Book Review: “Working for the Devil”

(Note: This is the first book in the Dante Valentine series. Other books include Dead Man Rising, The Devil’s Right Hand, Saint City Sinners, and To Hell and Back.)

(Also: Yes, I know the “What I’m Reading” spot in the left sidebar isn’t this book at all. Rest assured, I’m still slogging away at it. I usually have three or four books going at once.)

I’m rereading this primarily for the world-building. It’s set in a marvelous future Earth, several hundred years from now, where not only the existence of psi and magical powers have been scientifically proven, but gods and life after death have been shown to actually exist. Not only that, but humans share the planet with demons, Nichtvren (Saintcrow’s stand-in for vampires), werecain (ditto werewolves), and various other nonhuman species. It’s a helluva setting, although I can’t imagine human beings accepting such a reality without massive civil war, genocide against the nonhumans (which is hinted at) and a lot more nuclear bombs used than just one.

Unfortunately, this marvelous background is marred by the most annoying, abrasive, and downright unlikable protagonist I’ve ever seen (and the POV is first person, so you can’t ever get away from her): the Queen of Demons, Depression, Guilt and Angst, Danny Valentine.

Honestly, as I read the books, I keep wanting to yell at her, whack her upside the head, and ultimately strangle her and insert someone else in her place. Yes, she has reasons for acting the way she does: a horrific childhood (including rape and torture) and the relentless mowing down of her friends and lovers throughout the course of the series. Not to mention the fact that she gets transformed into a tough, invulnerable, handy-dandy, demon-bride Mary Sue along the way. (This also exposes the author’s habit of writing down evocative bits of description and using them over and over and over, till you want to scream. Isn’t that what a thesaurus is for?)

This second perusal makes clear something I’d never considered before, something that sheds a great deal of light on Danny’s unpleasant (and often downright nasty) character: she has severe PTSD and won’t get treatment, because she wants to go on wallowing in her survivor’s guilt. The words will not are important, because I certainly think they would have antidepressants and therapy in this marvelous future, wouldn’t they? (An accredited psychic mindhealer would be more like it.) Instead, Danny hangs on to her various neuroses and mental problems for dear life, attempting to cope by swinging her sword and splattering blood, and ends up alienating almost everyone around her (those left alive, that is). It’s enough to make you want to shove her off a cliff. Unfortunately, her Fallen demon lover, Japhrimel, is tied to her and can’t even do that.

Their relationship is dysfunctional, to say the least. Danny whines about him betraying her (not so much in the first two books, but in the last three) but makes no attempt to understand him. Even if she ultimately can’t live with what he does, she should know the reasons behind it. Half to three-quarters of her problems could be solved by having the characters sit down and have a freaking Conversation, but that never happens. (Granted, in the first book, Japhrimel tries to, but Danny won’t listen.) Of course, there could be a good reason for this…if Danny and Japhrimel were to have one meaningful heart-to-heart, Book 4, Saint City Sinners, could be eliminated entirely. But she doesn’t talk to anybody, and needless to say, this Strong Silent Traumatized Demon routine gets old fast.

It’s sad, because all this excessive angst-wallowing does a huge disservice to a fascinating world, and ultimately to the characters themselves. If the author had (a) sent Danny into therapy and (b) made her work out her problems with Japhrimel and others like a grown-up, we could have spent the final two books solving the mysteries and answering the many questions about this future Earth’s history, the various nonhuman denizens, and demon history…none of which get answered by the end of the series, to my frustration.  There are way too many loose ends, and despite the author’s protests that we don’t get all our questions answered in real life–well, I don’t want a good book to be all messy and untidy like real life, thank you. If I’m going to spend my money and invest my time in these characters, I want everything tied up in as neat a bow as can be managed.

That does not happen in this series. What a tremendous waste of such marvelous potential.


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