Title: Demonspawn Academy
Series: Demonspawn Academy, #1
Author: D.J. Liamson
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Supernatural
Length: Novella (59 pages)
Publisher: Dark Hollows Press (July 9th, 2014)
Heat Level: Moderate
Heart Rating: ♥♥♥ 2.5 Hearts
Blurb: Chance Bane wakes up with no memories of who he is and soon finds out he’s been engineered to become a demon hunter.
On his first mission with Demonspawn Academy, he’s tasked with charting topography of Hell, assuming he can find an entrance to Hell first. He’s assigned to fellow demon hunter Riley Than, and when his emotions are super charged from demon hunting on their first mis-sion, Chance experiences feelings he didn’t know he had.
How will Chance deal with his burgeoning sexuality, while dealing with his memory loss, while trying to figure out how to become the best demon hunter he can be?
Purchase Link: http://www.darkhollowspress.com/#!demonspawnacademy/c1p80
Review: When I was a teenager, we used to spend summer evenings exploring local graveyards. I consume stories about haunted houses, I never say Bloody Mary to a bathroom mirror, and I love authors that tackle the supernatural end of the Urban Fantasy umbrella. So an m/m romance about demon hunters? Who go to Hell? And fight demons? I was so excited.
I really wish I could say this book lives up to the awesomeness of the idea. Unfortunately, there are a myriad of problems that start up small, but by halfway through they’d washed away what could have been a really interesting, great novella.
Let’s start with the good. D.J. Liamson has a really unique take on an area we’ve seen a lot of in recent years. We’re inside the main character’s head throughout the story, and Chance Bane is witty, self-deprecating, and has a definite touch of wide-eyed innocence. He’s a fun character you want to root for. Chance starts out the book on a hospital bed, in a strange, unmarked room, with his backend hanging out of a flimsy gown. Oh, and he has no idea who he is or what’s going on.
Riley Than is quickly introduced as the smirking, sarcastic White Rabbit to Chance’s Alice, leading him further into the crazy terrain of his demonic Wonderland. Through dialogue that feels painfully vague, we find out that Chance is being held in some unidentified location for reasons no one feels terribly concerned with sharing. One might think a place with the word Academy in its title would have welcome brochure or an orientation class or something.
Riley sits Chance down and has him watch a film clip of his parents being brutally murdered and possibly eaten by a demon. And that’s the way he breaks the news that not only are demons real, but that for some unspoken reason, it’s probably not possible for him to go home.
Good thing, too! Because while breaking out of his hospital room – by literally tearing apart a wall – and ripping himself out of the chair he’d been tied to by Riley, Chance noticed that his hands could actually change form, to metal and brick. That’d be pretty hard to explain at the grocery store. News number two from Riley is that while he was sleeping, they genetically modified him, presumably with no consent, into some kind of demon fighting superhero whose hands can change into anything he imagines. Surprise!
Needless to say, Chance’s view on Riley is less than warm. He thinks more than once about punching the guy in the face, which I find totally valid. And I have to admit, this is the part of the book I liked the most. The antagonism between the two of them had a lot of promise to develop into something fun to read, and the demon hunter/genetic modification angle was unique enough that I was game to overlook the plot niggles.
Marcus is introduced as the leader of the Academy. Because that’s what this is, apparently, a center for training these engineered demon hunters. Who, I guess, are all people kidnapped and operated on against their will. Not that this is ever touched on. And even though we see that there are floors and floors of dorm rooms and such we also never see anyone else who works there.
Now, even though Chance literally just woke up from a coma and discovered his unwanted abilities and even though this place is called the Demonspawn Academy, which implies some kind of teaching that Chance never receives, Marcus sends him off with Riley to go kill themselves a demon. Who is apparently robbing a bank. Why? Excellent question! One that Chance asks! One that is never actually answered at all.
This is when things started to go off the rails for me. But I hung on. Because again, cool idea! Unusual take! And maybe questions would be answered. Always give the author the benefit of the doubt, especially early on in the first novel of a series.
After the first demon kill, Chance and Riley share a kiss. The awkwardness that followed I found endearing, and I was hopeful the author would continue the antagonism, maybe a little bit of the ‘he drives me crazy’, walking the fine line between hate and attraction thing that is so wonderful.
