Welcome to BEA Appreciation Week 2011! As is our annual tradition, this week we bring you reviews of some of the titles we have scooped up at BEA, as well as some general news and ponderings concerning the trade show and affiliated conferences.
Title: The Demon Trapper’s Daughter (US)/Forsaken (UK)
Author: Jana Oliver
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (US)/Macmillan Children’s (UK)
Publication Date: February 2011
Paperback: 368 Pages
Riley Blackthorne just needs a chance to prove herself – and that’s exactly what the demons are counting on…
Seventeen-year-old Riley, the only daughter of legendary Demon Trapper, Paul Blackthorne, has always dreamed of following in her father’s footsteps. The good news is, with human society seriously disrupted by economic upheaval and Lucifer increasing the number of demons in all major cities, Atlanta’s local Trappers’ Guild needs all the help they can get – even from a girl. When she’s not keeping up with her homework or trying to manage her growing crush on fellow apprentice, Simon, Riley’s out saving distressed citizens from foul-mouthed little devils – Grade One Hellspawn only, of course, per the strict rules of the Guild. Life’s about as normal as can be for the average demon-trapping teen.
But then a Grade Five Geo-Fiend crashes Riley’s routine assignment at a library, jeopardizing her life and her chosen livelihood. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, sudden tragedy strikes the Trappers’ Guild, spinning Riley down a more dangerous path than she ever could have imagined. As her whole world crashes down around her, who can Riley trust with her heart – and her life?
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series
How did I get this book: Review Copy from BEA
Why did I read this book: This book has received high ratings on both sides of the Atlantic, and has held spots on both my radar, as well as Ana’s. When we saw that Jana Oliver would be signing at BEA, we were thrilled to head over and scoop up this book. It’s been a while since I’ve been taken by a good YA urban fantasy series, and The Demon Trapper’s Daughter looked like a great candidate for a new series.
Apparently, it’s 2018 Atlanta and something has gone terribly wrong with the world. In this alternate, kinda-sorta-muddled dystopian (post apocalyptic?) future, Lucifer has unleashed more hellspawn on the world in order to make things nasty for humanity (because…apparently before the Devastating Economic Collapse that Cause the Dystopia there were already demons walking the Earth? The details are fuzzy and never really explained. More on that in a bit.). Humanity’s defense against demons are the Trappers – a network of licensed craft guild type professionals that specialize in the detainment and sale of demons to the Vatican. Trappers are not to be confused with Hunters (who simply kill demons outright). Because, ya know, it’s much harder to trap a demon and then find a convoluted way to sell it back to the Catholic Church than it is to kill hellspawn.1 This brings us to the crew of Atlanta Demon Trappers, and the seventeen year old character of Riley Blackthorne. Although Riley is damn girl hot (this is something a character thinks, multiple times, throughout the book) and the daughter of the famous demon trapper Paul Blackthorne, she’s totally hated on by the Trapper’s Guild (composed entirely of Bitter Old Men) because she’s a girl. When she screws up her first solo demon trapping, the guild threatens to throw her out but have a change of heart when they see evidence that the pitiful level 1 demon she was sent after may have had outside experience from a level 5 baddie. You see, something is happening with the demons in Atlanta, and for some reason they’re starting to work together. When Riley’s father falls victim to a level 3 demon working with the same level 5 demon from Riley’s botched library gig, Riley’s world is thrown into a devastating tailspin. Now, she has to stand vigil at her father’s grave (so that he isn’t awakened by necromancers that will sell his reanimated body to rich folk that want the prestige of a demon trapper as their servant), figure out how she’ll pay for her deceased mother’s medical bills and rent, and survive the sort-of guardianship of another trapper named Beck (who is, of course, super hot). In order to stay alive and keep a roof over her head, Riley makes money the only way she knows how – by demon trapping.
How can I describe my experience with The Demon Trapper’s Daughter? It’s kinda like that date you’ve FINALLY landed with that guy or girl you’ve been covertly making sexy-eyes at for a while…only to discover halfway through dinner, he or she has some shockingly appalling eating habit/completely incompatible personality/worldview/etc. So, I guess you could say that The Demon Trapper’s Daughter and I didn’t really hit it off. We aren’t going on a second date, and we certainly aren’t going to try to be friends.
My issues with The Demon Trapper’s Daughter basically boil down to three main components: the absolute lack of worldbuilding, the absence of an actual plot, and some unfortunate choices with regards to writing style.
On the worldbuilding front, I will say that I loved the idea of this post-economic collapse/dystopian/demon-infested Atlanta. That, in theory, sounds badass.2 In reality, however, Riley’s version of Atlanta is a muddled, murky, half-hearted wasteland that neither makes sense nor is it described sufficiently to readers. How exactly did an economic collapse lead to Lucifer unleashing demons on Earth? There are implications that demons had always been present (because the Blackthorne family has *always* been hunters), but given that the collapse happened a scant 20 years earlier, that’s not much of a family legacy. The descriptions of locations are great, and I love the conceit of kids having to go to school in burned out Starbucks’ and grocery stores…but WHY? Was there some kind of war or bombing/firesquad/demonic apocalypse that resulted in these ruinous sections of the city (and presumably the country, if not the world)? How is it that steel and gas is so prized and cities so obliterated…yet people drive CARS (that run on regular ol’ gasoline) all over the place? Furthermore, the conceit of demons running amok – alongside angels that stay masked to the general populace – is cool, but some ground rules and background need to be established in order to carry this off. We never learn why demons are running around nor do we know why trappers trap them (as opposed to, you know, killing them). Apparently witches and necromancers are commonplace in this world, so one would assume that magic is widely accepted, too. Yet, at one point in the story, Riley is BLOWN AWAY when Simon (another super hot apprentice trapper) sets a magical circle to protect her father’s body, and she makes the exclamation, “Wow! It’s like magic!” (I’m not paraphrasing – Simon responds by saying, “It’s God’s love.”). Inconsistencies like this really, really irk me and disrupt my reading flow. There’s also the uncomfortable Catholicism-centered story with clearly delimited sides as defined by GOOD (the Church and Angels and Holy Water to repel the demonic scourge) and EVIL (Lucifer and his minions). Also, the five levels of demon struck me as completely arbitrary and not fleshed out at all. Level 5 demons are…telekinetic and have power over weather (because those two things naturally go together). Level 3 demons are pyro/firebugs, and Level 1s like to rip up books or are magpies attracted to shiny objects. Is there any possibility for other types of demons? What are Level 2 and 4 demons? Where do Succubi and Inccubi rank exactly? And THEN at one point in the story it is suggested that werewolves/shapeshifters and vampires also coexist in this world. This type of hand-wavey, magical inclusion of any type of supernatural creature without explanation is irritating in the extreme.
