hth: (brave new world)
Eve of Darkness
S.J. Day
Tor, 2009

Amazon synopsis: "For Evangeline Hollis, a long-ago fling with a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks just became a disaster of Biblical proportions. One night with a leather-clad man of mystery has led to a divine punishment: the Mark of Cain. Thrust into a world where sinners are drafted into service to kill demons, Eve's learning curve is short. A longtime agnostic, she begrudgingly maneuvers through a celestial bureaucracy where she is a valuable but ill-treated pawn. She's also become the latest point of contention in the oldest case of sibling rivalry in history.... But she'll worry about all that later. Right now she's more concerned with learning to kill while staying alive. And saving the soul she'd never believed she had."



Things I liked:
Third person narration and multiple POVs are always exciting for me because they feel so much less like I should be imagining this person writing in her diary, intensely absorbed in every detail of how the Zombie Apocalypse made her feel. I also in general like Eve, a biracial Japanese-American character who's an interior designer instead of a Professional Unstoppable Badass and actually moves in a world relatively full of other women – only two characters from Eve's "normal" world appear, her kindly elderly lady neighbor and her mom. Yes, the KELN was pretty much branded from first appearance with "Will Die Late in Second Act to Assure Readers This Is Srs Bsns," but it's pretty uncommon for characters in this genre to have parents (unless they're dark wizards who've passed on a terrible legacy or whatever) – just regular moms and dads and regular parent/child relationships, so I thought that was pretty cool. The mother felt a little like a generic busybody Tiger Mom to me, but I'm not sure if people who actually have Japanese mothers would find her stereotypical or relatable, and on the balance, I like her being there. Also, no mention is made of Eve's race until about page 50, which I thought was quite cool; the picture on the cover of the paperback is sort of Very Slightly Exotic/Ethnic, but not so much that I went into it aware that this was explicitly a character of color, and I liked the little moment there of having to slightly revise my mental picture of Eve.

I also really liked the portrayal of the angelic hierarchy as a careerist corporate structure where everyone wants to catch the Boss' eye; it felt nicely cynical without falling overboard into "BUT DO YOU SEE? You think they're GOOD but maybe they're NOT" that's so easy to do when you're trying to combine angels with a painfully cool gritty urban fantasy aesthetic.

Things I'm not too sure about:
Writing a fantasy world where the Abrahamic mythology is explicitly the true-and-for-real story of history and guidebook to the paranormal is hard to do. To its credit, the book admits up front that this picture of a Supreme Omnipotent Jehovah who deputizes endless bureaucratic layers of angels and mostly-unwilling Slayerlikes in order to fight legions of demons creates a couple of pretty significant theological issues. Choosing to be like, "Hey, this is a little fucked up, right?" is cool, but I still came away from the book not really sure that using Genesis!God as a fantasy novel character was entirely cool. I'm not Christian or Jewish, so maybe it's not my place to say, but it felt weird that the characters were basically put in the position of having real-world theological arguments, except based on the wildly unreal-world premises of the genre. This gets particularly absurd when our nice, normal interior designer gets into a love triangle with frigging Cain and Abel, who conveniently enough speak, act, and think basically exactly like two 21st century American alpha male jagoffs, rather than, you know, like people who had been alive to witness the entire scope of all human history. If you thought Edward Cullen showing up for English class for a hundred years was kind of implausible, this is really the next ridiculous level.

The sexual politics of the book are also a little weirdly dubious – there's no shortage of explicit, paranormally-off-the-charts fucking going on between the super-strong and super-horny (seriously, the transition into a Marked demon-hunter apparently makes you extra special horny) characters, and Eve comes across like she's got a pretty down to earth attitude on the subject. But at the same time, there's this whole not very clearly defined business tying her relationship with Cain to the Punishment of Sins, particularly Cain's "sin" of banging her when she was eighteen and God had placed her in his path as a temptation to avoid. I couldn't quite make sense of how reliable the narration was on all that – did Cain sin 10 years ago when they had consensual sex, and now Eve has lost her humanity in order to make him feel really bad about that? I mean....surely that is so full of WTF that no one would write that into their sexy fantasy novel, right? Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what was up with all that, but I ended the book feeling like Eve had a very chill attitude toward sex, but the writer might be working some very dubious themes nonetheless. (There is one dubcon scene early on – it didn't bother me because I don't really count "overwhelmed by pheromones" as negating consent because, uh, people becoming extremely horny in one another's presence is actually the traditional means of acquiring consent, but I know some people are a little icked by "my head says no, my loins say yes" type of scenes, so fair warning.)

Things my life would have been better without:
Seriously, there is a lot of Eve having supersex with douchebags in this book. To her credit (I think?), Eve is aware they're douchebags, it's just that the supersex is really very super. I can only assume, as they are the two male leads, that the author thought I'd find one or both of them to be charming douchebags. I didn't. If you do, I bet this book is a whole lot more fun, but as I mentioned, I really, really did not. The sex-with-douchebags is pretty central to the book, so you kinda have to buy into it or write the whole thing off, and in spite of liking a lot of stuff in this book, I ended up coming real close to writing the whole thing off.

There's also a really wonky framing device, where the first chapter is a fairly badass fight with a dragon in a baseball stadium – which is everything awesome in the world, right there – that cuts in chapter two to the "Six Weeks Earlier" backstory...and never returns. Seriously, we don't get back to the baseball stadium and the motherfucking dragon. The sample chapter from the sequel at the end tells me that if I'd like to buy Eve of Destruction I can read all about what ended up happening there, but that is not how a framing device works. It just really felt like the author deciding that she can't lead off with all the fucking and make people wait 200 pages till the fight scenes, so she'd better jam one up front somehow. Which is just cheating, because the 200 pages of fucking was the book, and it just felt like a bait and switch. If you knew we wouldn't read a book where we had to wait that long for something exciting to happen, maybe something authentically exciting should've happened earlier, instead of an outtake from the sequel getting shoehorned in to trick us.

Princess Special Snowflake watch:
Eve does not appear to be the Last Scion of the Guardians of Whatever or the Lone Wielder of the Power of Who Cares. She starts out the book (at least Six Weeks Earlier than the first chapter of the book) as a pretty successful but ordinary human woman, except she's really hot. No. Seriously. She's really hot. We know this because there are immortal beings from the dawn of time who do an awful lot of talking about how she's the most amazingly hot and irresistible creature they have ever encountered. All her problems seem to stem from the fact that she's just so damn hot that Alec Cain can't resist banging her, which somehow means that she has to be a professional demon-hunter now, because...those are the rules? I guess? Like I said, I never totally figured out why Eve got stuck with the power of the Mark that she really quite loudly does not want. Something to do with Cain's obsession with her, which has existed for years, since they first glanced at one another across a crowded ice cream parlor (I'm only sort of joking) and he noticed...she's really hot. So while I really appreciate the normal-girl-called-to-heroism thing, honest to Yig, you can stop telling me how hot she is, Day. I believe you. I do.

Will I read the ineviable sequel?:
I guess probably not, although this is a bit of a borderline call. That bit with the dragon was boss, and I'd like to know whatever happened there. I liked the various breeds of demons, and the supernatural Mark that both warns Eve of danger and acts like a shock collar when she takes the Lord's name in vain, much to her disgruntlement (that bit never stopped being hilarious, and if you can avoid thinking of South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut – well, you probably can't now, can you?) It had werewolves; I like werewolves. (I know – they all have werewolves.) I liked Eve enough that I think I'd enjoy watching her jack up demons for a few books. But I just can't deal with frigging Cain and Abel. Seriously, they're terrible.
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