Chess, a librarian, discovered a secret room full of books on demon lore in the library she works at. Using those books, she taught herself how to hunt demons. At the start of the book, she's hunting her very first demon and barely manages to kill it.
Paul and Ryan are demon hunters who have come to Chess' city looking for the very books she discovered in her library. They know that someone working at the library is the key to finding the books. Paul focuses on one of the prettier staff members, while Ryan follows Chess around. Ryan soon realizes that Chess is hiding something and appears to have magical abilities. Unfortunately, Paul has gone missing. The only thing Ryan can do is continue to watch Chess and hope she can somehow lead him to Paul.
Ryan and Chess end up revealing their abilities to each other, and Chess reluctantly starts working with Ryan. The situation becomes a lot more dangerous when Chess' latent abilities become stronger and start to attract increasingly horrific and deadly demons.
I spotted this in a used bookstore and bought it because 1) it had the word “librarian” in the title and 2) the author's name seemed vaguely familiar, although I couldn't remember whether I'd heard good or bad things about her work.
The book begins in the middle of Chess' first demon hunt. I imagine this was meant to hook readers' attention, but instead I found myself wishing I could have seen how Chess' got into demon hunting in the first place. There were mentions of her training, how she found the books she used as research, etc., but I really wanted to have seen some of it.
Then Ryan and Paul entered the story, and things got extremely confusing for a while. There were mentions of “skins,” “Maliks,” “Golden,” “sheela,” and more, hardly any of which came with explanations. It was a blizzard of new vocabulary, with no glossary, and I started to wonder whether I'd jumped into the middle of a series. However, all the sources I checked indicated that this was a standalone book.
Things got better as I became used to the vocabulary. I never got to the point where I thought it was a great book, but it was at least an interesting read. It felt like a lot of other urban fantasy I've read, with a heroine trying to figure out what's going on fast enough to survive, and a hero who's very protective, good in a fight, and kind of scary.
Ryan's protectiveness/possessiveness reached uncomfortable levels, at times. The human side of him didn't want to scare Chess, but his demon side sometimes came close to overriding that. Since Chess had no clue how to deal with him and seemed resistant to following any instructions he gave her (would it really have been that bad to just immediately stay still when he said so?), there were times Ryan got to the point where he was scary enough to make Chess cry out of fear that he might hurt her. Since I, the reader, got to see Ryan's perspective, I knew that he probably wouldn't. But then there were a couple parts later on when he started to worry the Chess would get him worked up enough that he wouldn't be able to stop himself and would end up raping her. Yeah, I wasn't happy with that at all.
(By the way, although this book has some kissing, there are no sex scenes, not even fade-to-black ones. This didn't bother me, although it did make all the attention paid to Ryan's mating possessiveness seem overdone.)
I was all set to consider this an okay-but-not-great urban fantasy when Chess began repeatedly being incredibly stupid. I'll grant that she probably didn't truly know what she was getting herself into when she killed her first demon – one thing she seemed to keep forgetting is that book knowledge is not the same as experience. I'll also grant that I, too, would have been upset if a strange and scary guy started to tell me I had to do as he said, especially when said strange and scary guy seemed to attract trouble (at least initially, Chess had no reason to believe that she was the one attracting all the demonic awfulness).
However, I don't think any of that excuses her behavior later on in the book. She knew that Ryan and Paul knew their stuff and had way more experience with demon hunting than she did. She knew the bad guys were everywhere and weren't necessarily going to leave her alone just because she wasn't actively hunting them. So, did she listen when the two experienced demon hunters told her it was safest to stay at her place? Of course not. She went out with her sister and told the two experienced demon hunters not to follow her. And then, after they saved her life, she got mad at them for following her when she told them not to. And she repeatedly got mad at Ryan for killing “human beings.” These human beings, by the way, were clearly infested with demons. What did she want him to do, wait until they'd fully morphed into demon form before killing them?
My intense dislike of Chess really affected my overall opinion of the book. I think that, if she had been more reasonable, more cognizant of the danger she was in, I'd have tolerated her better. As it was, I kind of felt Ryan could have done better. And I can't believe I'm even typing that, considering that he had a few moments when he was just a hair away from being taken over by his demon side and murdering and raping.
Okay, so the reason I picked up the book was the librarian aspect. How did that work out? Well, Chess didn't spend much time at work, but there was a bit in the beginning where she had to deal with a book challenge. And she handled it incredibly badly. I was horrified, and it was a little hard to understand how she managed to keep her job. On the plus side, Chess at least realized she'd handled the situation badly.
I might try another one of Saintcrow's books in the future, but this particular one was not for me.
- The Iron Hunt (book) by Marjorie M. Liu - The first book in a series. I don't think I've read this, just a short story starring the main character of the series. The main character, Maxine Kiss, is a demon hunter. She has tattoos that protect her by day and peel off her body and become little demons at night. Those who'd like another urban fantasy starring a demon hunter might want to give this a try.
- Daughter of the Blood (book) by Anne Bishop - This is the first book in a trilogy, which is part of a larger series. This is dark fantasy, not urban fantasy, a lot darker in tone than Saintcrow's book, and set in a fantasy world. I added it to this list mostly because Ryan's scary protectiveness reminded me a lot of the men in this series. The main difference is, the women they love aren't nearly as bad at dealing with them as Chess was with Ryan.
- Darkfever (book) by Karen Marie Moning - Those who'd like another urban fantasy starring a heroine who's in over her head and featuring a lot of horrific and dangerous beings (in this case, fae) might want to give this a try. It's been a while since I read this, but I think it's darker in tone than Saintcrow's book. I'm also pretty sure it has graphic sex.