This book is marketed as both romantic erotica and paranormal erotica. I started reading it with those genre expectations in mind, and the bad news is that is book is only one of those three things. It’s not erotica when the first kiss doesn’t occur until the 50% mark, and it’s a fully clothed one at that. Romantic love develops between the two main characters, but it doesn’t follow any sort of traditional romance arc. The good news is that when you ignore those aspects of the book and only focus on the fantasy and mythology elements, this novel becomes a delightful feminist coming-of-age story with plenty of subversive jokes made at the expense of existing paranormal romance tropes.
Since this is a traditionally published book and the author doesn’t necessarily have a choice in how it is marketed, I’m choosing to center my review on what this book IS, and critiquing it from that perspective, instead of rating an otherwise wonderful story lower just because it disappoints in terms of genre expectations. (Full disclosure: If I did not know the author, I likely would have stopped reading about a quarter of the way in, which is why genre designations might just be marketing terms, but it’s still important to use them accurately.)
So, if we ignore all the notes I left myself while reading about how this book was not erotica and not romance, we’re left with lots of positives. Lane had me hooked in the first chapter by introducing a few of my favorite concepts immediately, such as setting typical urban fantasy shenanigans in a historical period (early 20th century) with a bonus of mixing mythologies. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the paranormal influences of a Judeo-Christian framework, but once you dump Egyptian, Greek, etc., deities into the mix and make it work, I’m sold. The inciting incident sets up a fascinating world and introduces Azazel in such a way that I’m already interested in his character enough to be curious about why he’s betrothed.
Preventing apocalypse and balancing good versus evil is a pretty good reason, actually. If this had been a romance novel, we’d immediately be introduced to Nora and get on with the meet-cute (of which their encounter at her birthday party certainly was), with that explanation filled in along the way. Instead, we take a circuitous route with lots of backstory dealing with the politics of free will, first. My other first hint that this was not a romance story was all the other points of view we experience along this journey, which are necessary to the greater story being told but also broadened this narrative beyond what I initially expected. Once I stopped looking for the promised romance (and erotica), I thoroughly enjoyed the wild ride of Azazel and Nora confronting their immediate futures separately and together while also dealing with the ramifications of Azazel’s colorful past.
The way all the supernatural characters in this book, no matter the pantheon, are dramatic and a little slutty is a bit cliché, but it’s also a lot of fun. I kind of adore Azazel, but not really in the sexy way of a romantic hero. Honestly, aside from a handful of moments involving Azazel and Nora where the romance does shine through, not much about this book is sexy at all. There are plenty of conversations about the sex needs of a succubus, but constantly involving Nora’s parents definitely removes any spark there (even if I was otherwise entertained by the themes evoked by a bunch of old dudes arguing over rules when they don’t even remember why they set them in place). Where it becomes interesting is how the matter-of-fact discourse, and the characterization of Nora herself as a modern young woman, becomes a feminist reframing of the succubus mythos. The full context of many of the sexual moments that actively focus on her succubus abilities ends up stripping any actual sexiness from the acts, proving that it’s not the act itself that entitles a story to the erotica label.
This novel doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, nor with a romantic conclusion of any sort, but does stop at a natural point in the story that leaves plenty of room for what may come next. Though I don’t have much emotional connection to the main characters, with the fated mates/insta love elements of their betrothal not quite ringing true, I’m still interested in where they go from here, both together and separately. I did love that over the course of the story, the hero has shifted solidly from Azazel to Nora. I’m way more interested in how she lives her life on earth than in her eventual “happily ever after” with Azazel, and I look forward to seeing where Lane takes her story next.
Disclaimer: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author.