by Zoë Archer, historical/paranormal (2012)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-2228-2
Demon's Bride is the second book in Zoë Archer's Hellraisers series. Basically, this series is about six guys who accepted a gift each from the devil. This one can stand alone quite well, I think, but there is a continuing arc about how each redeemed guy join a gang to help defeat this devil before that villain turns the world into a literal hell on earth.
This one is about Leo Bailey. A self-made man with a big chip on his shoulder, he has come a long way from the boy on the streets. Having made his fortune on investments and stocks, he is set to become an even wealthier man when he gets the ability to read the future. One thing eludes him, however: respectability that can only come from an affiliation with someone of good pedigree. Thus, he pretty much buys himself a wife: Anne Hartfield, the daughter of an impoverished baron. Anne shares her husband's business savvy and they have mutual interest in many things, so they should be a good match. But what happens when Anne learns that her husband may be one of the harbingers of doom and destruction to this world?
I wasn't too keen on the previous book, Devil's Kiss, because I felt that the execution of an interesting and different premise fell short of expectations. In Demon's Bride, however, things are much better.
Both Leo and Anne are interesting characters. Anne is a likable heroine who is charmingly normal. She knows what she is getting into - a marriage that is pretty much a business transaction between her father and her husband - and she tries to make the best of it instead of whining about true love. Anne comes off as a smart person with a level head, and I like her. Leo is a far more interesting character, if only because he is in many ways the villain of the story. He's greedy, amoral, and ruthless. It is his growing fondness of his wife that becomes the catalyst of his redemption.
Unlike in the previous book, the hero's redemption is handled in a far more believable and less heavy-handed manner. Here, Leo doesn't experience a desire to change until he realizes that his deal with the devil has placed the woman he has come to adore into great danger. Faced between losing her and losing everything else, he chooses her. Nice, and pretty romantic too. Oh, and don't worry, Leo isn't some cruel alpha male type here. He is ruthless and grouchy to everyone else, but he turns out to be putty in the wife's hands.
The author spends the bulk of the story exploring the developing relationship between him and Anne, while simultaneously building up Anne's increasing doubts and concerns about her husband. Anne knows that Leo is hiding something, and as she begins to learn more about his secrets, the suspense builds up considerably. The mounting tension between husband and wife is handled nicely by the author, and it's hard to put this book down.
However, the pay off is tad weak. While the author did the right thing in taking the time to build up the romance and tension between the hero and the heroine, this also leaves her with not much room to explore the denouement and the aftermath fully. As a result, Anne's transformation into a Woman With Power happens too quickly to be believable, and events snowball in the late third or so of the story in a manner that feels rushed and underdeveloped. It's like following a Gothic story, all about the atmosphere, only to have the story interrupted suddenly by aliens crashing into the scene and firing off huge laser guns at everyone. I wish the hero and heroine have a more active role in the events in this part of the story, too, instead of relying heavily on the author's arsenal of standard paranormal plot devices such as the ghost ex machina, sudden magic power ex machina, and stuff. I know someone has to show these two how to get things done, but perhaps there is a less heavy-handed and contrived manner to do this?
At any rate, Demon's Bride is an interesting and different story with a fascinating romance at its core. It is at its weakest during the penultimate moments however, when it should be at its strongest, so just be aware that the pay-off may not meet the expectations set by the far more stronger early parts of this story.
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