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A dark personal journey with Lilith Saintcrow

One of the great things about fantasy is the sheer range of themes that can be tackled within the genre (see previous post – Would you like politics with that?)

Dark fantasy is not usually where I’d expect to find an exploration of grief and self loathing, but that’s what I found in Dead Man Rising, the second in Lilith Saintcrow’s Dante Valentine series.

(This five-book series has been around a few years, but I’m only just now working my through it…)

Dante Valentine – Danny – is a necromancer/bounty hunter in a bleak, futuristic world where those with psychic and paranormal gifts are licensed to legitimately use them in a post-Awakening society.

In the first book, Working for the Devil, Danny teamed up with the demon Japhrimel to seek revenge for the brutal death of her best friend. The pair became lovers, changing Danny at a genetic level, before Japhrimel lost his life to the Devil himself.

In Dead Man Rising, Danny’s not coping well with the loss. She’s distanced herself even further from her friends, submerging herself in the violent world of bounty hunting, and testing the bounds of her newfound skills as a part-demon.

The novel covers some pretty dark and disturbing territory, with a series of horrific killings forcing Danny to relive memories of her time at Rigger Hall – a training ground for orphaned psis, where she barely survived years of torture and abuse as a child.

There’s plenty of action as Danny faces her past, but this story is also about rage, guilt and self loathing. Danny is angry at the world (seen and unseen), but mostly, she’s angry at herself and her inability to protect those she’s loved – and lost.

The Power of her neon-lit world is fuelled by sex and violence, which she embraces with far more ease than the idea she’s worthy of love.

To be able to write from such a perspective takes a certain level of understanding.

I’m not suggesting Lilith Saintcrow has shared the same sort of experiences as her narrative character, but she definitely has empathy for Danny.

The Dante Valentine series is probably a tad darker than my usual reading fare, but I really admire Lilith Saintcrow for creating a character who’s more than just a tough chick with superpowers.

Related reviews:

Working for the Devil

Strange Angels and Betrayals


Discovering the early work of Lilith Saintcrow

I had a pretty crap day at work today. It reminded me why I like to escape to other worlds occasionally.

Oddly enough, those other worlds are occasionally a tad violent. And yes, I don’t miss the symbolism there 🙂

One such alternate reality is that inhabited by Dante Valentine, the ass-kicking necromancer/bounty hunter creation of Lilith Saintcrow.

Late last year I read – and enjoyed – Lilith Saintcrow’s new YA series, Strange Angels (writing as Lili St Crow), which prompted me to check out her earlier work, targeted at adults.

First up is the dark fantasy Dante Valentine series. I recently finished Working for the Devil, and am now tracking down the other four books in the series.

It’s somewhat of a futuristic sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, featuring a world with advanced technology fuelled by magic. It’s dark, bleak and neon-lit, often reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s classic film Bladerunner.

Dante’s society has experienced “The Awakening”, and “ psis” – those possessing paranormal skills – now wield the power (political and mystical) within it. It’s a world of necromancers, shamans, skinlins, dirt witches, magi, and plasguns.

Dante is among the most powerful necromancers of her generation. Her life is violent and unpredictable, but it pays the bills.

Then one day, the demon Japhrimel arrives at her door and literally takes her to Hell, where the Devil makes her an offer she can’t refuse: eliminate a renegade demon or die.

Aside from the obvious issue (working for the Devil), Dante has a couple of other problems: she has a bloody history with the target demon, and she doesn’t want Japhrimel as her partner. Dante can barely trust her fellow humans, let alone a servant of Lucifer.

Aside from almost non-stop action, this first book is primarily concerned with the changing relationship dynamic between Dante and Japhrimel. Their antagonistic partnership is at turns entertaining, violent and increasingly intense. It’s far from romantic, but oddly compelling.

Dante is tough, foul-mouthed, angry and self-sufficient, but with enough vulnerability to make her sympathetic, while Japhrimel undergoes a subtle transformation as he spends more time with the necromancer.

Saintcrow sets up a complex mythology (far removed from biblical ideas of Hell and demons), and her narrative voice is strong and engaging. Working for the Devil clearly establishes these character and sets up what should hopefully be an engaging series for those of us looking for escape from the daily grind…