I’ve been having some difficulty reviewing Diana Rowland’s Mark of the Demon. Not because I didn’t like it; on the contrary, I thought it was fantastic. The problem is, every time I start to think about it, my brain goes on a tirade. Mark of the Demon leaves me frustrated with the urban fantasy genre as a whole, because it is everything UF can be. And inevitably, when I try to think about what I love about Mark of the Demon, it makes me think of all the tropes in UF that I can’t stand.
So here, I’m just going to get it off my chest here and now. These are the primary things (outside of vampires and werewolves, but I’m not alone in that one) that drive me away from urban fantasy as a whole:
- Angry protagonists who rant and rave, running down everyone in their path like some kind of (in)human Running of the Bulls, depicted as “strong” or “tough” characters.
- Police procedural obviously written by a civilian with only the barest grasp of how any of it works.
- Female cops (or similar) who are harassed in one way or another by every single man (outside of love interests) to get near her.
- Female characters who throw their weight around and eww at “girlie” things to prove they’ve got a larger set than all the boys.
- Alpha male love interests whose only purposes are to look pretty, adore the heroine, and be inexplicably rude to her and possessive of her in a way that’s supposedly sexy.
- Heroes/heroines who are in love with their weapons to a masturbatory degree and need to have five gazillion of them strapped onto improbable body parts at once.
Okay, so, I feel better. How about you?
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I can tell you why I loved Mark of the Demon so much. It is, as you might imagine, completely free of the nonsense mentioned above. Kara is a strong character without being constantly angry or confrontational. It’s obvious that Diana Rowland knows what she’s talking about when she’s dealing in the inner workings of a police department (and indeed, take a peek at her author bio).
Though Kara is harassed some by a few of the male cops (and similar), it’s not a constant occurrence; in other words, Rowland doesn’t paint a scene of Kara against the entire world to try to make her look tough. Instead, Kara chooses the times that it feels most important to stand up for herself and does so — usually with a snarky riposte in sugary sweet tones. The end result is that I, as the reader, strongly empathized with Kara and generally felt that the party on the receiving end deserved it. I would say her personality needs to have a little more punch behind it, especially in the first person point of view, but I liked her and for the kind of reader I am, that’s extremely important for me to enjoy the story.
In fact, in general a lot of characters aren’t what they first seem like. When FBI Agent Ryan Kristoff makes his first appearance, I admit my reaction was “Oh great, abusive alpha male love interest at twelve o’clock.” Rowland takes a merry sledgehammer to those expectations, and… actually, I think this is something the readers should get the joy of discovering for themselves. But not even Rhyzkahl, the sexy demon mentioned in the blurb, manages to settle into the abusive alpha male role. The author establishes the, dare I say it, mores of her demons pretty well. They feel alien, different from humans, which makes their actions register differently. And with a fairly vibrant supporting cast to round things out, the end result has a nice depth and feel to it.
Best of all, Kara barely ever talks about her guns. Outside of mentioning that she has one with her, they’re only mentioned directly something like twice, and she rarely carries more than one. And I mean really, when a protagonist is carrying around fifty different weapons I end up thinking they must be lousy fighters to need that much gunnery, and no one wants to give that impression, right?
For me, mystery plots tend to run the risk of becoming too cliché and/or predictable. In Mark of the Demon, there are a few really good red herrings and a couple of twists I never would have seen coming. When the world of demons, in all its alien mystery, is layered on top of that, the end result is compelling. As well, though there are often gruesome murders involved, Rowland never piles on the guts and gore. That fits my personal preferences perfectly, and really, Rowland is a very competent writer who doesn’t need to rely on excessive gore to infuse her story with excitement and urgency.
I really wish there were more books out there like Mark of the Demon. Great characters, compelling writing, a well-wrought mystery, good world-building, a sense of humor, good action and tension, and a hint of steamy but tasteful sex; I honestly couldn’t ask for more.