In terms of actual plotting, my date with Riley and her Demon Trapper world didn’t go any better. At nearly 400 pages long, there’s a shocking lack of actual cohesive STORY to The Demon Trapper’s Daughter. Allow me to elaborate: things start off with Riley being wanted for something nefarious and undoubtedly evil by demons (who somehow know her name), and then her father dies and she has to keep vigil because he will be revived by necromancers. For the next three hundred pages, Riley goes to school (she writes a Civil War term paper and gets into fights with popular biatches), goes after a few demons, works on a half-cocked and painfully lame Holy Water mystery, and engages in a love polygon with no less than THREE hot dudes that think she’s like, the bees knees.3 While all these shenanigans are occurring Riley’s vigil and the whole impetus for the series (WHY do the demons want her so badly) kind of fall to the wayside…and the book ends basically where it began. There’s no urgency or forward momentum with this book. Though there may be action aplenty in The Demon Trapper’s Daughter, the lack of basic coherence – think Lit 101 with Freytag’s pyramid of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement – in what is essentially a simple drama is frustrating in the extreme.
The incomplete worldbuilding and amateur plotting are only exacerbated by certain writing elements and stylistic choices – namely, the colloquialisms and dialogue used for certain characters. Beck, from Deep South Georgia, says things like: “Damn girl, yer gonna break hearts,” and “Now that’s not polite. Didn’t yer momma teach ya manners?” Also, he constantly reminds himself how hot (and off limits) Riley is. Also, I have a pet peeve about certain dialogue choices – for example in one scene, Riley thinks, “Euuuuu” instead of “Ewww.” Argh. Needless to say, the dialect and accent choices were jarring and did little to endear me to characters that I felt little connection to in any case.
I’m sure there are some redeeming factors for The Demon Trapper’s Daughter, but I’m having a hard time mustering the effort to look for them. I know for a fact that there are many readers out there that loved this book, but unfortunately, I’m not one of them. In the most basic terms, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter felt like the cheap-o generic version of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels, cross-polinated with Sarwat Chadda’s Billi SanGreal, tossed in with a dash of Rachel Morgan-esque magic. And, honestly, I would much rather spend my time catching up with any of the aforementioned heroines than with Riley Blackthorne.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
Riley Blackthorne rolled her eyes.
“Libraries and demons,” she muttered. “What is the attraction?”
At the sound of her voice the fiend hissed from its perch on top of the book stack. Then it flipped Riley off.
The librarian chuckled at its antics. “It’s been doing that ever since we found it.”
They were on the second floor of the university law library, surrounded by weighty books and industrious students. Well, they’d been industrious until Riley showed up, and now most of them were watching her every move. Trapping with an audience is what her dad called it. It made her painfully aware that her work clothes—denim jacket, jeans, and pale blue T-shirt—looked totally Third World compared to the librarian’s somber navy pantsuit.
The woman brandished a laminated sheet; librarians were into cataloging things, even Hellspawn. She scrutinized the demon and then consulted the sheet. “About three inches tall, burnt-mocha skin and peaked ears. Definitely a Biblio-Fiend. Sometimes I get them confused with the Klepto-Fiends. We’ve had both in here before.”
Riley nodded her understanding. “Biblios are into books. Rather than stealing stuff they like to pee on things. That’s the big difference.”
As if on cue, the Offending Minion of Hell promptly sent an arc of phosphorescent green urine in their direction. Luckily, demons of this size had equally small equipment, which meant limited range, but they both took a cautious step backward.
The stench of old gym shoes bloomed around them.
“Supposed to do wonders for acne,” Riley joked as she waved a hand to clear the smell.
The librarian grinned. “That’s why your face is so clear.”
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Felt disappointed by this book? Did you enjoy The Demon Trapper’s Daughter and want to read a YA series with a similar feel? I strongly urge folks to check out Sarwat Chadda’s superior Bili SanGreal.
Rating: 4 – Sorry, Riley, but I’m just not that into you
Reading Next: Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick
Buy the Book:
- Yes, this seems like a very stupid system to me too. It’s not as though demons have any redeeming qualities, network of protection, or serve any important part of society. This world is very Good and Evil with dividing lines dictated by Heaven and Hell, and demons are straight-up from Hell, directly dispatched by His Evilness. They are not misunderstood predators, near-extinct animals, or protected by politics in any way. The need to capture demons, as opposed to killing them, is mentioned but not really explored or justified in the book. ↩
- Of course, it is worth noting that this has been done before, in Atlanta no less, by many other authors of contemporary fantasy/UF. Take, for example, the awesome world created by Ilona Andrews in her Kate Daniels series. ↩
- Possibly FOUR dudes, actually, if you count her BFF Pete. ↩