Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland
Series: Kara Gillian #1
Published by Bantam
Published on: June 23 2009
Genres: Urban Fantasy
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Cop and conjurer of demons, she's a woman in danger of losing control—to a power that could kill....
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...
Kara Gillian is summoner of demons. She’s also a detective, recently (and fortuitously) transferred to homicide, after a three year stint in property crimes. Since she was a rookie, she’s been fascinated by a string of unsolved serial murders that were committed in her town, so when a new victim turns up after a prolonged silence, she is
THRILLED horrified, but eager to get on the case.
From there things started going south . . . Which is unfortunate, b/c I’d only made it through the first chapter or two.
This review is going to be a little different, b/c the writing is so terrible that I don’t think I can accurately communicate how bad it was . . . So I’m letting it speak for itself. While the premise held promise—a detective with Extras, in a world that didn’t acknowledge Extras, working a case involving Extras—the execution was awful.
The Awful manifested in a variety of ways, but most of it boils down to a singular source: Kara is a snowflake, wrapped in a trope, inside a great many clichés.
And that, my friends, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Please note that I make excessive use of SARCASM in this review. I didn’t even try to keep a lid on it, b/c just that bad. SO. If you find yourself scratching your head about something I’ve written, chances are it’s my darker angels come out to play. #cantstopwontstop
1. Redundant information.
Like when half a dozen medical and law enforcement personal independently comment on how the intruder from the opening scene of the book, “sure picked the wrong house,” to break into.
Hmm . . . So, ideally, a criminal shouldn’t break into a cop’s house? That would be a Bad Idea? I’m so glad that observation was REPEATEDLY made. Otherwise, I might’ve missed the irony.
2. & 3. Kara makes flash assumptions, often pertaining to her belief that she’s done something wrong/Lengthy explanations for gestures and/or facial expressions that are both ridiculous and UNNECESSARY.
First we have the knee-jerk insecurity: the demon asks a simple question, and in the first of MANY non sequiturs, Kara assumes that she’s done something wrong.
Her reaction is strange for a multitude of reasons, but particularly b/c earlier in the chapter, she’d gone on, at length, about the various ways a demon will take his bloodthirsty revenge on a summoner who performs an imperfect summoning.
This demon is on his way OUT. If Kara had messed up, she’d know it, and by “know it,” I mean she’d be dead.
It’s kind of like a reverse narcissism, where the world revolves around her not b/c she’s just that awesome, but b/c she’s a twit.
Then there’s the unnecessary qualifications for ALL the mannerisms.
Kara never just says something, or grins, or scowls. She controls her expression. With effort. NEWSFLASH: control requires effort. If it was effortless, it wouldn’t need to be controlled.
The next one is worse:
“You have not failed me,” I said, carefully choosing my words and trying not to show my glee.
Again, she’s ALREADY explained about demons and the touchy subject of their honor, not to mention that when dealing with demons, it’s common sense to be careful. But just in case we’re incapable of adding 2 and 2 to get 4, she spells it out for us.
And notice how the description of what she’s feeling, the actions accompanying her words, is twice as long as the statement itself. I’m not opposed to the occasional wryly arched brow to punctuate a thought, but when it’s as frequent and elaborate as it is here, it becomes a distraction. More time is spent on meaningless gestures than on moving the plot forward.
Then, circuit completed, we’re back where we started, getting our SECOND (in as many pages) dose of Kara’s inexplicable belief that she’s screwed something up.
After her “careful” choice of words, the demon goes still and hisses, the abruptness a clear indication that something unrelated to Kara, a concept she can’t seem to grasp, is happening. But she misses the behavioral cues and wonders, yet again, what she did to elicit the change in Demon’s demeanor.
Only this time, she wants to know what she’s done “now.” Like she’s forgotten that she didn’t do anything the first time. Something is wrong, ergo it must be her fault.
4. Acknowledging the lameness of a thing doesn’t make it less lame.
“My God, you’d think the media could have come up with something more exciting than ‘Symbol Man.’”
“Well, it was a long time ago. In fact, it was right about the time I became a cop, seven years ago. And it was the big news for a while.”
5 & 6. ALL the boys want her despite her steadfast insistence that she is physically mediocre.
Kara has no less than three blatant suitors, and a handful of other encounters with admirers as well, but every time a man casts an appreciative eye in her direction, she laments her average appearance.
First we have Demon Lord, whose description paints him as an impossibly beautiful fallen angel-type. He almost certainly has ulterior motives, but that doesn’t keep him from trying to get it regular from our self-deprecating Detective Gillian.
“So beautiful,” he murmured as he bent to kiss me again.
Who does he think he’s kidding?
Then there’s the hapless graphic novel artist:
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I was listening to music on my iPod and was caught up in a little project, and then I heard the knocking on the door so I leaped up, thinking it was some kind of emergency, and then instead it’s a gorgeous woman, and I’m sitting here wondering what kind of lottery I won!”
*throws up in mouth a little bit*
And finally we have FBI Agent Ryan Kristoff, which brings me to my next issue . . .
7. The painfully awkward pseudo-romance between Kara and Ryan.
It begins—predictably—as insta-hate. Kara even comes up with the clever moniker, Agent Obnoxious.
BUT. Then he shows up on her doorstep—to discuss the case, of course—and, well, a change of venue can make all the difference. Plus, you know, he’s HAWT, so who cares about the asshole parts?
He was wearing a long-sleeved black oxford-style shirt and khaki dress pants—a really good look for him, I thought in an incredibly private part of my mind. The porch light did interesting things to his facial features as well.
