The Road to Hell, by Jackie Kessler
The Road to Hell is the second installment in Ms Kessler’s Hell on Earth series. These novels can be described 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 Paul Hamilton.
A couple of warnings: this novel is narrated in the first person by Jesse, in a very entertaining but also highly irreverent manner. There is also explicit sex and creative cursing. Not for those with exceedingly delicate sensibilities and/or rigid religious views, for sure.
Personally, I would definitely recommend starting with Hell’s Belles since many of the secondary characters appearing in this novel were introduced in it.
Here is the back cover blurb:
There’s nothing worse than a demon with a grudge.
Jesse may no longer be a soul-stealing succubus, but she’s got a Hell of a past. She’d love to come clean to her sweet, super-hot boyfriend Paul, but how exactly does a girl start that conversation? There’s no name tag that reads: “I Used to Have Sex with Men before Taking Their Souls to the Lake of Fire—Ask Me How!” Just like some people are worth being monogamous for (shudder), some secrets are worth keeping. Like the fact that bad boy incubus Daunuan keeps popping up from the Underworld to put some toe-curling moves on her; that her former associates are trying to strong-arm her back into the fold; and that every supernatural entity on the planet seems to want to have a conversation with her in the bathroom. But someone in the Underworld isn’t ready to play nice (go figure), and this time, the stakes are nothing less than Paul’s immortal soul.
If Hell wants Jezebel back so badly, they’ve got her. But payback’s a bitch, and this bitch is about to rock Hell like a hurricane—or lose her soul trying…
I confess that originally I wasn’t too keen on reading a second book with Jezebel as main character—mostly because I didn’t want to risk having her and Paul’s relationship rocked. Then again, live and learn—in the skilled hands of Ms Kessler, this story rocks my socks as much as the previous one.
This is a universe in which demons have bodies and carnal desires; where Hell’s purpose is to distract the Nameless Evil from Earth so that God’s children can find Salvation; and where the hierarchy of malefic creatures has been shaken to its foundations by a recent change in management. Once again we deal with humans, demons, gods, Furies, and other entities, both celestial and malefic.
The Road to Hell explores the true meaning of humanity and feelings of love and friendship and regret from Jesse’s perspective. While she has plenty of time as a demon under her belt—four thousand years or so—she has only been human for a few weeks, and therefore has quite a bit of growing up to do.
About half the novel takes place in New York City, with some of the most hilarious exchanges taking place between Jesse and a nameless Angel-turned-seducer as a result of that change in management. I alternatively cringed and laughed my head off while Jesse discovers the joys of jealousy, physical and emotional hangovers, and guilt trips.
In the second half, Jesse has to—oh dear me!—go (back) to Hell and engage in a double rescue mission. Interestingly, this is not the place she remembers (who was it who said, you can’t ever go home again?). Partly because things have changed, but mostly because Jesse herself has changed. Less than she knows, more than she ever expected she could. It is very interesting to me how evenly Ms Kessler manages to mix Jezebel’s personality (her humanity—even though she’s not quite human yet) with the underlying seriousness of the main story arc.
This novel has the same mix of humor and darkness as the first one—perhaps it is a tad darker overall, as the stakes now involve not only Jezebel’s existence, but also Paul’s soul and life, her friends Megaera and Daunuan, and the fates of innocents at large.
One of the things I am enjoying most about this series is that, along with wise-cracking Jesse, I’m looking at some things again, from a different perspective. What is evil? is it the doing or the intention behind it? What is the right thing, in the end?
Overall, this book is as good as the first one—with the exception of one character. I am intrigued by Michael, as I think I’m supposed to be, while finding him the weak link in a cast of very well realized characters.
As with the first book, though, there is something that may put off those readers who like their romance to follow strictly traditional lines. I mean, if the whole language, graphic sex, and religious irreverence haven’t put them off already, that is.
(If you are allergic to spoilers, avoid reading further)
See, once again there are a couple of instances of what could be considered—if we are really technically strict about it—cheating. But hey, once it’s because there’s demon cheating and tempting involved, and another time it is to jump start that rescue mission I mentioned before. So, it’s not cheating. It’s more like… erm… ah…
Okay, I can’t come up with a term for it, but it’s not really cheating. Once again, it fits the story and the characters, both in motivation and in execution—particularly Jesse’s struggles between her nature as a succubus and her love as a human.
This one is an 8.25 out of 10 for me.