Book Review: Hunting in Hell by Maria Violante

hunting in hell book cover

Hunting in Hell
by Maria Violante
$9.99 (Amazon)
298 pages
April 26, 2012
Review copy received from the author in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary:

Fans of the mercenary De la Roca can now enjoy HUNTING IN HELL, a two-book volume that includes both HUNTING THE FIVE and HONOR IN HELL. Follow the demon mercenary from the American Southwest to Hell – and back.

PART ONE: HUNTING THE FIVE

It’s a side of the southwest never glimpsed by mortal man – a heartless, barren outback riddled with ruthless demons. In its ignorance, humanity is powerless to stop these escapees from Hell and the havoc they create with their dark magic. Good thing De la Roca isn’t human. A gunslinger with no memories of her previous life, she has fought for the last three hundred years on the forefront of a supernatural war, relying only on her wits, her reflexes, and her own demonic powers – all to pay for her own release from Hell. The Angels wouldn’t send her in alone and unarmed, though; Alsvior, her gifted – if contrary – steed, and Bluot, a legendary revolver with an unquenchable blood-lust, have been with her every step of the way – alone with a series of terrible nightmares that might hold the keys to her past. Then, an Angel appears with a bargain that seems to good to be true – five final targets, and she is free from her penance. Quickly, she discovers that her old methods are not up to the task, and she’s forced to team up with a mysterious gatekeeper and another mercenary – both of which need her for their own plans. With time running out, she has to figure out who to trust and who to kill, and fast, before she’s demon-food.

PART TWO: HONOR IN HELL

Can anyone be trusted? Betrayed by both Laufeyson and the Mademoiselle, and sent on a quest by an angel that might actually be her enemy, the demon mercenary De la Roca bolts into Hell with murder in her heart. Her simple mission for revenge quickly spirals out of control. Between the Consortium of power-hungry angels, the serpentine Oracle, a strangely absent God, and the knowledge that her mount just happens to be a man under a curse, just about everyone around her has a secret – and most of them are trying to get her killed. Unless, of course, she can kill them first.

Review:

As mentioned in the plot description, De La Roca is one mean mofo of a demon hunter. Things start off with De La Roca approaching Rico, a demon who is simultaneously afraid of and attracted to her. She wants a weapon he promised her, and is worried about her next hunt as her enemies have grown smarter, and she has been in this line of work for 300 years. She wants revenge against a particular demon, Tengu. He was faster than her in their encounter, hurt her, and stole the weapon she got from Rico, a gun called Bluot. I also enjoyed the descriptions with her horse, Alsvior.

An Angel has told her she has to make five kills and then she’ll be free of her debt to him, being his mercenary, and she’ll also be free from Hell and her assignments. The world-building gets more interesting as we learn of the voice in her head (“the rattlesnake voice”), and the action is engaging with each of her demon kills, but the two books are more than just a violent shoot ‘em up. De La Roca is still not comfortable in her own skin and one of her central conflicts in both books is trying to figure out who she used to be to help her make sense of who she is now.

Laufeyson is a tricky character involved with De La Roca in both books. Although it was a bit confusing to sort who he is and why he’s involved with her at first, by the end of the second book, things become much clearer. He claims to be able to help her find the Phoenix Well she’s looking for and to conjure a waypoint into Hell.

Although I did enjoy quite a few of the world-building innovations, I’m glad that the two books were combined in this pack, because it feels like there should be more, as I found myself longing for more subplots, but it’s also fine to have De La Roca’s path toward the resolution be more linear than the recent trend of multiple interweaving plotlines in similar urban fantasy series.

On the whole, the writing is good, and De La Roca is pretty cool. She’s perhaps not the coolest or most badass urban fantasy demon hunter female lead, but she’s better than a lot I’ve seen, and bonus points for her not trying too hard to be overly masculine. Her horse is also a cool addition, and Laufeyson is a good character–his trickiness and constant deceptions, while wondering how much of what he’s saying is true, definitely ratchet up the tension. As previously mentioned, the action sequences are good and entertaining. There were perhaps a few too many flashbacks, but the details they revealed made them interesting and worthwhile. Although the author makes the meaning of certain terms like “akra” and “kevra” apparent due to context, I would have liked more explanation.

If you liked the Lilith Saintcrow Dante Valentine series or want something to read after The Hollows from Kim Harrison, or if you’re a fan of Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld of Women series, then you’ll be fond of De La Roca. I would also say it’s a natural “what to read next” after you’ve finished the Sonja Blue vampire series, and if you long for old Anita Blake, you’ll enjoy these books. It’s not your typical “smart-ass female lead” urban fantasy that you see too much of on the bookstore shelves, but it’s familiar enough that you’ll find the usual elements you go for when reading an urban fantasy. In fact, it’s more like an epic fantasy “quest tale” rather than the traditional revenge or mystery tales that we see in urban fantasy, which is good because it’s different.

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