Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Devil's Kiss - Sarwat Chadda

It's been a while since I've done a book review, so I'd better pull my socks up and get on with it. It's not as if I haven't been reading - I have. In spades. Or is it buckets? I've read the new Meg Rosoff, the second Hunger Games book Catching Fire (oh, don't even get me started, better than the first if you can believe it), City of Glass (none of which I can't blog about due to extreme excitement, awe and inability to say anything sensible about such great books), Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr, Wings by Aprilynne Pike (hereby referred to as my `faerie phase'), the second Mac Slater I Heart NY, all the books I read in preparation for the Reading Matters conference, and so on and so forth. It's easy to see I am failing to read more middle fiction this year, as so far it's been YA all the way. 

So what have I chosen to review? Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda. And why? Due to the outlandish marketing assertion on the back that `Buffy and Lara pale into comparison next to BILLI SANGREAL, the FEISTY, WEAPON-WIELDING HEROINE of the series'. And yes, the whole marketing spiel was full of these ridiculous capitalisations. Now I don't know much about Lara. Say Lara Croft to me and I just think `BOOBIES' (caps that, marketers!)*. But I have recently started watching Buffy and Angel in order from the beginning with Housemate Andrew. I've come in as an adult Buffy virgin, which I am quite pleased about. And I started watching the series long after reading all the Twilight books, thereby saving me from entering the whole Buffy v. Bella debate. 

So, Devil's Kiss. Billi, a 15 year-old British schoolgirl, is the first female in the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar by this stage is a small ragtag bunch of older men who consider it their ongoing  duty to protect the world from evil forces; far from their days of glory, the Order has slid into anachronism. Billi is an extremely reluctant recruit; she's been allowed in the Order purely because her father is the Grandmaster and they need every pair of hands they have. Billi's life is grim and not one of her choosing. She spends her time training to fight demons rather than more normal teenage pursuits. Her father is a distant and cold character; focussed only on the needs of the Order. What sets this book apart for me is the interesting combination of Christian and Islamic iconography and mythology that arises due to Billi's mixed heritage, and the positioning of the very old school Knights against a modern London landscape. 

Billi is a great character. I wouldn't go so far as to say Buffy pales in comparison (the author is a big Buffy fan himself, so I'm sure he'd cringe himself at the comparison), but Billi definitely holds her own as FEISTY and WEAPON-WIELDING. Writing this post made me think about what it is we require from our modern fantasy heroines. We need them to be fighters in the physical sense, not with superhuman strength or strength that's unrealistic for a young woman, but we need them to be willing to enter the fray and use whatever skills they have at their disposal. 

But most of  all I think we require our heroines to battle emotional demons as much as physical ones. In this book Billi struggles constantly to cope with her father's lack of interest in her as anything other than a foot soldier of the Order. This is handled extremely well I think. The other hallmark for a fantasy heroine is a little bit of Wrong Love. The love that the reader/viewer feels deep down in their hearts and pants as much as if the love was their own, but which everyone knows is wrong, wrong, wrong. The love that is both destined and destined to never work out. Devil's Kiss has this in both Kay, Billi's longtime friend and Oracle, and Michael, the ultimate tattooed buff honeypot. Thinking of all the (dare I say it, I guess it's bandied about as a genre so I can) urban fantasy books I've read in the past year, faerie ones included, they have all contained their own versions of Wrong Love for their female heroines. 

* Please note that I think the back cover guff was written by UK marketers. Who, I am sure, have not the grammar nor spelling skillz of Australian ones. 

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