Title: The Demon’s Covenant
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Mae Crawford always thought she was in control. Now she’s learned that her little brother Jamie is a magician and Nick, the boy she’d set her heart on, has an even darker secret. Mae’s whole world has spun out of control, and it’s only going to get worse. When she realises that Jamie has been meeting secretly with the new leader of the Obsidian Circle and that Gerald wants him to join the magicians, she’s not sure how to stop Jamie doing just that. Calling in Nick and Alan as reinforcements only leads to a more desperate conflict because Gerald has a plan to bring Nick down – by using Alan to spring a deadly trap. With those around her torn between divided loyalties and Mae herself torn between her feelings for two very different boys, she sees a chance to save them all – but it means approaching the mysterious and dangerous Goblin Market alone…
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (US)/ Simon & Schuster Children’s (UK)
Publication Date: May 18 2010/ May 27 2010
Hardcover: 448 pages/ Paperback: 448 pages
Stand alone or series: Second in a trilogy, which started with The Demon’s Lexicon
How did I get this book: I shamelessly begged S&S UK for a review copy.
Warning: this review contains spoilers for the FIRST BOOK because I can’t review the second without spoiling the first one. The spoiler completely ruins the experience of reading the first book and if you haven’t yet but still plan to read The Demon’s Lexicon I urge you to avert your eyes NOW. You have been warned!
It was only a few days ago that I talked about how 2010 has been a great reading year for me. The Demon’s Covenant is another addition to an already incredible line up. It feels like it was only yesterday that I discovered The Demon’s Lexicon a book that inconspicuously crept into my top 10 last year after its world and its characters became so alive to me, I was able to remember the smallest details after months of reading it. The Demon’s Covenant has been on my Most Wanted list since then and I was both anxious and terrified of reading it. Would it, could it, be as great as its predecessor? The answer is a resounding YES, a million times YES, and not only that: I find that it is even better.
I hereby declare Sarah Rees Brennan to be a freaking genius. For writing characters that become so alive that I feel like I know them, that make me care so much for their future as though they are real people, for making it possible to establish such an emotional connection with fictional people, I hereby declare that this writer has just joined the list of Ana’s Great Ones. Her name is now set in stone which means, I will read anything she ever writes because we (her writing and I) have crazy chemistry. It is possible that I am behaving like a fan-girl. It is possible that I am not in total control of my thoughts and actions because they have turned to mush after finishing this book. It is possible that I am wearing my heart in my sleeve. It is possible that you think I am exaggerating and it is very possible that I am. But this is what Good Books do to me and I wouldn’t trade this feeling, this experience, for anything in this world. I want to nurture it and above all I want to be able to spread it. So here it goes.
The Demon’s Covenant is very much a second book in a trilogy – by expanding on the first book’s storylines and setting the stage for the final act. It picks up a few weeks after the events at the end of The Demon’s Lexicon and the characters are still suffering the aftermath of what happened then. They are still struggling with the discovery that Jamie is a magician (and if you remember, most Magicians in this world are not Good) , with Mae’s feelings after she has killed someone to protect her brother and with the Twisterific revelation that Nick is in fact, a demon (and if you remember, the one thing that could be worse than being a magician, is definitely being a demon).
The story opens with Mae trying to go back to a normal life when she discovers that her brother is meeting with one of the magicians from Obsidian Circle, Gerald. Terrified that she might lose him, she contacts the brothers Nick and Alan to ask for their help once more and then all attempts at normalcy go down the drain; she is dragged back into the midst of a fight between Circles, a fight between brothers, and into the magical world of the Goblin Market – a world she would do anything to forget but which she is reluctantly fascinated by and attracted to.
The first thing of note in The Demon’s Covenant is the change in narrator . Nick is no longer the voice or the eyes from which this story is narrated making the sequel completely different from its predecessor and yet still fundamentally similar. The difference comes from of course, the narrative voice as instead of Nick’s cold, detached point of view, we get Mae’s deeply emotional one. I thought the choice of picking Mae as the narrator (as opposed to say, Nick again, or Alan) was extremely interesting and at first I wondered why. Then it hit me, even though they are miles apart in terms of humanity (or lack of) , Nick and Alan actually share something. They are both outsiders looking in. Nick, as the non-human, puzzled by emotional conundrums which he doesn’t have and Mae as the only one who does not possess magic, or fighting skills. Her narrative is poignant because of considerations such as what can she possibly offer to the group?
As Nick’s observations of others spoke loudly of how they felt, the same can be said about Mae. Her eyes observe everything and relate to the reader: the strange tension between the brothers, Jamie’s loneliness, the allure of the Goblin Market. Sometimes her observations are not as keen as she would like to believe but that might as well come from being deceived by others but also because of self-denial. She battles with her own heart for most of the book, trying to find normalcy she can’t possibly have after all that has happened and love in the arms of people which she doesn’t truly love. If you read the first book, you know that Alan has a crush on Mae and that Mae has a crush on Nick. At one point in the book, Nick tells her that she would be crazy not to pick Alan but the heart wants what the heart wants, folks. In some sense, Mae is as an unreliable narrator as Nick was but for completely different reasons. That to me, was awesome. As awesome was her strength, her resilience and her gift for action and plotting and above all, her capacity for understanding and connecting. Her understanding of Seb, a guy who could be scorned off as a bully but who is embraced by her or her friendship with another fantastic secondary female character, Sin of the Goblin Market (who is to be the narrator of the final book) . And even though, she is understanding and accommodating that does not make her feeble. I absolutely LOVED how her reactions to discoveries she made about people (I am being cryptic on purpose!) throughout the book were very firm and yet still well-balanced.
