Friday, January 8, 2010

Review: Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

Found via: BBYA 2010 nominations

My friend Rachel once predicted in a conversation that once vampires ran their course as the supernatural creatures of note, they would be followed by werewolves and finally angels. Personally, I haven't seen any surge in werewolves, but over the past year or so, the TV show Supernatural has been overrun by angels, there's a movie coming out later this month, and Devil's Kiss is at least the second YA book to prominently feature angels.

Billi is a modern member of the ancient order of the Knights Templar. While popular mythology says the order was wiped out after the Crusades, in truth they have survived, turning their focus from protecting Christianity to protecting humankind from a variety of supernatural terrors, including werewolves, vampires, and rogue angels. Today the Knights are composed of 9 members, including young Billi, who was recruited by her father.

As the Templars make more and more demands on Billi's time, interfering with her schoolwork and her sleep, she finds herself wanting to rebel. She never asked for this life, after all - it was thrust upon her by her cold and ruthless father. So when a chance encounter introduces her to Mike, a mysterious boy who seems to understand Billi better than anyone else, she's tempted to reorganize her priorities. Of course she wants to save the children, but does that mean she's not allowed to have any sort of social life?

Shortly after being officially initiated into the order, a strange variety of illnesses begin affecting the children of London. Parents are terrified, bringing ill children into the hospitals, but the doctors can't find a cause for the various symptoms, and before long the children die. Billi and her friend Kay, an Oracle with psychic powers who works with the Knights, discover that the deaths are connected by supernatural means. These deaths aren't random, but rather are the Tenth Plague: the death of the firstborn, as was done in Egypt in the time of Moses. The return of the Tenth Plague can mean only one thing: the Angel of Death has returned to Earth, and only the Knights Templar, including Billi, have any chance of stopping him.

With all due respect to Rachel, I don't know if angels are ever going to be able to get the foothold into popular culture that vampires have. The angel narrative seems rather one note: angels are far from cute and cuddly; they're actually kind of dicks. I don't know how long that's going to be able to hold its appeal. I for one have mostly stopped watching Supernatural and their angels vs. demons storyline, partly because I prefer the monster hunting story lines and partly because the angels are all jerks and that's not the most interesting attempt at character development.

I also don't know how I feel about Billi being the token female member of the Knights Templar. On the one hand, woo hoo girl power, teenage girl proving she can kick ass just as the men do. On the other hand, we know from real life that a woman stepping into a role traditionally held by men faces all sorts of backlash. I'm sure Billi would be protected from some because her father is the leader of the Templars and apparently the only thing the Devil fears, but the only backlash Billi seems to face is due mostly to her age, followed by her apparent lack of commitment to the Templars, and then finally her sex.

I did, however, enjoy Billi as a character and found her multi-faceted. What I thought was particularly interesting is she's a bi-racial character in a story that isn't about racial identity - it's mentioned several times that her mother is Pakistani and in fact Billi is short for her Muslim name, Bilqis. Just as I want there to be more gay characters in stories that aren't about being gay, characters of color should be present in a variety of stories that aren't just about their racial or cultural identity.

I also enjoyed how much the London setting was woven into the story - Chadda is obviously a London resident, as the British setting and slang is a fully realized part of the story. Too often stories that are set in places other than the US feel like the setting is simply slapped on top of the story - definitely not the case here!


Rachel Stark said...

I tend to be more interested in fallen angels as characters than straight-up angels -- a certain rebelliousness is inherent in young adults and in most of my favorite characters, so it makes sense. And fallen angels make interesting characters because there could be any number of reasons for that fall: dastardly deeds, misunderstanding, or maybe even an Arwen-like romance that leads said angel to forfeit her immortality.

Sure, the tropes we have about angels so far rarely leave room for the strengths of vampires: sensuousness, dark mystery and incredible, wicked power. But I think a lot of that could change.

Thanks for the review and the link!

Anna Rhoswen said...

Due to all of the, "angels are jerks" comments, I'm reminded strongly of Christopher Moore's "Lamb". On the rare occasion that I've written in an angel character in a short fic, it's usually been a jerk, largely because of "Lamb".

I'm jealous that you get to do Bloggiesta, but wish you luck!

Angela Craft said...

Rachel - have any recommendations for fallen angel books? I'd be willing to give a few a try.

Britt - that probably is the first book I read where the angel was a jerk (though I loved his obsession with wrestling). I also always imagine him speaking as Alan Rickman, probably because of Dogma.

Rachel Stark said...

I hear a lot of talk about Hush, Hush and Fallen. Both of those (especially the former) have a slightly Twilight-esque feel to their descriptions (see, this is why I say angels will totally be the new vampire). I haven't read either yet, but my impression is that I'd prefer Fallen, of the two -- and it has a gorgeous cover!

Tia said...

I received an ARC of "Devil's Kiss" and loaned it to one of my 9th grade students. He didn't like it (found it overly confusing), so I was debating whether I would bother trying it or not. I haven't read any of the new angel-based books because they didn't seem particularly appealing, but I may have to give in eventually. So do you think this book is worth the time? Only if I have nothing else to read?

Angela Craft said...

Rachel - totally coincidentally, I found a reading challenge today called Horns and Halos for reading angelic/demonic books - including fallen angels. I don't think I'm going to join that particular challenge, but I might check out Fallen at some point - Hush Hush sounds way too Twilight-y for my tastes at the moment. I actually read that book last weekend - I'm hoping to prepare a post on it this weekend.

Tia - I think it really would depend on what you're reading it for. As an example of the latest angel trend it may not be a prime example, as the angels are firmly on the side of the bad guys. As an adventure story it does well, especially focusing more on adventure and Billi's family relationships rather than romance (there's a small romantic subplot, but it doesn't overwhelm the story). I probably wouldn't move it to the top of your reading list, but it's certainly more than a book of last resort!

Meg said...

Found you from Bloggiesta and loved your "angels are dicks" comment. I totally agree! Kim Harrison's YA novel Once Dead Twice Shy had me saying that the entire way throughout. I've seen an upsurge in the angels books coming in our ARC packages at work - makes me wish I had some more vampires...

Beth said...

Angels are starting to show up in the paranormal romance world (again, being jerks), so they are definitely attempting a post-werewolf appearance. But they definitely don't have the same kind of street cred.

(Here via the comment challenge)

Angela Craft said...

Meg - I just looked up Once Dead Twice Shy and realized that Kim Harrison is an author my mom loves. I've been avoiding the books my mom recommended because her tastes and mine really aren't in the same league, but Once Dead Twice Shy sounds good - it's now on my (ever growing) TBR list.

Beth - My head must have been under a rock, because I think I missed the entire werewolf trend. When I need a werewolf fix I tend to go all the way back to Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate.

Patti said...

Great review. I've been really interested in this one. I've also been noticing a great proliferation of angel books. None of which I've been able to get through... We shall see!

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