Saturday, June 27, 2015

REVIEW: THE DEVIL'S CHILD

INTRODUCTION 
Melissa Silvey's twisted romance continues with a second installment. Based on the ending message of the book, there's likely to be at least one more of these, but this could also continue well beyond that. I reviewed the first in this series (The Forbidden Fruit), though at the time of my read-through, I thought it was a standalone title. My opinion of it was generally favorable despite it not really being within my typical genres of choice. I gave it a 4/5 and the author must have really liked my review because she sent me the second book entirely free of charge in exchange for another honest analysis. 

HOW I CAME UPON IT 
As I mentioned above, THE DEVIL'S CHILD was given to me in EPUB format by the author. At the time I had other things I wanted to read, but fully intended to get around to this at some point. Now here I am with a review for the follow-up novel. I may not have anticipated this read as much as I might my next SciFi or Fantasy read, but I was genuinely interested to see where Silvey would take readers this time since things get a little flipped upside down at the end of THE DEVIL'S PLAYTHINGS. Would it be as good as the first? What would become of Emma? What of the devil-child? I needed to find out!

NOTE: Please do not read any further if you have not read THE DEVIL'S PLAYTHINGS. While I will not be sharing any major spoilers for THE DEVIL'S CHILD, there will be some discussion about the previous book's ending so read on at your own risk. 

This is the first sequel I have ever reviewed so the way I express my thoughts will have to be a bit different than a standalone story or the first in a series. Since so many of my to-read books are continuations of first books that I really enjoyed, I am hoping at getting better at this type of review as time goes on.

HOW I RATED IT 

3/5 Now, obviously this score is a bit lower than what I gave the first installment. To be clear, I did enjoy this piece and in a lot of ways, this is a very worthy continuation of the original story, but it also fell flat for me in a couple of key areas. Without further delay, let's get into exactly what I mean. 

CHARACTERS 
When we last left Emma and company, things were in a hazy whirlwind of chaos and confusion. Emma's repentant actions at the end made for quite the narrative climax and the closing paragraphs left me a bit breathless. While much of the plot will be discussed in a section below, it will be hard to discuss the characters with  out at least mentioning bits of the story, so here it goes:

Emma finds herself in a new life. It is a life very similar to the one she realized she was destined to live before Luc intervened and steered her away from that path (as the Devil will do). The only difference is that she isn't with Lee Kim, the man she meets at the end of THE DEVIL'S PLAYTHINGS - the man that Luc took the appearance of - the man that makes Emma realize she was never meant to be in bed with The Devil. In a mad rush of desperation, Luc manages to turn back time and rewrite history a bit. In this alternate reality, he kills Lee Kim and assumes the man's identity, in both name and appearance this time. He and Emma meet the way she and Lee were supposed to but never did and he grants her the life she always wanted...albeit with some strings attached.

Because of this reset in reality, we meet a much softer Emma. She's still a woman with a gruesomely dark past, but this time she has lived out a life of happiness. She is married to the "man" she thinks she was always meant to be with and together they have a "child" who she loves more than life itself. What she doesn't realize is that her loving husband is Satan and her beautiful little boy is The Antichrist. If that sounds like a pretty twisted scenario, that's because indeed it is. 

Luc now goes under the name of Lee, though he of course must eventually reveal his true identity to Emma later on in the story. For much of the earlier half, Lee/Luc takes a very different approach to his original attempts at manipulative seduction. He's posing as a loving and supportive husband rather than an aloof benefactor which creates a very different dynamic between the two of them than what readers saw in the first book. 

Adding to this mix-up of the original formula, is the inclusion of  their son, Pete, who is not necessarily what you might expect from the son of Satan and destroyer of the world, but for the most part, that's kind of a good thing. His developmental arch is definitely a very interesting one to follow and one that contributes quite a bit to the new overall feel.

Father Peter is back and he is doing far better for himself than he was in the first story. He's not really any less weak-willed than he was before and it is sort of hard to believe in him as someone who is destined for greatness within the Catholic Church's hierarchy, but he is an intriguing presence all the same. That said, he is a bit more predictable than the rest of the cast and the twist with him at the end was way too telegraphed to be at all shocking. He's not a bad or weak character by any stretch, and his attraction toward Emma isn't necessarily offensive, its just felt like he was being used as more of a functional character than one that genuinely moved me or even made much sense psychologically. 

