Hell’s Belles, by Jackie Kessler

10 May

Hell’s Belles by Jackie Kessler

This is the first book by Ms Kessler that I’ve read, and also the beginning of her Hell on Earth series. I am most definitely going to be reading the rest of these books, let me tell you. For labeling purposes, we’ll call Hell’s Belles a paranormal romance with a distinct urban fantasy bent. This book and the next one, The Road to Hell, as well as a related novella, “A Hell of a Time” in the Eternal Lover anthology, are available now as trade paperbacks; Hell’s Belles is being reissued as a mass market paperback in September.

But first, the obligatory disclaimer:

People who are offended by religious parody definitely should not read further—and definitely should avoid these books.

Ms Kessler creates a wonderfully amusing and intriguing world based on demonic lore twisted in a highly entertaining way. We have best friends, old lovers, new friends, new loves, regrets, guilt, hope… The writing is so engaging I didn’t even click on the fact that the story is told in the first person until several chapters into the book.

Back cover blurb:

She’s a hot demon on the run from Hell—which isn’t easy to do in heels.
Once upon a time, Jezebel was a powerful succubus, capable of seducing men and sucking out their souls. But that was before Hell put a bounty on her head. Now her only chance to escape a fate far worse than death is to live as a mortal, losing herself in a sea of unfamiliar humanity, in a place where sinners walk hand-in-hand with saints—a place like Belle’s strip club in New York City.

Working as an exotic dancer is a piece of cake for a former demon who once specialized in sex. Taking money from men? Please. It’s like leading lawyers to the Lake of Fire. Plus the lingerie is great. But she hadn’t counted on meeting sexy Paul Hamilton, a man haunted by his past. Good-bye, succubus; hello, lovestruck. Learning all about how complicated—and pleasurable—love can be, Jezebel thinks she’s turned her back on Hell.

But Hell hasn’t stopped looking for her. The secrets Jezebel holds are the most dangerous of all, the kind every demon in the Underworld would do their worst to protect. Demons are closing in, which is enough to make Jezebel shiver in her G-string. But it’s her love for Paul that’s going to have deadly consequences…

Amazingly, I only have one tiny teeeeensie little quibble with this blurb: once upon a time is actually something like three hours before the novel starts. Not that it matters much when the story covers a handful of days total, really, but by now most of you know just how anal I really am, so there.

Anyway.

The book is structured in a way that introduces the main characters by going back and forth in the time line, and flipping between past events in Hell and current shenanigans on Earth (New York City for most of the story). Jezebel’s internal dialogue is fast and funny, and it made me like her almost from the very first page—mostly because her personality radiates from it in a way that is both hilarious and endearing.

I mean, she’s a succubus, a demon of Lust. A creature of the Pit indeed—lying, cheating, seducing and enjoying the damned’s eternal punishments are both tools of her trade and her rewards for a *cough* good *cough* job. And yet, she feels. Beyond what is prescribed for those such as she, she feels—sympathy, empathy, caring. Call it what you will, she feels, and her feelings make her different from her brethren.

So when things change in Hell, making it impossible for her to stay, where can a demon run to, to escape the hordes of Hell?

Why, Earth, of course. But really, hooves, fangs, fur, and the like are so not in these days, that a visit to Salem and a *ahem* friendly *ahem* witch are the first order of business. After that… humanity, here she comes!

Through her eyes, we are introduced to demons, Furies, some higher-ups in Hell, several humans of various stripes (from witches and dentists to beggars and cops by way of exotic dancers) and a couple other varieties of beings. Some of them come along for the ride, and are developed very well, while others are basically sketched in to help populate the universe—or rather, the Hell—Ms Kessler creates.

I kept waiting for the humor to get old—I have mentioned before that romantic comedy doesn’t seem to be my thing—and I am so happy to say that it didn’t. All the way to the last page, Jezebel’s irreverence made me smile at the same time that it made me think. (One of her favorite curses? “Bless me six ways to Salvation.” And you know what the ‘c’ word is, for a demon? Christ. Yup.)

And that’s one of the things I found most engaging about this novel. On the one hand, it’s funny as… well, Hell (sorry for that, but really, it’s the only expression that fits) while on the other there’s an underlying intensity to Jezebel’s plight. After all, and more or less in her own words, she’s running from all that she’s known for the entire four thousand years—give or take a couple of centuries—of her existence. Add in the fact that, since she’s not alive (hello, demon) she cannot be killed, any punishment coming her way would be not just horrific but pretty much eternal. Yeah, she has all the reasons in the universe to be afraid.

And what she does in reaction to her fear is immerse herself fully in her newfound humanity. She copes with her fear—scratch that, her paralyzing panic—by being flippant, in your face, and carnal. All this, while discovering what makes humans human—beyond having a soul, beyond being born and dying.

I loved this book.

There is only one thing I didn’t quite like, and since it is sort of spoilerish to mention it, those of you who are allergic should look away now. Gotta mention it, though, because there is a scene well into the book that may be a hot button for hardcore romance readers.

Gone? Good.

See, if you want to get strictly technical about it, Jezebel sorta-kinda in a manner of speaking cheats on the hero. Only not really. Plus, hey, succubus here, remember? So really, not cheating. Not quite. Well, not if you squint and look at it sideways. But it could be interpreted as cheating.

In most cases, such a scene would have turned me off the character; most likely turned me off the book, and quite likely left me with a mild mistrust of the writer. However, the way it’s done, and within the context of this book, it works. It fits the characters involved, it fits the character development, it fits the story. It works.

Yeah, I loved this book.

This one is 8.5 out of 10 for me.

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4 Responses to “Hell’s Belles, by Jackie Kessler”

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  1. The Road to Hell, by Jackie Kessler | Her Hands, My Hands - 03/01/2012

    […] as urban fantasy with paranormal romance. In this book we reacquaint ourselves with the heroine of Hell’s Belles, an ex-succubus-turned-human-with-a-soul named Jezebel/Jesse Harris, and her human love, vice cop […]

  2. Shorts: a round up of short stories | Her Hands, My Hands - 03/01/2012

    […] reviews for Hell’s Belles here, for The Road to Hell here, and for Grimspace here) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the […]

  3. Hotter Than Hell, by Jackie Kessler | Her Hands, My Hands - 03/01/2012

    […] reviews for Hell’s Belles, here; for The Road to Hell, here; and “A Hell of a Time”, here. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike […]

  4. Wait ‘Till Your Vampire Gets Home, by Michelle Bardsley | Her Hands, My Hands - 04/01/2012

    […] of you may remember that I am not particularly fond of the first person narrative (this and this  and this reviews notwithstanding), but I find Libby truly delightful. Off the bat, though, I have […]

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