THANKS for the “private” part of your mind qualifier. Before you clarified, I thought you meant the public access part of your brain.
But why is he there? What can he possibly want from her?
Was he flirting with me?
Definitely Not. You said it yourself: you’re “not beautiful.”
8. Poor, poor Kara is a victim of her extra specialness.
Maybe it’s Rowland’s intent to use Kara’s poor socialization as a crutch for her awkwardness, but if that’s the case, she was unsuccessful:
I had too many secrets to get intimate with just anyone, and I sure as hell couldn’t risk anyone finding out about the summoning chamber in my basement. I’d simply accepted that a dearth of companionship was one of the prices I paid to be a summoner of demons.
By itself, that could have cast Kara as a serious practioner who made the requisite sacrifices for her scholarship. BUT. Rowland immediately follows with this:
It was the same reason why I’d never had any sleepovers when I was a kid and why I’d had so few friends—none of them close—in high school. There are worse things to endure, I told myself, not for the first time. Being a summoner is worth it.
I shoved aside the doubt that always accompanied that thought . . .
And any sympathy I may have felt got swallowed up by her own much greater self-pity.
9. Kara wastes time by both stating the obvious, and on pointless ruminations that emphasize her stupidity.
Like when Demon Lord destroys her protections with barely a glance:
My stomach clenched. All of the bindings, the wardings, the protections were gone—useless. Even my police training would do me no good against this creature.
Are you telling me that after HEP BIG Mr. Demon Lord obliterated your meticulously crafted arcane protections with a hand gesture, the piddly training you received as a HUMAN cop will do NOT ONE THING to protect you?
Then it gets exponentially worse . . .
“Ryan’s on his way. He and I were grabbing dinner when he got your text, and he said he’d meet us here.”
I caught myself in time before saying something like, Oh, I figured he’d still be asleep. That would be a sure way to give people the wrong impression.
Good catch, lady! That would’ve given them the wrong impression, for sure.
10. Belief that liberal use of “fucking” as an adverb makes for a clever set down.
Between her habit of saying things out loud that most people designate as “understood,” and her cluelessness when interacting with peers, it’s not exactly a surprise that her verbal sparring skills are similarly subpar.
But this is just sad.
A senior detective reacts poorly to the news that Kara was given the lead on the Symbol Man case, and how does she respond?
“It’s not my fucking fault, Crawford,” I said, nearly snarling. “I didn’t ask for it, and if it bugs you that fucking much, then take it up with the fucking captain!”
Way to go, Kara. Your captain shows a great deal of (unwarranted) confidence in your abilities, and what do you do when confronted a colleague’s poor sportsmanship? You absolve yourself of any and all responsibility. You profess to have done nothing to EARN the privilege, going so far as to imply that didn’t even want it, when we all know that’s not true.
You can’t even snarl properly, content with the suggestion of a snarl rather than fully committing, b/c your too damn weak to defend yourself from a bully.
But Kara’s pitiful attempts to throw sass don’t end there:
“It’s Detective Gillian,” I said through bared teeth, yanking my badge off my belt and thrusting it into the woman’s face. “I am here on official police business for the purposes of investigating a series of murders. But for you, Ms. Dailey, I have just one thing to advise.”
Ms. Dailey’s eyes widened.
“From now on, why don’t you try minding your own fucking business?”
I turned and marched back to my car, leaving the woman behind me gaping and speechless. And, for the first time, I felt like the warrior woman in that picture.
This altercation might score infinitesimally higher—she does more than drop the f-bomb and blame shift, after all—except that the aggressor is a little old lady. An admittedly unpleasant little old lady, but a little old lady, nonetheless, and for unfathomable reasons, I’m unable to work up any enthusiasm for Kara’s improved performance.
I find the idea of feeling like a “warrior woman” after cursing at the elderly to be . . . I’m torn between vulgar and reprehensible.
Either way, it’s bad form.
And that’s where I’ll stop, b/c ten grievances is a little ridiculous. BUT. Let the record show that I had half a dozen other points of contention, the most difficult to abandon being that the few men who didn’t want Kara were fat, their imperfections described in excruciating detail. So as ranty as I’ve been, I’ve actually exercised restraint. FYI.
I’m giving it two stars rather than one, b/c buried in the muck there were several brilliant magic system details. In fact, some of the foundations Rowland laid for future development were interesting enough that if I ever get truly desperate for new urban fantasy material, I might research the series to see if readers claim, “it gets really good after the first few books.”
I’d have to be REALLY desperate.
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Oh I am so glad I read this before this book came to the top of my TBR. Its been there awhile, and from the sounds of it, it may stay there a little longer. I really enjoyed Rowland’s White Trash Zombie. Is this that far off from it?
In retrospect, I agree with all of your remarks, but I actually remember this one fondly. The series went downhill after book 3 for me, and I stopped reading because I hated the direction it was going.
I have to agree wholeheartedly with Maja. Can I use the excuse that I read it shortly after it first come out, and I was just so excited to have another urban fantasy series to read that I wasn’t as critical as I could have/should have been?
There was a mystery around Agent Ryan Kristoff that kept me reading into book 5, but I finally threw in the towel and called it quits in the first third of the book. I had even switched to audio at book 3 to see if that could make it more interesting, but alas, nothing worked.
Ha! Burn book burn, says the one who really likes the series 😀
I too remember it fondly, Jessica, on the account of reading this series early in my love affair with UF. I’m sure now I’d look at it in a very different light 🙂