The author has nailed it again with her lineup of supporting characters. "Friends" that Pete makes throughout the course of the story are all spot on and are welcome new faces that truly contributed a great deal to the narrative. Old faces return as well. My girl, Rosa, is back, but a little more in the background than she was before which makes sense and I was just happy that she made a return in this reality. On the flip-side, the Archangel Michael plays a far bigger role than he did before and while that's good in some ways, it also caused some issues for me which I will get into later. 

So far, so good though.I think overall, Silvey outdoes herself with the cast this time around and should certainly take pride that that accomplishment since the first motley crew was pretty memorable. 

WORLD/SETTING 
As you might have guessed from the bits of plot mentioned above, the setting for this story is very different from the one we saw in THE DEVIL'S PLAYTHINGS. Everything feels sort of quaint despite the sense that doom hangs off in the distance. Lee provides Emma with as normal of a life as she will ever be able to get with him. This is somehow so much creepier than the lavish mansion from before because I was presented with something real, yet I knew it was all just a fabrication waiting to collapse. There are points where readers are taken back to familiar locations and the contrast between locations from two different realities felt really quite special. 

This is also a version of the world that is much closer to collapsing into the end-times. With Pete (Abbadon) waiting to assume his role as destroyer and Lee manipulating Emma with far more ease, the fate of things does appear to be quite grim throughout much of the story. This raises the stakes a bit for Emma, but she also finds herself in a troublesome predicament where she still think of Luc and Abbadon as her husband and son  despite knowing their true nature. It's a far more conflicted setting and without spoiling anything, the choice of scenery for the book's final chapter was also quite on point. 

So again, another A +. As you might have guessed though, the sections to follow contain some of the components that I did not love as much. 

PLOT/TONE 
I've already really discussed much of the plot within the above sections, but in case things were a bit unclear, here is a quick recap:

At the tail end of THE DEVIL'S PLAYTHINGS, Luc loses and Emma repents. All seems lost to him, but then things suddenly shift into a new reality where everything happens differently. Luc kills the real Lee Kim, steals his life, and acts as Emma's rescuer again, but does so in the way that Lee was supposed to. Father Peter is not attacked this time around, but does find himself in the crossfire. With Abbadon in the mix and Luc employing far more subtle tactics with Emma, things get very complicated very fast. Everything is kept hidden from Emma until near the end and there is even this great sequence where she tries to put the pieces together, but just can't seem to do it, which, given her circumstances, is entirely understandable. 

Tonally, this is an even more morally ambiguous piece than the original which in some ways is intriguing, but in others, it does feel a tad forced. From a storytelling perspective, it makes sense to try to present the Antichrist in a more personable manner, but he just didn't quite come off as being evil enough to destroy the world. He's far more of a moody teenager than he really is a satanic creature. I mentioned above that his parts were interesting, but his nature is also one of the aspects of the story that was a bit harder to take in. I also mentioned that Father Peter felt slightly off to me. While he definitely functioned within the story, I just had a hard time accepting him for what he is allegedly supposed to be/become. We are expected to believe that he is a pious and holy man, yet at every turn we see him succumbing to his own selfishness. 

Whereas the moral grayness of THE DEVIL'S PLAYTHINGS worked out in it's favor, THE DEVIL'S CHILD feels like it tries to push this effect on things that are actually quite black and white. In the author's defense, it makes sense that she wanted to try and continue with a similar vibe as the first book, but it just doesn't click as well as it did the first time around. There's also just not as much clear symbolism or moral musings as the first book contains which is why there is no section devoted to religion in this review. The metaphors are certainly still there if you dig deeply enough, but the messages of the first felt far less prevalent here, at least in terms of their breadth. Emma's internal conflict is still well done and it is a rather poignant thing to see the Devil come back into her life and try new tactics since that is how evil works (whether Satan exists or not).

Another area that wasn't quite as pronounced this time around was the more erotic sequences that made up a huge part of the first book. While I personally liked not having all of the gory details, some may want to know that while there's still a lot of lovemaking to be had here, the author spares us most of the more graphic content and keeps things a bit more mellow to this end. 

One last issue I had with the plot was in how I felt it was generally far more predictable than the first book's. I saw a lot of it's ending twists coming from a mile away. That didn't necessarily detract from my enjoyment of it, but it also didn't leave as much of an impact.  

