|I'm not used to reviewing paranormal romance, the closest to which I've got in the past is Laurell K. Hamilton's lycanthropic porn novels. I liked Deena Remiel's pitch for this set of three novellas at a local author event though and finally found an appropriate way to read it, by candlelight during a twelve-hour power outage.
What surprised me, not being familiar with the genre, was how familiar it felt, rather like one of Graham Masterton's horror novels with the inevitable hero moving to a new town where he finds both demonic horror and a pretty girl in a cool job. His heroines tended to run seaside antiques stores, but Camille Dutton is a librarian. Here she's both the leading lady and the damsel in distress, while Derek, her new boyfriend, fits closer to the Masterton hero mold.
He's an investigative journalist, on Shelter Island because he believes that its satanic cult, supposedly defunct for three decades, continued in secret to kidnap and murder a young boy every six years in a ritual sacrifice to the Lord of Darkness. What's more, it's been six years since the last and there's a new boy missing. Naturally Derek is right, but he's still surprised to discover that the librarian he meets while doing research on his first day is the secondary sacrifice, having already been marked by Satan as a six-year-old.
Of course, the horror is toned down and the romance toned up from the formula I'm used to, but that doesn't quite capture it. There's plenty of horror here, especially given that Camille gets carved up by a plastic surgeon until her body is covered in pentagrams and inverted crosses and the like. However, the way it's treated is more like a network TV show than something you might see on HBO. Similarly, the romance is certainly toned up but the sex is toned down, this being low on the Scoville scale I believe paranormal romances tend to be measured by. There's nothing sizzling off the page here, and the interplay between the lead characters continually unfolds in slow motion with hair blowing in the wind and a saxophone soundtrack underpinning it all. At least that's how I read it.
Maybe the lack of sex is because of all those pentagrams and inverted crosses. They don't just cause pain because, well, c'mon - they'd be frickin' painful, but also mark the entry into our world of another demon from Hell. Camille feels that transition thirteen times a day through more pain and, put together, that's believably enough to stop anyone jumping in the sack with her hot boyfriend.
It moves along well enough and kept me interested throughout. The biggest flaw to me is probably the biggest boon to the target audience, so it's an easy task to forgive that, namely that Camille and Derek are of course young and incredibly hot, the social awkwardness they share hindering their immediate attraction to each other but with the likelihood that they'll eventually hook up a near certainty. Their social awkwardness does seem to come and go, but it's there during the many moments they might hook up, thus taking a lot longer than it should in the holy name of romantic tension.
What doesn't stand up as well is just how young they are. Camille is 24 years old, important because it's divisible by six, and Derek seems to be around the same age. I'd have bought into the story a lot more if they'd been a decade or so older. Camille at 36 would have been even more attractive to Satan, as it's six times six, and I might have been able to buy into her bank balance. Similarly, Derek would have been more believable in his thirties, given his job experience and connections to people who can help when Camille decides to fight back and he decides to be her sidekick.
The other obvious flaw is one that may be inherent in the fact that this book, which runs just shy of three hundred pages, is really three books in one, hence the unwieldy title. 'The Book Waitress Series Volume One' is hardly enticing, but 'The Book Waitress', 'Devil du Jour' and 'Demon a la Mode' are much more like it. Each of them merely takes the form of a novella rather than a novel, so there's not too much opportunity in each for Remiel to write in complexity.
Therefore we're never surprised at who turns out to be what, because we're effectively introduced only to the characters that matter. Nobody is here without a reason and, beyond Cynthia and Derek, there's only one reason to be in the story, for at least the first novella. Even in the second and third, the new characters are either obviously on the side of the protagonists or worshippers of Satan and it's pretty obvious from moment one which they'll be. There's simply no room for any other characters to find a foothold.
What Remiel does well is build the story. While the first part is self-contained, it plays like the pilot to a TV series, introducing all the key characters and the back story; then setting us up for the many episodes to come. The second part builds the framework for how things are going to go down and the third adds a new wildcard of a character to the mix just to keep things interesting by introducing romantic conflict.
It feels like the set-up is finally complete as of the end of the third novella, so book four ought to be the first run-of-the mill episode, leading us into a mix of good or bad books, depending on the week. The whole thing feels so much like a TV show that I'm already picturing the guest stars and missing a book or two because of a baseball game or a political primary. It's no surprise to pull up Remiel's website and discover that she aims 'The Book Waitress' at being a 13-novella series in the spirit of her favorite shows, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', 'Angel', and 'Charmed'.
Who knows, she might just get renewed for a second season.
Incidentally, I should add that Remiel is the name of the angel lead character in a series of books by Thomas E Sniegoski. I mention this because of the coincidence that I reviewed the latest of them for the Nameless Zine last month and because this Remiel's other main series, 'The Brethren', revolves around angels. Small world, huh? ~~ Hal C F Astell