Story Rating: 3.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4.25 stars
Narrator: Kirt Graves
Length: 9 hours, 14 minutes
Redemption is the 5th book in the Fire & Brimstone series and is not a standalone. The books should be read in order as each is a chapter in a continuing story, and this review contains spoilers for previous installments.
Almost as soon as he awakens in the Cursed Realm, Riley’s torture begins. Drugged for compliance, experimented upon, and tortured physically and mentally, Riley’s only saving grace is remembering that he’s doing this for his angels. Yet, it’s not long before doubt creeps in and he questions not only his angels’ love for him, but himself as well. As excruciating days turn to soul-destroying weeks, Riley’s hellish environment and Lucifer’s attentions begin to take their toll and Riley changes in ways he always feared and never wanted. As his will and sanity fray, Riley learns that there are worse fates than death, and surviving with no hope for redemption may be one of them.
For the former Guardian team, Riley’s disappearance is a fate worse than death. Between how depraved and monstrous The Seven are, and knowing what Noel experienced while in Purgatory, the angels are beyond desperate to find Riley. When it becomes apparent that the bonding Jai and Riley shared when they had sex wasn’t a normal energy exchange and Jai begins experiencing Riley’s physical pain, the trio’s fear, frustration, and despair know no bounds, especially as even with the Council and teams of angels looking for him, information about Riley’s whereabouts remains scarce. With the previous seeds of suspicions now grown into discord and Riley running out of time, the Guardians only hope for finding Riley and bringing him home lies in their connection as a family.
Redemption is a solid story that leaves me more curious as to how the final book will manage 1) to wrap up all the new issues this one introduces, and 2) give the epic, final, battle-to-end-all-battles and solid HEA to the quad, as opposed to being excited for the last installment. Told in three parts, the first follows the Guardian team during the days Riley is gone from their dimension; the second follows Riley’s time in the Cursed Realm where time passes much more quickly; and the final is the climax. All the sections are deeply emotional and heavy in different ways to pull on all the myriad heartstrings. Not only are the Guardians alternately frantic and enraged as a group, they also have their own individual sorrow, jealousy, and resentments to deal with as old and new unexplored truths pluck at their already shredded nerves and deep-seated insecurities. For Riley’s part, he’s exposed to horrors and cruelty on an unimaginable scale, all while being psychologically abused, manipulated, and seduced by Lucifer. He can’t even rely on Alter Riley, because as soon as Lucifer begins casting doubt on everyone Riley cares for or trusts, Alter Riley is there to snap it up and cosign. Yet for all the heartstring tugging, it feels less organic than the earlier books and the story as a whole feels somewhat uneven to me.
Much of the Guardian portion uses flashbacks to explore their history — why their relationships, while close, are also oddly fraught, sharp, and guarded; and how and why Riley fits with them and can reconnect them in the ways they have let themselves drift apart. While there is a lot of lashing out and anger among the Guardians, there is also the beginnings of understanding, reconnection, and seeing new sides of themselves and each other. I really enjoyed finally getting to see some of the centuries worth of history they share as a group, as well as some of the more ruthless and unsavory actions Gideon had to take as an informant in Lucifer’s inner circle during the war. At the same time, the flashbacks feel out of place, for while they do break up the unrelentingly depressing situation, they don’t really connect with what the angels are experiencing in the present, and if you’re not generally a fan of flashbacks, they may come across as a drag on the pacing and exposition that could have been placed in earlier books.
Riley’s time in hell is rough to experience as he’s being put through all kinds of creative experiments by Leviathan, trying to avoid being raped by Asmodeus, and having his submissive nature and praise kink brutally exploited by Lucifer’s grooming techniques. For me, some of the effectiveness of the writing is diminished as there are times the narrative seems to reverse some of the growth and maturity Riley gained to give him almost book 1 levels of naïveté and stupidity in service of a plot point. There’s also the villain reveal that isn’t,and the climax that sees Riley do something he hasn’t done since book 3, but should have been doing, as it was clearly established as important for his well-being and training. Yet, it gets pulled out in the climax and given narrative weight it hadn’t earned, making it feel a little cheap. However, Riley’s section is definitely impactful as Lucifer trains him in using the powers from his Fallen heritage and Kirt Graves’ portrayal of Riley being ruthlessly stripped of his remaining innocence, his terror, his macabre education, his apathy, confusion, and despair is well-done.
Graves definitely gives his all in this penultimate book and its dramatic climax as it sets the stage for the final scroll. There is a lot of emotional heavy lifting in Redemption, and Graves continues doing an admirable job. The one small quibble I have is that there are enough misattributed voices and differences in some voices for secondary characters to be a bit distracting. However, it seems like the production turnaround was really fast and close to the previous book, so I’m still impressed with the overall quality.
Redemption did not resonate with me as much as I expected it to, and I’m not sure why, because there is plenty to like and much that fits with the overall tone of the series and where it’s heading. Maybe it’s the structure or maybe spending so much time in hell with Riley, watching him (and his angels) come apart at the seams, especially after we spent an entire long book dealing with the aftermath of Noel being brutalized tipped me from feeling empathy with the characters to feeling the hand of the author instead, even when actions makes sense for Riley and the series’ arc. However, it’s still an entertaining story and Graves continues to bring out its best features in the audio.