FORMATTING/FACTS
These components of the story is where things particularly fell apart for me (hence why it is an additional section in this review). For starters, this simply isn't as well edited or put together as the first book. There's really no way around this issue, it just is and there were enough noticeable errors to really detract from my overall enjoyment. I did notice this as less of an issue near the beginning and ending chapters of the book, but much of the middle is sprinkled with everything from typos to sentences that looked like they began one way, then got changed, but the initial thought wasn't overwritten.This is a bit disappointing for me and not something I generally like to call out in what I read (or deal with period), but if it's there, it's there. I'm hoping the next in the series is a tad more refined to this end. There are also more superficial issues like how the first book wasn't really marked as belonging to a series. The lack of a functional table of contents in this installment was also slightly annoying and I can't remember if the first book had this same problem or not. These are pretty minor complaints, but when they are coupled with editing errors, they just feel a lot bigger than they are. 

Another very pronounced issue I had with this one was the way that biblical references and church hierarchy logistics are used rather casually. If I remember correctly, the first book also took some liberties with church structure and cannon, but it wasn't really noticeable because most of it takes place in Luc's surreal mansion. This time around, there is a lot more focus on the real world which places a heavier burden on the story to get the facts right. The way that priests move up the ranks is just completely wrong here. A lot of people think there's some kind of job-interview process or a grand election of sorts, but that's really just not at all true. "Promotions" are decided upon by those already in positions of authority and they are appointments, not necessarily invitations. To be appointed bishop isn't the same thing as getting offered a job, it is a call to serve at a higher level of commitment. This fundamental falsehood made Father Peter's parts extremely distracting because he of all people would not be thinking of his proposed appointment in the terms that I mentioned above. 

Beyond that is Silvey's continued bending of biblical doctrine. Again, while this ploy worked the first time around, it feels just a bit too bent this time. The angels in particular just do not come off in a way that is correct or even makes sense within the context of the world that has been built within this story. They are described as cold and unfeeling, yet there is an undeniable tenderness that many of the guardian angels show to their human charges. This contradiction is especially true for Michael who apparently can't feel love or compassion, but seems to get angry and spiteful just fine. Perhaps the most flagrant party-foul here is the way that Abbadon makes his ascent to fame. In Acts 1:11 the Bible reads:

"Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven."

This is stated by angels to those that gathered on the mount where Jesus ascends into heaven and it implies that when Jesus returns, it will be straight from Heaven in his true form and not be being born again as a man. It is pretty widely believed among the Catholic community that Jesus will only come back to Earth in this way and that any who claim to be a new messiah (as Abbadon does in the story) are nothing but false shepherds and liars. This makes a large portion of the ending then highly implausible since there would be a very large percentage of people in the world who see through the deception. The Antichrists's rise to world power is also supposed to be far more subtle. While the drama and flare of Silvey's take on things does offer a quicker means of reaching the desired destination, it just doesn't make sense in terms of the religion that it so heavily references. It's very unclear to me as to what the author's faith background is, and I don't mean to question her knowlege of the subject, but it does feel like things should have been taken into a bit more consideration even if she is familiar with the religious text that drives this narrative. 

CONCLUSION 
Did I love this continuation of the storyline? No, but it certainly was not a bad outing. It can definitely be hard to get sequels right since there is an expectation that it will be better than what came before. Even professional products often fall extremely short when it comes to doing sequels - just look at how many Disney sequels were complete flops as opposed to those that people actually liked. I definitely stand firm in my opinion that this was not as strong of a continuation as it could have or should have been. The technical issues really needed to be cleaned up and while it's fine to take liberties with the facts, it gets distracting when they are taken and thrown into left field. The characters, setting, and tone were wonderfully consistent with the first installment while also being delightfully different. The ending also left me curious as to where the story might go from here since it seems like it could be headed off into uncharted waters (even in terms of everything that has happened in the series thus far). If you were a fan of the first book, then this will probably be an enjoyable enough read for you and I'd very easily recommend that you pick it up even if it's not perfect. If you weren't crazy about the opening book, then I don't know that this will get you into the series any more than the first one did. Basically my "expert" advice is that if you are already on board with this story-line, then stay on board. If you're not, then I can't promise that THE DEVIL'S CHILD will really change your mind. 

THE DEVIL'S CHILD is available as an eBook on Amazon

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