Demon Derby

by Carrie Harris
First sentence: “Once upon a time, whenever I saw a tall building, I wanted to jump off it.”
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Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some violence — demon attacks and all — and the content is a little mature for younger readers (well, A tried reading it and lost interest). It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Casey Kent has cancer. It’s in remission right now, but it’s forced her to re-think her extreme lifestyle. No more free jumping. No more trick boarding. In fact, everyone — from her parents, to her older sister, to her best friend, Kyle — is pretty much making sure Casey stays in a safe bubble.

And it’s driving her insane.

So, she decides to try out for one of the junior roller derby teams in town. Where she discovers that the coach (hot as he is) isn’t human. He’s a Sentinel, here to train people to fight demons. And it turns out that Casey, having been on the brink of death with her cancer, is the perfect hunter.

I was thinking this was Supernatural¬†meets the roller derby and in many ways it is. There’s creepy demons trying to kill people, and this book will definitely make you rethink ever buying a bobble-headed doll again. But, it lacked (for me) a certain… oomph. The hot guy wasn’t terribly interesting, the danger not terribly exciting. It was all kind of … meh.

What I DID like, however (and what kept me reading) was that this wasn’t your ordinary cancer book. Sure, Casey battled cancer and it’s in remission. But she was made strong because of it, not in spite of it. It was because of the cancer that she became an awesome Hunter and was able to defeat demons. And I liked that perspective. I also like that the person you thought would be the Traitor didn’t actually turn out to be one. It was a nice touch.

I wanted to like it more than I did, but reading about Casey — who was strong and feisty and awesome — made it worth wading through the meh elements.

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The Demon’s Surrender

by Sarah Rees Brennan

ages: 14+

First sentence: “Magic was like a special guest in Sin’s life.”

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There are many things I enjoy about this trilogy (the other two being The Demon’s Lexicon and The Demon’s Covenant): there’s action, there’s romance, there’s magic. It’s a grand package. But the think I think I most enjoy is that every book is written from a different point of view, something which ramps up the tension, and makes even the old information seem fresh.

Take the opening chapter of this book, for instance. It takes us back to a scene that happened in the first book (something which I was grateful for, actually, since my notorious bad memory and I have a hard time remembering details when it’s been a while since I’ve read this book). But it didn’t seem repetitive or even old because Brennan told the scene from the perspective of Goblin Market dancer, and supposed new leader, Sin.

This whole story, with its inevitable climax was told from Sin’s perspective, and that was the absolute right way to tell it. Though it’s not entirely her story, as evidenced by the cover: it’s also very much Alan’s story as well. I’ve come to realize over the course of the trilogy that it’s a complex, messy book: there’s no simple black and white story here. This is something which, at the beginning of every book, I struggle with: I want to trust characters, and there really isn’t anyone to trust. There is a greater good overarching everything, but getting there is in no way simple. I came to realize that, in the end, it’s lust for power, greed, and using people for personal gain (whether that’s just possession or killing) that is the real “bad guy.” Which means there’s a moral to the story, but it’s not one that’s heavy handed or even blatantly obvious. Both marks of excellent storytelling.

That said, there are some delicious characters to hate, some very intense moments, and Brennan knows how to write swoon-worthy romance (and yet not let it take over the book). All of which makes this trilogy worth reading.

The Demon’s Covenant

by Sarah Rees Brennan
ages: 14+
First sentence: “”Any minute now,’ Rache said, ‘something terrible is going to happen to us.'”
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First step: read The Demon’s Lexicon. Second step: come back and read this. Because there isn’t any way I can write this part without spoiling the first book.

Picking up a month where we left off… Alan and Nick are back in Mae and Jamie’s life, primarily because Gerald — new leader of the magician’s Obsidian Circle — is trying to recruit Jamie to be part of the circle. This, for many reasons, completely freaks Mae out, and so she calls the Ryves brothers back to help keep Jamie safe. Except, Nick isn’t exactly the safest person in the world, being a freed demon. That creates its own problems: Alan is making bargains with magicians and demons, Mae is finding she’s falling in love with both the brothers, Jamie is actually becoming friends with Nick. And there’s a whole lot else going on that’s completely impossible to sum up.

It’s slow getting started, but picks up about a third of the way into it. At one point I was flabbergasted, wondering where on earth Brennan was going with the storyline, how it all would work out. It’s one of those instances where the right narrator makes the book; it’s from Mae’s point of view this time, and that makes all the difference. Especially when the book all comes together in the end.

Also, as Charlotte pointed out, Brennan does write some very swoon-inducing prose. Very much so. Very, very much so. But she’s not just skilled in writing swoon; the book is SO much better than that. There’s angst and surliness, yes; but, there’s also mystery, and adventure, and magic, and surprise zombies (it’s not a party until someone brings the surprise zombies), and an ending that will — I promise — leave you begging for the next installment.

Which begs the question: how long do we have to wait, and what can we do to make Sarah Rees Brennan write faster?

The Demon’s Lexicon

by Sarah Rees Brennan
ages: 14+
First sentence: “The pipe under the sink was leaking again.”
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Brothers Nick and Alan are on the run from magicians who are hunting them. Have been for most of their lives. That, and taking care of their mother (who was driven mad by magic) takes up most of their time. That is until Mae and her brother Jamie come into their lives. Jamie, it seems, has a third level demon mark, which essentially means he’s ripe for possession.

Perhaps we should take a break here and explain that in this world, demons are spirits who long to possess human bodies and experience human lives. In exchange for this, they grant magicians unlimited power. The magicians don’t really see anything wrong with this, but for Nick, Alan, and their “side”, it’s kind of evil to give away human bodies to demons in exchange for power. I can see their point.

As a result of Mae and Jamie (among other things), Alan gets a demon mark, and so the four of them (unfortunately, in Nick’s opinion) set about trying to remove the marks. This involves hunting down a Circle of magicians and killing a couple, since only a magician’s blood will remove the marks. Thus begins an interesting adventure, full of suspense and intrigue, a bit of romance (and Brennan knows how to write romance), and a spectacular twist at the end, one that, in retrospect I should have seen coming yet it completely blew me away.

The only really drawback is that one of the main characters, Nick, is so very unlikable. It’s a turn off at the beginning of the book; you just want to smack the kid upside the head. But, give it time: he will grow on you, he does have a few redeeming qualities. And then there’s Alan, who’s an enigma: he keeps secrets from Nick, he’s up to something, but you never quite know what. They’re an interesting and appealing pair, these brothers. Mae isn’t too bad herself, either: with her fiery temper and determination (not to mention pink hair).

All of which makes for a very compelling book.