I requested this book knowing that it would probably be a fairly conventional YA novel about teenagers with powers fighting against the supernatural. It can’t be denied that this is far from an endangered genre, and often there’s little to distinguish books from each other, but I decided to be optimistic and hope for the best.
I was partly rewarded, in that while this is far from an unconventional story, it’s got a few differences — it’s set in Scotland, specifically Edinburgh, which I haven’t seen so often, and the line of Demon Hunters featured are always female. Plus, the creature they’re fighting against (at least at this point) takes particular issue with women who don’t conform to his ideas, so it’s basically a story about a bunch of badass teenage girls fighting a misogynist. Bonus points because one of them is gay, and has hypermobility. We’re clearly soulmates.
I enjoyed the feminism aspect of the book, and the strong sense of setting. I’ve got a passing knowledge of Edinburgh from spending a week or so at the Festival a few years ago, and I could recognise a lot of the place names and streets, although I can’t speak for how it would read to a native. In a few places, the way the characters spoke felt a little bit contrived, but it’s really hard to get across regional differences in writing without it sounding silly or being unreadable.
There were a few elements of the book that disappointed me, however. Firstly, there’s a budding romance with a supernaturally hot guy the main character Diana met on a train, who is all tortured and dark and so on in ways I won’t spoil. I was excited when the book turned out to have a gay character, because I hoped that would mean we were spared the generic straight romances that dominate this genre, but unfortunately it looks like we’re getting them anyway – even if we’re not quite at that point yet.
I guess mainly I was just sad that this fell into so many urban fantasy / paranormal romance tropes. For example, the character starts to develop powers after a significant birthday (16); they’ve got dead parents who had a mysterious past; they meet other significant people completely at random; for whatever reason they’ve already been training to fight but even so they’re remarkably good with a weapon they’ve never used before… and so on. While this book did manage to subvert a few tropes, for example allowing the characters to fail at stuff here and there, and showing that they felt pain and were weakened by injury, the rest just felt a little generic.
That said, there were certain elements that managed to bring something new to the table even within this conventional framework, such as the nature of Demon Hunters themselves – not only the fact that they’re always female, but also the way they each have a particular power, and how those can be used. I was impressed by how Diana was able to use her power to See when touching an object to tell where someone had gone – she could See by touching the floorboards. That’s something I’ve never seen before, although the idea of learning the past of an object isn’t a new one.
The writing, I will admit, is probably nothing to write home about. It avoids annoying Americanisms by featuring an American protagonist / narrator living in Scotland, rather than trying to fake a British voice, which is a good thing – I can spot those a mile off, and don’t have much patience with them. There are some entertaining bits of dialogue and a few snarky lines that elicit snorts from me, but I wouldn’t say I was laughing out loud. Although in places it seemed to ‘tell’ rather than show in a somewhat clumsy manner, the writing didn’t stand out as a barrier to enjoying the book, so it wasn’t an outright negative point either.
I’ve briefly talked about the character of Diana, though not much beyond her adherence to tropes. She’s interesting enough, but doesn’t particularly stand out from other clueless-but-magically-gifted YA protagonists, except for her ju-jitsu, which made for an interesting plot point.The twins Minerva and Vesta are again, interesting enough, but so much was happening with setting up the nature of Demon Hunters and explaining the history that we didn’t get to see a lot of character development from them. In some ways, the secondary character of Sebastian got to have more emotional screentime, by virtue of being less involved in the action. I would have liked to know more about their feelings, and felt that the length of the book didn’t allow me to get as attached to them as I’d have liked.
On the whole, I think the girl power element was the only thing that really helped this book stand out from the crowd, as I didn’t particularly connect with the specific characters or situation. Though there was enough to keep me engaged through the course of the (admittedly fairly short novel), it seemed to act primarily as a setup for future books, lacking the depth of a standalone, and making it hard to care about the characters as individuals.