Dati is a demon, a creature with a soul who is possessed, tainted by the evils of Hell and cursed with a powerful demonic force that exists within him. It is his duty, his purpose as a D’Alae — a bringer of nightmares — to infect the selected victims of his master. The venom his claws release brings forth the evil within the soul of the children, bringing them closer to the side of evil and the service of his master. One of the children he is called upon to infect is a young man called Alyx, son of a white witch.
With powers stronger than a mere D’Alae, Marta extracts a promise from Dati: Leave my son alone. In exchange for an occasional bit of healing, and the soul of another hapless child in place of her own, Marta ensured that Alyx would live free of the taint the D’Alae carried. Free to be normal, free to be himself.
Years pass, mere moments to a demon, and Dati returns to Marta’s shop in search of healing. His wing was broken by his master when Dati dared be less than perfectly obedient. But it’s not just Marta at the shop, it’s a handsome young man who seems to return Dati’s interest, a young man Marta warns him to stay away from. Far away. Dati remembers the promise he made to the witch, to leave her boy alone… but Alyx is no longer a boy and Dati has no interest in ignoring the man Alyx has become.
Alyx is intrigued by the stranger, and more interested once his mother turned the man from no one in particular to forbidden fruit. With the power of his spirit guide, a satyr who lives in Alyx’s mental meditation space, he learns where Dati lives, and it’s only a matter of time before Alyx gets up the courage to visit. If only to say hi…
While Alyx fancies a bit of flirtation, both with the strange Dati and the mysterious satyr of his visions, Dati finds himself infected by his master with a sickness worse than poison. A handful of metallic monsters have burrowed into his flesh where they wait, ready to burst forth from his chest to infect a hapless human with enough of Dati’s own flesh and blood to turn them into D’Alae demons, demons free of Hell and bound to serve Silenus.
It’s not only Dati who is so cursed, it’s also Hemming, the skin shifter who turns into a demon wolf. Jenae the soulless witch, Kasadya the Watcher demon, and several others, all bound to Silenus’ service. But it’s Dati, Hemming, Jenae, and the Kasadya who band together to try to free themselves from this nightmare, to keep from infecting others and to save their own lives. Hemming has already turned three humans against his will and it nearly killed him. Not only that, there are still several left inside him, waiting to rip their way out. The Kasadya suggests they turn to the healing witch, Marta, and Dati agrees to try to contact her.
Unfortunately it’s Alyx who finds him first. Alyx, whose latent demon blood and powerful magics draw the parasites forth from within Dati, infecting the young man. Now it’s a question as to whether Alyx will survive the transformation and if Marta be willing to forgive them enough to cure them. Will they escape Silenus or will their evil master succeed in his efforts to bring forth Satan into the human world?
This is a dark book and is more of a horror story with bisexual and gay characters than a romance novel or a story about two people falling for each other. In fact, there’s no romance and barely any relationships at all. As a horror book there are all manner of visceral scenes of death and pain, slavery and subjugation, so step carefully.
There are interesting moments in this book, images and ideas that caught my attention. Unfortunately, I wasn’t terribly interested in the characters who escorted me through the story. The book is told via the first person views of Dati, Alyx, and Jenae, and unfortunately I found none of them engaging and, at times, it was hard to tell them apart.
We spend much of the book with Dati, who is weak and passive, obediently doing as he’s told by his master. His few moments of rebellion are mostly internal sniping, due to his fear of Silenus and his desire to survive at any cost. He’s not a terrible character, but he’s very one-note and a little bland. He’s filled with angst and unhappiness, but he’s not developed enough as a person to make them resonate. His attraction to Alyx seems to be half lust and half impulse. Marta says no, so he wants to say yes. He manages a small bit of character growth through the book, but only a small bit, with much character development pushed aside in order to focus on the plot.
Alyx sees a strange man come into the shop and, based on one shared look, decides to learn where he lives. That’s his primary motive. He sees someone attractive and it catches his attention. Marta says no, so he wants to do it anyway. I think it’s supposed to be simple and shallow as “I’d like to hit that,” but it’s not expressed believably enough. Alyx seems very mild about the whole thing. As the story progresses Alyx becomes the victim of events and his reaction is an emotional one, but the limited focus of these emotions make him unpleasant and tiring to deal with. One-note characters just don’t do it for me, not when they’re meant to be a main character or a point of view character.
Jenae became a witch because it was offered to her and she had no reason to say no. She’s not terrible, she’s not wonderful; for the most part she’s just there. We’re told she dresses like a preppy girly-girl, but what personality we’re shown is equal parts sulking and affectation. Using her magic causes a fugue state where dark powers erupt from her, but she neither remembers them nor can consciously guide them. It’s a nice trick to try to keep her from being seen as truly evil as everything is done — more or less — against her will, but it turns her into a remarkably weak character. She’s utterly passive, neither good nor evil, unable to be held accountable for her own actions.
The plot of the story, as evidenced from the series name, lets us know that there’s going to be a bit of a slog through the muck and the mire to the end of the book. Apocolypses are rarely happy events, after all, and this one — shaped by Silenus and the elemental witch, Aradia — took a sharp left away from happy town and headed all the way into darkness and despair. And that’s a good thing. The author has a vivid imagination and the world building in this story is a mix of mythology, horror tropes, and a nice spin on witchcraft. The pods, the skin shifters, the various demons were all creative and interesting. Unfortunately, when it came to the primary focus of the story, the ideas were better than the execution. For example, Dati and his demon.
By all accounts, from Dati and Marta and even Silenus, Dati is a demon, but he doesn’t seem to think of himself that way. If he came from Hell — but did he? — he’d be familiar with Satan, demons, and evil. The impression I receive through reading is that Dati isn’t from Hell. But… he isn’t from earth, either? He’s fascinated with humans and their rituals and refers to his demon self as his other self. There’s a problem with that, as though Dati doesn’t quite know what he is. Either that or he’s simply not sharing it with the reader, but we aren’t given enough details in the story to be able to figure it out. By calling on his demon powers he gains wings, a tail, claws, and strength and speed. Without his demon half is… human? Human looking? And why is it a demon half? Is he a D’Alae or not? There is so much about Dati left unanswered and I think that was a mistake, considering that his are the eyes through which we are primarily introduced to the story.
Later, when Dati is forcibly bonded to an incubus, he loses much of his original personality. He becomes happier, sort of, focusing upon his new master and throwing away what little character growth we’ve seen in the book. The transition doesn’t work for me. It’s a discordant tonal shift that feels shoehorned in, as if the author wanted to either redeem Dati by showing us he could care — which doesn’t work at all as he’s now slavishly devoted to his person by being magically bound against his will — or trying to throw in a relationship between characters at the end. It breaks the tension leading up to the climax and muddies the character arcs to no good purpose.
The world building worked for me, even though the characters… didn’t. Not quite. The plot almost worked for me, the roles cast for Alyx and Jenae were more interesting than they themselves were, and if it weren’t for that moment at the end I think it would have worked better. For me the weakest part was Dati. As the first character we see, as the character we spend most of the book with, he had the least developed personality and was, strangely, the least evil. I found myself more interested in the side characters than the main point of view characters, and that isn’t always a good thing.
And, before I forget … the true MVP of a horror book: The Villain. The Big Bad, the monster under the bed. Silenus. Silenus is truly vile, reprehensible, and serves as a satisfying villain. He’s a touch two-dimensional, but in a horror story you’re less interested in the backstory behind the big bad and more intersted in the people chosen — or cursed — to save the world. Unfortunately, in this book, I would have preferred to spend more time with Silenus than any of the three main characters.