A phrase I used often when reading this book. However, that is not what happened. After Marcus agrees to send them out on another mission and gives them a night off – side note, that is what happens every time. They go out, they get a night off. They go out again for a brief mission, they get another night off. This book spans over three or four days total and not only are they the only people working (maybe it’s a holiday weekend?), they are constantly getting told to go and have some R&R time from their strenuous…few hours of work – they go and get a drink. Play some pool. Flirt. And end up in bed.
Nothing wrong with any of that, really. Not on the surface. But let’s recap. Chance had woken up in a room less than twelve hours prior, found out he’d been forcibly changed without his consent, that his old life that he cannot remember is gone, and his parents were brutally murdered. Forget the whole demons and Hell are real thing, that’s enough to warrant some serious processing time. Riley, to Chance and to us, is a representation of that other world, of the mistrust and fear any sane person would be feeling. It’s not that I am against Chance and Riley as a couple. It’s that the quickness of it that feels like cheating – both them, in not allowing the characters to grow and develop, and us as readers in how it’s assumed we could not or would not invest in a relationship that worked through issues and emotions. Nothing about it is emotionally earned, there’s no building of trust or respect or even attraction.
Not to mention that Chance, on the way to their first assignment, greets the sight of two men holding hands like he’d just watched a purple elephant skateboard past. This is a guy who has no idea who he is, doesn’t know what kind of experience he has, or even what his sexuality means, and he’s not only in bed with someone who we as readers don’t trust yet, but we’re supposed to root for it. If any of this had been addressed, I’d find that a very interesting and worthwhile event. But none of it is.
After two days, the L-word is spoken. And only one brief nod to the fact that Chance knows nothing at all about Riley, which is quickly shoved aside for more sex.
Which, by the way, involves a virgin bottoming with no preparation at all. A scene that started out well enough, but by the end was painfully not. Dry sex hurts. Dry sex is not sexy, romantic, or sweet. The author could have had Riley, knowing Chance was a virgin, make the experience into a moment where we saw their trust building and bought into the idea of the couple.
Before I can ask him what he’s doing, something wet is applied to my ass.
Then something slides inside me.
Kind of the opposite effect, especially for a guy who’d already gotten a surprise insertion into his body that day.
The main plot of the story spirals into the same kind of forced unbelievability that the Chance and Riley relationship goes to. Marcus decides that the demon hunters should use the information uncovered to launch a reconnaissance mission into Hell. Okay, awesome. However, he also decides that Riley and the guy who just woke up three days ago and has had zero actual training at this so-called-but-not-actual-Academy are just the team to send. You cannot tell me there’s not, like, the elite force who has run a thousand missions and is totally trained and ready to go to literal Hell. There’s not even a moment of explanation for this or anyone going ‘wait, really, the kids are going’? It’s an obvious shoehorn to get to the big reveal moment where a bomb is dropped and then quickly swept under the rug because of things and reasons and probably true, undying (three-day-old) love.
And that’s, really, the problem with this book. It felt like this is a 300-page story crammed into 59. Huge chunks of plot and time were left out and what we got were the outlines of a big, kick-ass plot and an epic, developing partnership and romance. All of the meat of the piece, however, was missing.
When, a few days after meeting someone, I read a character saying:
The side of his mouth subtly twitches. Only someone who knows Riley as well as I do would notice.
It just completely takes me out of the moment. Chance doesn’t know Riley. At all. He knows, at most, ninety-six hours or so of the guy’s expressions.
The author isn’t a bad writer. The story isn’t a bad story. The characters aren’t bad characters. There are, throughout this frustrating novella, glimmers of something really great. But in the end, nothing was developed enough for me to enjoy it. There was an opportunity here for us to work through Chance and Riley’s relationship, to see stages and growth and emotional reality. We could have watched Chance train and grow into his abilities, deal with being forced into this life, grieve his parents and his old reality. Not blithely decide that he doesn’t want to remember because Riley is now his world. It just felt too abbreviated and forced.
If you like instant-romances, then this is going to be right up your alley. Unfortunately, though, for me, the great ideas were drowned out in too many plot holes and truncated emotions.
I sincerely hope D.J. Liamson keeps writing. I believe they have some really unique stories to tell. But for their next book, I also hope they give their characters and plot room to breathe and grow and develop naturally. I would go on that ride for sure. This time, though, I’m afraid I was left behind.