Title: Deception of the Damned
Author: P. C. Darkcliff
Genre: Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Dark Fairy Tale Retelling
Sleeping Beauty meets Faust in this spellbinding ride through time and magic realms.
An absent-minded dreamer, Hrot feels miserable in his primitive times—so he sells his soul in exchange for a decade in Renaissance Prague. There he dabs in occult studies in a desperate attempt to sneak out of the deal.
Four centuries later, young reporter Jasmin Bierce leaves Alaska for Europe to avenge the death of her husband. Facing more enemies than she expected, her quest for revenge turns into a flight for her life. As she stumbles into the ruins of a medieval castle, she meets an immortal specter who calls himself…Hrot.
Although he saves her skin, Hrot unwillingly drags her soul into a pact with the fiend who cursed him. The fiend makes her husband’s killers look like a flock of doves—but Jasmin’s heart is awakening to Hrot’s devotion, and she travels in time and skirts infernal dominions to save him.
If she ever wants to break their curse, however, she must succeed where Hrot failed: she has to outwit the Emissary of the Otherworld.
Book Review: (Full disclosure—this was a book on which I did the editing and book coaching.)
This novel has an intriguing premise and is primarily about whether Hrot and Jasmin can outwit or out-bargain the Emissary, exploring whether a “deal with the devil” can ever end in your favor. That being said, there are elements that aren’t usually my “cup-of-tea” (just because of the genre). Here’s a closer look at the Narration, Content, Characters, Artwork, World-Building, and Overall Response.
Narration: 4 out of 5. The author has a very strong style of narration and the imagery and descriptions are one of the strongest aspects of the book, drawing readers into the strange, dangerous world of the story.
There are moments, though, when the story’s language heads towards crudity and vulgarity, and yet the horror passages can be delivered in a way that is beautifully horrible rather than just strictly gruesome, creating a unique juxtaposition—it isn’t all dark and dreadful, nor is it all luminous and beautiful. In some ways, it makes the world of the story that much more “real” in its feeling, but that doesn’t necessarily make it consistent where a reader’s desires might be concerned—some, like me, might enjoy one side more than another and find the mix believable and yet regrettable at the same time. Of course, fairy tales have had their share of gruesome, but usually, those aren’t enriched with so many beautiful passages at the same time, so the mixture can throw one off a little.
Content: 4 out of 5. In many ways, this is a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, with Hrot as the captured princess and Jasmin as the hero that has to save the day and rescue him from his peril. Of course, he’s the one who also “got himself into the situation in the first place,” but that adds the Faust-side to the story, making a beautifully crafted offering that mixes the familiar and the unknown.
The content is very thorough, and we get to see Hrot’s problems and struggles in all their clumsy glory before Jasmin gets her chance to “save the day,” and while some readers might find this frustrating, longing to “get to the part where the Emissary meets his match,” I found its thoroughness part of what made the world-building so complete.
Characters: 4 out of 5. For a story that explores human relationships, it’s a little light on scenes that actually establish why Jasmin would care as much as she does. In the end, I feel like her feelings for Hrot are never truly explored. A relationship certainly exists, but we don’t get to see it, and I almost wonder that she falls in love with the role Hrot offers her—to be a hero and make a difference—rather than with the man himself.
Similarly, the other characters in the story can feel “fairy-tale like” in their depictions. They feel consistent with the world of the story, but they aren’t necessarily the kind of person you could meet in real life, and given that some of them presumably live in the modern world, it makes for a unique, otherworldly mix. However, each character retains what makes them unique throughout the book, despite the changes in circumstances and plot, and that consistency makes the book all the more enjoyable.
Artwork: Subjective. I thought the cover beautifully captures the dark, otherworldly nature of the book. Presumably, the woman is Jasmin, but her clothes resemble those of Anath, so it feels a bit figurative rather than resembling a realistic snapshot—which fits the story, with its symbolic, fairy-tale feel.
World-building: 4 out of 5. The world of the story is rich and multilayered, and thanks to the narration and pacing, readers get to experience it all, from the dark, horrible recesses of the Emissary’s realm to a version of Renaissance Prague to Hrot’s time and Jasmin’s modern-day world. Each place felt different and unique, and we were able to understand how they interact—to a degree. The explanations of how the Emissary’s power works and interacts with the other spiritual entities of the world weren’t as complete as they could be, and the modern world felt similarly like a “slice of it” rather than a thorough examination, but in many ways, this fits the fairy-tale tone of the story, in general.
Overall Response: 16 out of 20, for a total of 4. If you like Faust and dark fantasy with slower, thoughtful plots, you should definitely read this book. It might not rush from danger to danger, but the threat of the Emissary is always there, and the solution to the “deal with the devil” can leave you guessing until the very end.
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Copyright 2019 Andrea Lundgren.
Image used by permission from the author