Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review – “Mark of the Demon” by Diana Rowland

FROM THE BOOK COVER:
COP AND CONJURER OF DEMONS, SHE'S. A WOMAN IN DANGER OF LOSING CONTROL
Why me? Why now? That's what Beaulac, Louisiana, detective Kara Gillian was asking herself when an angelic creature named Rhyzkahl unexpectedly appeared during a routine summoning. Kara was hoping to use her occult skills to catch a serial killer, but never had she conjured anything like this unearthly beautiful and unspeakably powerful being whose very touch set off exquisite new dimensions of pleasure. But can she enlist his aid in helping her stop a killer who's already claimed the lives—and souls—of thirteen people? And should she? The Symbol Man is a nightmare that the city thought had ended three years ago. Now he's back for an encore and leaving every indication on the flesh of his victims that he, too, is well versed in demonic lore.

Kara may be the only cop on Beaulac's small force able to stop the killer, but it is her first homicide case. Yet with Rhyzkahl haunting her dreams, and a handsome yet disapproving FBI agent dogging her waking footsteps, she may be in way over her head....
You should mark your calendars now for June 23. Why? That is the day that Diana Rowland’s debut urban fantasy novel Mark of the Demon hits the streets. Mark of the Demon is a highly polished supernatural crime thriller. From the forensic and police procedures to the descriptions and dialogue, every facet has the ring of authenticity. This excerpt from Diana Rowland’s bio provides some of the clues to her secret -
She has worked as a bartender, a blackjack dealer, a pit boss, a street cop, a detective, a computer forensics specialist, a crime scene investigator, and a morgue assistant, which means that she's seen more than her share of what humans can do to each other and to themselves. She won the marksmanship award in her Police Academy class, has a black belt in Hapkido, has handled numerous dead bodies in various states of decomposition, and can't rollerblade to save her life.
The aspect of Mark of the Demon that delighted me the most was its capacity to constantly surprise me. Every time I made a mental note that I knew what was coming next, I turned out to be wrong. And the actual direction was invariably logical and of the variety ‘why didn’t I think of that’. A perfect example is the opening of the novel where a woman (we don’t know who she is yet) is summoning a demon in her basement when she hears someone breaking into her home above. My mental thought; demon summoner equals bad person, demon also not good, maybe evil. Instead the intruder is subdued and when she calls the police we learn that Kara is a detective – our main protagonist and the good guy – the demon also obeys her instructions working to a code of honour and doesn’t fit the usual cliche. And the dialogue is peppered with wry and ironic humour as when Kara calls for a patrol unit –
The dispatcher laughed. “Bad choice of houses!”
You have no idea, I thought.
and when Kara asks the demon to punish the offender without physical harm -
A few minutes later, the demon swooped down to land neatly in front of me, dangling his ashen-faced prisoner by one ankle. "I believe he is suitably cowed."
Too bad I couldn't give this treatment to all my arrestees. We'd probably have fewer repeat offenders, I thought as I handcuffed the unresisting man.
Kara is a smart and dedicated detective, only recently assigned to homicide from property crimes. Suddenly after a three year absence there is a resurgence of murders with the signature of a serial killer known as ‘The Symbol Man’. Kara has been studying the old case files and finds herself assigned to the case as lead detective. After viewing the first new victim her demon summoning abilities allow her to confirm arcane magic has been employed. Unfortunately she cannot share this detail with anyone lest she be branded a nut. It is this aspect of her dual nature that adds dramatic fuel to the story. Those things she can reveal through her mundane skills and those things and explanations she must hide to keep her secret. It is a fine gray line she has to walk.

There are a lot of strong supporting characters in Mark of the Demon including Kara’s eccentric aunt, also a summoner and her teacher, her fellow detectives and particularly her task force partner, FBI agent Ryan with a background in the occult. As the case progresses Kara reluctantly reveals some of her skills to those close to her including Ryan. Some of the scenes where Ryan actually encounters real demons for the first time thus confirming what he had only half-believed all his life are quite wonderfully handled.

