Hotter Than Hell, by Jackie Kessler
Book three in the Hell on Earth series, Hotter Than Hell is much darker in theme—if not in execution—than either Hell’s Belles or The Road to Hell. Told in the first person by the incubus Daunuan, this novel is both about a game of cat and mouse—in which Daun finds himself as the mouse, for the first time in his existence—and an exploration on the true meaning of feelings.
Let’s start with the warning: this novel has graphic language, creative cursing, a highly irreverent—and funny—way of looking at things like morality and sin, and some (okay, a lot) demon-on-demon violence. Oh and some sex. With graphic language. If you can’t laugh a bit at religion, do yourself a favor and don’t read more.
Back cover blurb:
The incubus Daunuan loves his job: seduce a lot of mortals, bring their souls to Hell, party at the best interdimensional pub this side of the Astral Plane. But when the King of Lust makes him an offer he can’t refuse, Daun has to give up all the tricks of his trade to properly befriend—and bed—Virginia Reed, a woman who’s meant for Heaven.
If he can get her to love him for the incubus he really is, and if he can avoid the rogue demons that are hell-bent on destroying him for reasons unknown, Daun will become the First Principal of Lust, second in line to the King. But Daun learns that love is more than a four-letter word, and that maybe, just maybe, demons really do have feelings after all…
For once, the blurb is pretty close to the setup for the story—whodathunkit?
One would think that tempting a mortal into sex would be pretty much a gimme as far as challenges for an incubus go, but since Virginia is not only inherently good but also still in love with her late husband, Daun’s magic has no hold on her. So our favorite incubus is reduced to doing this the human way: striking up a conversation and getting to know her.
If you have read the first two novels (which I highly recommend) you may notice that Daunuan ‘sounds’ very similar to Jezebel. The neatest thing, though, is that the expressions, slang, humor, tone are similar but not the same, in the way that people who spend good portions of their
lives existences together share idioms, expressions, a history, and jokes that often are obscure to anyone outside that circle.
Confession time: I’ve liked Daun in the two previous books in spite of myself. Sad to say, but mostly he came across as smarmy, even from Jesse’s point of view. Confused yet? *chuckle* Okay, ignore the last sentence, but just remember: my liking of Daun is a surprise to me (and a testament to Ms Kessler’s writing).
Life is not a static thing, and while demons are not mortal, they can be killed, destroyed—therefore, they live. Hell is changing, as all life changes, and as Armageddon inches its way ever closer, Daun realizes that things are not—have never been—the way they have always seemed to be.
In the first two novels and in the novella “A Hell of a Time” (Eternal Lover anthology) we are told that one difference between humans and demons is that demons lie, just not to themselves. But what is lack of self awareness, if not a lie by omission?
Feelings—demons believe they don’t have them. Further, demons believe that feelings are weaknesses, human weaknesses, there only to be exploited. Demons believe they can only be moved to action by their defining Sin—greed, envy, rage, lust, gluttony, pride, sloth—whichever it happens to be. Yet Daun has always known his connection to Jezebel goes beyond the connection all Seducers share, and now he knows what it is.
Demons have lied to themselves for millennia—because demons can, and do, feel. Further, they can choose to act on those feelings.
The book is structured in a way that gives us a glimpse into Daun’s past as well as his present situation. Many of the past episodes involve—or should I say, revolve?—around Daun’s relationship with Jesse-former-succubus-Jezebel. More, we are privy to Daun’s confusion over his—oh dear—feelings for Jezebel.
I enjoyed the novel, yet I still don’t like Daun for himself.
Which would be okay, since—in Ms Kessler’s own words—he’s an evil bastard. In a cuddly sort of way.
While I was fascinated by Daun’s reactions to Virginia—her inherent goodness, her grief, her love for her husband, and her generosity—there is a bit too much obsession in Daun’s feelings for Jessie. On top of that, unrequited love doesn’t lend itself well to happy endings, you know? Not that I’m comparing Daun to Cyrano de Bergerac—and, most definitely, Jesse ain’t no Roxanne—but still, there was a vague sense of dissatisfaction when I finished the novel.
What I do like is that this book, this whole series so far, makes me think. Yes, they are couched in fun dialogue and an outrageous (and outrageously irreverent) universe, but there are questions here that will keep coming back to me for a while. A long while.
This one gets 8 out of 10 from me.