Review: Vengeance Born, Kylie Griffin
So check her out. She’s a demon. Pretty hot, huh? Though demons aren’t actually demons in this book. I mean, they’re demons,but not in the Biblical-twisted-and-deformed-to-externally-show-their-internal-sin sense. Consider it a race name. It makes it easier to follow the shift in mythology. Possibly if you never attended a Catholic school, this may not matter so much to you, but I did for a brief time, and it’s had a lasting impression, so that’s the way I get around it.
Also, that’s not necessarily the most helpful way to start a review. It’s more of a peek into the chaotic-but-somehow-sense-making workings of my internal mind. Let’s start again, shall we?
So Kylie Griffin is great. I know. I’ve met her a number of times. What is also great is her book. Which is doubly great, because it really sucks when you know great people and their books just…aren’t. Highly awkward situation, people. Highly awkward.
Luckily, that’s not the case here. There are some spots where the work behind the writing is evident, and some areas where the author over-exerts herself to make sure the reader gets the point, but they’re issues of maturity, and I’m confident that the deeper this series goes, the smoother the writing will become, and the easier it will be to melt completely into the story with no navigation of rough bits required.
And, readers? It’s a fantasy romance. There are just not enough fantasy romances out there. Hear that, publishers?! Send me fantasy romances!
Want to hear about this one? Sure you do.
So Annika is half-demon, half-human, all outcast. She’s basically kept around as a nose-rub to the humans and a whipping post for the demons. She’s managed to hold on to her sanity, and even develop some grace and strength, through her own will and the help of a human servant who treats her with the only kindness that she’s ever known, teaches her a useful skill - and introduces her to the solace that is the Lady.
Here’s the thing that’s really great about this series: the religion. Stop backing away. This isn’t a scary-religious-fanatic fantasy romance. But it is a fantasy romance where religion plays an enormous part in the world, and therefore in the story. And, if you want it to, it can work as a pretty powerful message about the role religion plays in this world too. But it’s never a ‘hey look at me and my allegory! Aren’t I clever with all this allegory I’m doing here?!’ narrative.
What I’m saying is Annika worships the Lady, and draws her strength from Her, which goes a long way to explaining the serenity she attains even in the face of constant torture and humiliation. It also provides a link between her and the human captive she helps rescue, who later becomes her travelling partner and guide to the human land.
Said Human captive is Kalan, a Light Blade warrior - a human to whom the Lady has gifted certain powers. He was captured during a battle, and subjected to torture under the Demons. He’s certainly not at all interested in trusting one, but it’s his only way home, and he figures he can sort it out when he’s on the outside.
This racism also represents a pretty big theme throughout the novel, and it’s here that you’ll likely see the writing through the story, and the emphasis on the message. It’s exacerbated by the fact that this novel only introduces the two races to each other, and doesn’t have the scope to start the peace process. I’m hoping these issues will be cleared in subsequent novels.
There’s a journey. And, you know, barriers are breached, secrets are told, perceptions are altered. The arrival at the Human city doesn’t solve all problems - in fact, it creates many more. But there’s hope. And some evil people using religion in twisted ways. And maybe more hope. With some potholes along the way, and a good set-up for sequels.
But mostly, there’s the deft handling of spirituality in a way that I haven’t seen in recent times, an acknowledgement that a belief system is a powerful force, even if we try not to recognise it, and that for all the strife it can cause, it can be an enormous force for good as well.
Bottom line: Vengeance Born is a thought-provoker, but you might not necessarily notice, wrapped up as it is in the trappings of an entertaining fantasy novel, with a little road trip romance in the middle.