Reviewed by May
Favorite Quote: She wielded fire like a whip, lashes of flame leaping from her to strike at attacking creatures. Had he not been so occupied with cutting down demons, he would have gladly focused his full attention on Zora in her beautiful, lethal dance. The fire lit her face in crimson and gold, as though she were an ancient war goddess receiving burnt offerings.
Together with his four friends, Whit (aka James Sherbourne, Earl of Whitney) is a self proclaimed Hellraiser. They gamble, drink, and generally kick up their heels without shame across England. Our story starts one fateful night in 1762 as Whit and his friends are amusing themselves in a Romany encampment near one of their estates. Whit finds himself intrigued by a Gypsy girl (Zora) who sees him far better than he is comfortable with.
“A man such as me?” he repeated, amused. He set his cards down upon the ground. “Pray, madam, what sort of man am I?”
Her fathomless eyes seemed to reach deep inside him. He felt her gaze upon – within – him, a foreign presence in the contained kingdom of his self. After a moment, she said. “Handsome of face and form. Wealthy. Privileged. Bored. Throwing years of your life upon a rubbish heap because you seek something, anything to engage your restless, weary heart and prove you are still alive.”
Zora is drawn to Whit immediately, but is rightfully leery of the wealthy English man. When Whit’s friends decide to head off to a mysterious ruin they warn the men, a warning they do not care to heed and instead head off to meet a Mr. Holliday (aka the devil) and set events into motion that could destroy the world.
“Ye oughtn’t go there. ‘Tis a place of darkest magic. The haunt of Wafodu guero – the Devil!”
“So much the better,” said Leo. “We’re Hellraisers, after all.”
And thus, Zoe Archer’s newest series is off to a chilling and gripping beginning. I will admit I was hesitant to dive into this book at first because of how much I adored her Blades of the Rose series published last year, and how wildly different this series is. I should not have worried so much – Archer proves she has mad skills as a writer, and had me soaking up every page and scene.
The thing I found most intriguing about this book is that Whit is no hero. The man that is imperfect, hard to like, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his tale. Whit is a gambler who freely strikes a deal with the Devil without thought to repercussions or anyone but himself and his amusement. He accepts an enchanted card that keeps Zora captive and in his possession from the Devil as well – though he is unable to force himself upon her (and she is unwilling to get physical while a captive). He shows glimmer of hope to become if not a good man, at least not a man who is literally raising hell on earth.
Zora is a strong, capable, and utterly fantastic heroine. She knows her own mind, takes no crap, and is the true hero of this tale. More than once she had me grinning and completely rooting for her to kick some demon butt, not to mention smack some sense into Whit. From her attempt to stop the men from making a pact with the devil to her outlook on life and the inner strength that she draws upon during this adventure – I adored every page with her.
Each Hellraiser has a key vice, and that is the specific focus of their gift from the Devil. For Whit, it’s gambling. It’s all fun and games for a while until he starts to realize that things aren’t always what they seem, and that it’s true what they say: the Devil doesn’t hand out free gifts. At the root of this story we have a struggle for the hero’s soul. There is no magic potion or spell to make him turn good, because he was kind of a rotten guy before the Devil himself came into his life. That he has to see the truth and battle his own inner issues was fantastic.
Zoe Archer’s writing makes me weep in a good way. She has such a way with words, and can fully engage me in her stories. That said, I didn’t over the top love this book. It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, there was just some undefinable factor that was missing, that made it not nearly as addictive as her first series.
There is a lot to like about this book though, and I appreciate that the author did not wrap this up with a tidy bow, have one of the characters change drastically at the end to give a happier traditional romance novel ending, or tidy up the relationship neatly. This is a book about a Romany girl and an English Earl. He may be a Hellraiser, but he is also a titled gentleman and they clearly have a rocky road ahead of them.
After facing down the devil himself, somehow I think they’ll do just fine.
I look forward to the next installment of this series and seeing how things progress with the Hellraisers and the evil they have unleashed upon the world.