boring heroine? I’m not at all sure why the hero, Archdemon Julian Ascher is interested in her, other than her looks, because she’s dull as dirt. All that goodness is hard to take, quite frankly. This is unfortunate, because Ms. Chong is clearly a talented writer with a well-developed and engaging plot. I really enjoyed her writing, but the heroine was so mild in her “goodness” that I just couldn’t buy into the romance aspect of it.

The premise of the book is that there’s a company of guardian angels who attempt to steer humans towards good decisions while demons work actively to encourage us to engage in the sort of behavior that will damn our souls to hell. The more souls a demon sends to hell, the more powerful the demon. Julian Ascher reached archdemon status in record time, a little over 200 years, so we know that he’s a real baddie. He runs a string of night clubs (those dens of iniquity!) when our bright as sunshine (really, she’s wearing a yellow sundress, for Pete’s sake) newly minted Guardian Angel Serena St. Clair comes traipsing into his club in LA. She’s been assigned to look out for bad boy actor Nick, who’s currently snorting coke off some woman’s body. When Julian sees Serena, he decides to toy with her and hustles her off to his office in the club, where he lays a few moves on her. She’s all, “Oh NO, I shouldn’t, but I really want to, oooh what do I do? He’s so smoking hot!” and at the last minute pleads with him to let her go, which, for some strange reason, he does.

Naturally Mr. Bad-Ass Archdemon decides to pursue Serena, because nothing wins you points with the boss like corrupting an angel, right? He’s also inexplicably drawn to her goodness and beauty – she smells like the beach! Who could resist? Julian engages in a nasty spot of blackmail, and Serena finds herself with Julian in Las Vegas. Over the course of a week, Julian finds his defenses weakening, and the two fall in love. Redemption is nigh!

The problem with this book is twofold. First, Serena is portrayed as the epitome of all that is good, but she’s also dull as dirt. Her brother tells Julian that she didn’t have fun often, and that seems to be true even after her death and rebirth as an angel. She also has a few too stupid to live moments, such as running into an empty nightclub when someone calls out to her, despite being told to wait for reinforcements. Um, hellooo!!!! Wait for the backup, dummy! This would be a great time for a blonde joke, except I know lots of blondes who would be rightly offended at the comparison.

The second problem is Julian. Julian’s working on building a new night club in Vegas with another archdemon, Corbin Ranulfson, who is truly evil. In comparison with Corbin, Julian is a woolly lamb. Corbin rips peoples’ limbs from their body, cannibalizes women while they’re still living, and murders a bellboy for breaking a Ming vase. He’s pretty darn scary. Julian, however, is not. Now, you’re thinking that no one would want a hero who’s that scary, because who wants to be with someone like that? And you’d be right! Julian’s a much milder type of demon, and yet we’re supposed to accept that he reached a status similar to Corbin’s within a record 200 years. I could almost picture Serena (a la Luke Skywalker) turning to Princess Leia, and saying “There’s still good in him. I can FEEL it.” But even with the flaws in Julian’s character, he’s still much more interesting than Serena. I didn’t hate Serena; I was just bored by her, and that’s never good for a romance.

So after all of this, you’re probably wondering why I would give the book a 3 out of 5. The truth is, Ms. Chong’s writing is smoothly executed and easy to read. The plot moves along nicely, and I like the underlying premise of the book. The “reforming the rake” trope is a favorite, and I like Ms. Chong’s spin on it, plus the portrayal of angels and demons, while not highly original, was well thought out and developed. Unfortunately the heroine was just too flat for the book to succeed for me. But because the writing IS so engaging, I would be more than willing to read another book by Ms. Chong. She managed to keep me reading her book, even though I couldn’t stand the heroine, and that takes some doing.

2 comments:

  1. I was not a fan of the hippie zen Serena either. I like a little more hutzpah from my heroines. I was really intrigued by the villains in this book though. They were of a particularly nasty variety. Good solid review.

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  2. Thanks, Blue Shedevil! Yeah, she wasn't my favorite. I like a little more spice than nice in my heroines!

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