There is no shortage of theories and suspects for the identity of the human killer whose ultimate goal may be to summon an incredible powerful demon. We learn from Kara that the three year gap in the crimes is due to the alignment of the human and demon dimensions that requires the barrier to be at its thinnest for a summoning of the highest order. This leads to all kinds of complications especially when Kara summons a lower level demon to extract some information that may help them with the case and instead materializes the unthinkable, a Demon Lord in human form. As with all great detective mysteries, everything is connected if only you can see the threads.

The Demon Lord story arc enriches the broader storyline with world-building detail, and provides another foil to challenge and stretch Kara’s growth as a character notwithstanding the very hot and sensual scenes arising from the demons seduction of Kara. His ultimate role in the whole affair is another one of the many outcomes that will surprise you.

A great part of the success of this novel is how well the supernatural elements are integrated and grounded into a real-world crime procedural. The final climactic scene is absolutely thrilling, a showdown that reveals the killers identity and serves up a fate for Kara that was so unexpected it was breathtaking. Once I had learned who the ‘The Symbol Man’ was I realized that one very small clue had been dangled early on that I totally missed. Just one of the many little touches in this tightly plotted mystery that makes it so captivating. Mark of the Demon suffers from none of the usual first-book-in-a-series problems of too much information or uneven pacing but and hits the ground running. If I had read this book as a ‘blind test’ I would have guessed it to be the authors’ seventh or eighth novel. It really is that good.

Kara is a ‘real-world’ heroine, not so much the ‘kick-ass’ type but the intelligent, dedicated and committed type. Oh and of course she is a demon summoner too. I think you will love her. This is a very exciting urban fantasy debut. Check out the Showcase section below where Diana Rowland talks briefly about the next book in the series Blood of the Demon and the overall series arc. Diana has also kindly agreed to do a guest post here at SciFiGuy which is tentatively scheduled for April 29, 2009. I hope you will join us then for a little Q&A. I will be posting more details shortly.

AUTHOR AND BOOK SHOWCASEOfficial Diana Rowland Website

Bantam Books
Published: June 23, 2009
ISBN #: 9780553592351
Format: Paperback
Pages: 370

Demon Series:

  1. Mark of the Demon (2009)
  2. Blood of the Demon (TBD)

Diana Rowland on the Future of the Series -
The sequel, Blood of the Demon, will (hopefully) be turned in quite soon (right now I’m just waiting for my agent to approve the rewrites,) and I’m currently at work sketching out the plot for the next book, as well as the details to the series arc in general. I’m super-excited at where these books are going to go, and I think that the readers are going to really enjoy it as well. Yes, there is a definite end to the series (right now I think it will be ~6 books in all,) and it already makes me cry (in a good way!) thinking about the final outcome of it all.



14 comments:

  1. But...just be honest...did you like it? LOL

    What a great review. This sounds like a fabulous book. Best of luck to Diana. :)

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  2. What a wonderful review -- I've been admiring the cover for a while, and I can't wait to actually buy the book. YAY Diana!

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  3. I have this book waiting to be read. Now I can't wait!

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  4. Another book to add to the TBR shelf. :)

    M

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  5. Hey Jen yeah I am pretty enthusiastic about this book.

    AM thanks - I know you will love it!.

    KB I really want to hear back what you think. Keep me posted.

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  6. Ooh, sounds like it's brining together 2 things I really love: procedurals and UF. Makes me sort of nostalgic for the early Anita Blake books.

    Looking forward to her guest post and interview!

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  7. Great review! I can't wait for this book to come out so I can get my Demon on...

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  8. Hey Renee I hadn't thought of the early Anita books but you are right that supernatural crime fighting is a strong story hook.

    Sandra there are some pretty interesting demons here - 12 levels plus the Demon Lords.

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  9. Wow -- this book sounds great! I'll look forward to June. :)

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  10. Ooh very neat! I'll keep an eye out for it at my library.

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  11. Lady_tink let me know what you think if you are able to get it once it comes out.

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