As fascinating as the narrative voice was, and how the world-building is incredibly compelling with added dynamics and politics within the Goblin Market and across the Magicians Circles nothing surpasses characterisation. What strikes me the most though in the world created by the author, is the complexity and the greyness of her characters. These are complex human beings making morally questionable decisions all the time. They all know for example, that Magicians are bad and kill humans to use their body to bring demons into the world in order to control their powers and yet, both Mae and Jamie are attracted to the use of magic.
Alan, who is my favourite character by far, is someone who would do anything, and I mean, anything for his brother Nick. He kills, maims lies, manipulates, and goes behind people’s backs to get what he wants. He unleashed a demon in the world. Yes, it is all for love and devotion but…does that make it right though? Probably not, but reading his father’s diary and how Alan has loved and cared for Nick from day one, just about broke my heart. Everything he does is for Nick but he also seems to have an unlimited amount of love to give to anybody who would accept. His actions in the end of the book (another twist, although not as mind blowing as the first one, but still, a good one) shows us that. I found myself consumed with love for Alan and the ONE thing I want the most is for someone to truly, deeply LOVE him.
Breaking my heart is something that I need to get used to though when it comes to this series. With every single scene of sibling affection between Nick and Alan or Mae and Jamie; with the ardent need that both Mae and Alan have for Nick to show some sign of humanity; with Nick’s obvious urgency for trying so hard to appease Alan even though it goes against his own nature and for his vulnerability; for Jamie’s hopeless crush; and so on and so forth, I got continuous heart twinges.
What is it that makes us human, I asked myself reading this book over and again. It is the emotions we feel? The capacity for connection? To make mistakes and err and fall and get back on our feet again? Nick might not feel the right emotions – but he is devoted, protective of the ones we considers “his”, does that not make him slightly human? Alan is human and is so clearly emotional and yet he can be as cool and detached as Nick if necessary – does that make him less human?
I don’t know the answers; I am terrified that the answers to those questions will come in the final book and it will break my heart into tiny little pieces. All I know is that I want the best for these characters . The Demon’s Covenant is definitely not a book about plot – in fact, when push comes to shove, little happens in the way of moving the story forward and all that was necessary to set the third act, is contained in the last few chapters. The majority of The Demon’s Covenant is about the characters’ and their motivations, and about love. Loving who you shouldn’t love, people being worthy of being loved even when they don’t think they are or the seemly endless capacity for sibling love that both Mae and Alan have. As such it is a feast for the readers who like me, are inclined towards character-driven stories.
I was a huge, giant MESS when the book ended and still I could have begged for more. I am consumed with love for these characters, flaws and all (or even because of that), terrified for their future because their world is bleak and the prospect of happiness is not that great, and yet, still hopeful for all of them, but above all for Alan. On Ana’s corner of the Smuggliverse there is one thing that I say to the books I love and cherish above all and which I consider to be the greatest compliment I could ever give: THIS IS WHY I READ. This book goes straight into my top 10, without a shadow of a doubt.
Notable Quotes/Parts: Angie, in her AWESOME review, quoted a scene that I too, loved so I am copying it here, because it shows that the book is not only dark and bleak but also oh, so funny in parts:
Mae grabbed Nick’s arm and he whirled on her, then caught himself and stood looking down at her with his pulse thudding against her palm and the knife still in his hand.
She lifted her chin. “Oh, put that away.”
Nick put it away. “Just making a point.”
“Yes, I took your point,” Jamie muttered. “Right up against my throat.”
Mae looked away from Nick and walked quickly toward the wall, scrambling over it and trying so hard to make the climb look easy that she skinned her elbow as she did so. She pretended it didn’t sting.
Nick did not try to help Alan over the wall this time around. He stood with his hands clenched into fists in his pockets as they all waited for Alan to get over on his own.
“I wasn’t trying to hurt you,” he told Jamie suddenly.
Mae reached out and touched Nick’s shoulder. Her hand brushed muscle, braced and tense under her palm, for a moment. Then he shied away from her and glared.
She smiled as if this reaction was perfectly normal. “Sometimes when you pull knives on people, they get this impression that you’re going to hurt them, and then they’re completely terrified. Crazy, I know!”
“Okay,” said Nick. He turned to Jamie and popped his left wrist sheath again. “Look.”
Jamie backed up. “Which part of ‘completely terrified’ did you translate as ‘show us your knives, Nick’? Don’t show me your knives, Nick. I have no interest in your knives.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “This is a quillon dagger. That’s a knife with a sword handle. I like it because it has a good grip for stabbing.”
“Why do you say these things?” Jamie inquired piteously. “Is it to make me sad?”
“I didn’t have you cornered,” Nick went on. “You could’ve run. And this dagger doesn’t have an even weight distribution; it’s absolute rubbish for throwing. If I had any intention of hurting you, I’d have used a knife I could throw.”
Jamie blinked. “I will remember those words always. I may try to forget them, but I sense that I won’t be able to.”
Verdict: The Demon’s Covenant is an amazing sequel to The Demon’s Lexicon, everything I could have hoped for, with characters that feel alive and real, catapulting this series and its author to the top of my favourites’ list. Definitely on my top 10 of 2010.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection
Reading next: Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn