4.75 Stars – rounded up.
Goodreads synopsis: (Normally I would write my own, but I did not want to risk spoiling the book!)
Hell has come to collect…
…but Gisele Walker has no plans to pay the debt.
As a half-demon paranormal bounty hunter, Gisele is used to flirting with death, but stealing a curio and opening a portal to Hell’s demon court is more than your average day job.
Now, she’s partnered with an infuriatingly handsome demon, Shade, who has more levels of grey than she can count.
Who can she trust to help save the city as Baltimore burns to the ground and ghouls roam the streets?
With a white-hot attraction burning between them and secrets blocking their path, Gisele must face her past and venture into the twisted heart of the demon royal court.
But with no memory of her past…
…will she be able to save their future?
This book is a dark and delicious romantic urban fantasy with magic, demons and the supernatural entwined into a complex and mysterious story.
As you may know, I am not an avid reader of pure romance, but I don’t usually mind it in fantasy if it does not dominate the story. Don’t get me wrong, I watch and read fantasy with romance, but prefer to know if it will be romantically dominant before I start. However, I did make an exception for House Of Ash & Brimstone which is heavily romantic because it was labelled as such and the romance is important to the story. Let me tell you- I definitely made the right decision and I will tell you why.
Starting with the narrative and writing style. House of Ash & Brimstone, by Megan Starks is written from the viewpoint of the main character, Gisele, which allowed me to see her point of view, thoughts and emotions. All of which enabled me to connect with the main character much easier. Moreover, because we see everything from Gisele’s perspective it maintains the mystery and suspense throughout the novel and kept me guessing about how it would end or why the characters were behaving as they were. I loved the narrative choice and found it added significantly to the story. Similarly, the weaving of the present day and the flashbacks or memories is well done and creates a new dimension of interest to the story. Furthermore, Megan Starks writing style is easy to read, well crafted, and manages to find a balance between being direct and beautifully metaphorical. Starks writes her scenes with a wonderful intensity that makes you enjoy and experience the scenes with the characters, particularly the fight scenes which were very well written and great to read about, and her descriptions are truly amazing.
The plot and the world building/magic. The plot of this story is incredibly interesting and, despite using ideas that often appear in fiction, the story is very original and completely individual. The story moves at a good pace and is able to keep you interested all the way through. The characters go through a lot of twists and turns that maintains interest and makes it less predictable. Though we can work out some elements of the story, it is only elements that you have been allowed to work out and, despite this, there are many points that come as a surprise or a shock because the story is complex and only reveals enough information to get the theories brewing but not enough to ruin it. Moreover, the world that Starks has built is complex and clever. The modern day setting is intriguing as normal humans and demons live alongside each other, though it is not liked, and they don’t conceal themselves from humanity like in most other fantasy’s. The way they have been incorporated into daily life and the rules around this, status given depending on where they are born or if they are half human etc… gives the world a sense of realism. Furthermore, the background on the demons in relation to Hell, their powers, the use of gates and the way travel occurs is unique and clever, it maintains a sense of structure in this world while also creating an in-depth mythological system surrounding Hell and its demons. The diversity of demons and their types, mixed with stereotypes or beliefs surrounding them is reminiscent of human society, again creating a sense of realism while maintaining a complex mythological structure.
The characters. Starks characters are well developed, well crafted and in-depth. They are flawed, yet lovable – making them realistic and easy to connect with. Gisele, the main character, is amazing. She is a half-demon with a penchant for recklessness and determination. The character is reminiscent of Buffy (Vampire slayer) in her capabilities and headstrong behaviour but is also entirely individual. Gisele is strong, independent and clever but she is also reckless, quick to act, and naive. The balance of strength and vulnerability was clever and believable. It makes her more likeable and she is very easy to connect with because of this. Moreover, she is kind. She is strong and reckless but maintains her kindness towards those who need help. This is the perfect mix for a heroine and made the book much easier, and more fun, to read. Gisele’s relationships with those around her are also interesting to read about. Her connection with Beast is funny, sweet and an amazing friendship that I will never tire of reading about. Her relationship with Shade is more reminiscent of that of Buffy and Angel or Elena and Damon (tv series) with there being a lot of ups and downs, sweet and yet with hints of darkness or uncertainty. The relationship is one that I did enjoy reading about, the connection between the two makes sense and goes beyond the ‘insta-love’ I use to see a lot of. It is a deep and complex relationship that I am intrigued to see develop as I have so many questions!
Shade’s character is a bit of an enigma. I love it. He is difficult to place on a scale or morality because he is sweet and protective but obviously keeping a lot of secrets throughout the book. His character is incredibly complex and his story is extraordinarily interesting. Though I could go on about is character I won’t as it is far too spoilery! But, I love his relationship with Gisele and his interactions with Beast are by far some of the best and most entertaining.
Beast. Now, Beast is one of my favourite secondary characters of all time. He subverts the stereotypes around his race, as he is a Minotaur, and is a creature of few words. Yet when he speaks, he speaks with wisdom, despite making seemingly little sense. Beast is a wonderful friend and extraordinarily protective, but has a habit of acting before questioning- which is great because it makes his scenes so amazing and funny. Beast is well crafted and is definitely a wonderful character. But, you will have to read to find out more because spoilers!
The other side and minor characters – who I will refrain from mentioning to avoid spoilers- are also well developed, extraordinarily evil (if meant to be) and are also great to read about. The conflict and tensions created between all the characters and villains is amazing, and really draws you into the story and gets you rooting for the heroine.
The only reasons I did not give this a full 5 stars: Firstly, though there is diversity of demonic characters (since all the primary characters are mostly demons of some sort) and some ethnic/racial diversity with the few human characters, I feel the book could have more diversity in terms of other minorities – perhaps this is something we will see later on in the series. Though I appreciate the diversity that is created! Secondly, at points in the book I would have liked to see Gisele manage on her own a little more without Shade’s help, since we already know she is very capable- it would be nice to see more of that, perhaps when she has learnt to be a little less reckless.
Content warning: this is (imo) and adult fantasy, so there is a lot of violence (which is awesome and well written and intense) and minor spoiler … there is a single detailed/graphic sex scene…. which is again well written, though if you dislike them it is literally only one scene, i’m pretty indifferent to them but I appreciate it is well written and not an irrelevant filler, it is actually relevant and so it does add to the story and really shows the characters connection.
Overall: This is an amazing story that is masterfully crafted, the world is ingeniously built and the characters are multi-dimensional and easy to connect with. For a debut novel, it certainly stands out in the fantasy genre.
I would definitely recommend this to people who love fantasy, romance, demons and everything in between. I absolutely cannot wait for the rest of the series!
*I received an eARC of this via Netgalley (publishers BroadUnivers/City Owl Press) after a review request from the author, Megan Starks @fictivate, in exchange for an honest review! This review is entirely my own honest thoughts on House of Ash & Brimstone.*