Agustin Chavez de la Cruz is the half-demon, half-angel heir to Infinity Corporation, a role that means significant expectations rest on his shoulders. On top of that, Agustin serves as the head of Infinity 8, a special sub-group within the corporation, and as the Demon Lord of California. Juggling so many roles leaves precious little time for a personal life. To make matters worse, Agustin’s father openly advocates for Agustin’s future offspring to be mixed-race kids who can serve as poster children for Infinity Corporation’s image as an entity that welcomes all paranormals. In fact, Agustin’s father’s ambitions have already ruined two of Agustin’s great love affairs and left Agustin’s adult son virtually estranged from his own grandfather. On top of all that, Agustin has been tasked with a new job. He needs to convince a paranormal named Calico Winghorse to sign away control of his interdimensional portal to the corporation. It would be easy, except Agustin instantly feels a strong sense of connection and attraction to Calico.
Along with his two brothers, Calico has fled his home dimension to escape the wrath of his cursed great-grandfather, Rupart — but not before being struck with the curse himself, making it impossible for Calico to tap into all his paranormal powers and severely affecting his ability to command space and time. Now, the phoenix-demon-lycanthrope-time-god must carve out an existence on Earth, where customs are wildly different and neither he nor his brothers can be free to express their true natures. When a militant wing of the Infinity Corporation accosts Calico for the sake of trying to wrest away control of his portal, he wants nothing to do with the outfit. But then, Agustin steps in to negotiate a contract that allows the Corporation the use of the portal, while also offering Calico generous compensation and a position on Agustin’s own Infinity 8 team. It doesn’t hurt that Agustin’s fiery demon side appeals to Calico’s phoenix identity. It may even be the key to freeing Calico’s full potential from the harm of his great-grandfather’s curse.
The Demon Lord of California is a quasi-historical, very paranormal fantasy from Bennu Bright. The action takes place largely in early 20th century California where Agustin impresses in finely cut suits and top hats, while Calico toils in a bakery and uses a horse and cart to deliver his wares. Despite these clear time and culture markers for Earth, neither character seems to care about social norms for the era. Instead, Calico expects Agustin to follow courtship rules from Calico’s dimension. This includes several chapters’ worth of Calico wringing his hands over why Agustin does not provide a chaperone as Calico’s people require and having a meltdown when Agustin attempts to kiss Calico (in Calico’s world, a kiss is like a declaration of undying love). I did not like this unbalanced dynamic where Calico doesn’t seem to ever attempt or understand the need to explain his expectations to Agustin; meanwhile, Agustin seems completely aloof to everything but his own smoldering attraction.
In a similar vein, I was disappointed with the whole Calico-is-a-god-of-space-and-time concept. At first, I was intrigued by the way Calico seemed to know Agustin (hell, Calico gave Agustin a blow job in a vaudeville theater in chapter one because that Calico had all the memories of a future Calico who was, indeed, in a relationship with Agustin). I appreciated that it didn’t take long for the plot to reveal that the curse also affected Calico’s experience of time. That said, it felt like so many of the “time blips” in the story didn’t feel like time blips, but continuity errors, because it was never established when or how or why Calico had these out-of-time experiences. It also negatively impacted how I perceived the “romance” that struggles to form between the love interests. I mean, ultimately, they do fall desperately in love with each other and fulfill a star-crossed lovers type of trope, but it was just such a shambles coming together that it wasn’t very enjoyable for me.
Unfortunately, this book just wasn’t for me. The overall structure of the book felt weak. The story felt too grandiose and the framing struggled to support the wildly eclectic strings of adjectives used to describe the main characters. It wasn’t clear to me whether the story’s main conflict was supposed to be Infinity Corporation trying to coerce Calico into signing away all rights to his own portal or Calico trying to avoid being murdered by his cursed relative. I didn’t like how Calico’s role as a god of time and space wasn’t clearly addressed on page, when his god-powers were screwing with his behavior (he swings wildly between embodying his future role as Agustin’s lover and his present as a shrinking sexual violet). And I wasn’t really clear on how all these paranormal entities managed to “fit in” with humans in their world when there was so much over-the-top paranormal stuff going on. To say nothing of the significance of Calico’s being a phoenix-demon-lycanthrope-god mix and Agustin being a demon-angel mix who wore at least three different professional hats. And the cherry on top: whatever role the titular Demon Lord of California was supposed to fulfill was never touched on in the book.
This story just barely managed to cobble together enough of a coherent plot to have things make some sense. To me, the overall effect was more of a messy origin story for how Calico and Agustin became a couple. But the details are distractingly disorganized. The fantastical, multisyllabic descriptions of the MCs primed me for an epic kind of story, but the poor execution had me struggling to connect to the characters or relish the situations they were in. If you’re a fan of stories that are complicated for the sake of being complicated, or just interested in anything that is remotely paranormal then you might enjoy this, but it gets a hard pass from me.