Speak of the Devil, by Jenna Black (Dell, 2009)

Here’s the scoop: exorcist Morgan Kingsley is being sued by a father who blames her for an exorcism that left his son brain-dead. Her license has been suspended, she’s been living out of a suitcase ever since her home was burned down, and the exiled king of the demons is illegally living in her body. Her boyfriend is upset with her for having both trust and secrecy issues, and the only people she can count upon are the people she fears and distrusts the most. It’s clear that someone’s trying to destroy her life, and Morgan’s had enough of that, thank you very much. If she can’t figure out who has it in for her, and why, she’ll be in real trouble … and for once it’s not someone trying to kill her because of Lugh, her unwelcome guest. But with her personal life already in shambles, how much more does Morgan have to lose? Plenty. Here’s hoping she can hold it together long enough to survive.

I’ll be honest. I don’t keep returning to this series – four books and counting – because I like the main character. Morgan’s a self-absorbed, irritating person, the sort who invariably makes life much harder for herself than it needs to be. She constantly alienates and abuses everyone who might be willing and able to help her, drives away her allies, and tosses common sense and self-preservation out the window on a regular basis. It’s hard to imagine how she’s lasted this long. No, I’m here because of the supporting cast, and specifically for Adam and Dominic. It’s pretty damn rare to find such a positive portrayal of a loving, committed homosexual BDSM-practicing couple in any series outside of the erotic section, and their presence more than makes up for Morgan’s shortcomings. While they’re used, at least a little, for titillation (this series does not shy away from erotic moments), they’re also in a functional, sane relationship, one presented as healthy and matter-of-fact, even if some aspects of what they do squicks the main character. I think Adam and Dominic could headline a book of their own, especially since Adam’s a cop hosting a demon and Dominic’s a mortal with a passion for cooking. Another breakout supporting character is Barbara “Barbie” Paget, a private investigator who plays a large part in the events of this book, for good and for bad. Again, she seems like she’d be a great lead at some point.

But what about the plot, you ask. Here I’ve been going on and on about the characters, but the plot? Well, it’s pretty much as described above: someone’s systematically destroying aspects of Morgan’s personal life, including her career and her relationships, and it has almost nothing to do with the overarching plot involving Lugh and his slow struggle to defeat his usurper brother and regain his throne in the Demon Realm. While there’s some small progression in terms of character growth and adding new elements to the mix, there’s not much made towards what I’ve always considered to be the real plot of the series. Maybe I’m missing the larger picture and where this fits in, or maybe it’s more of a plot detour. I guess we’ll see. Meanwhile, throughout the course of this book, Morgan does, what else, everything she can to sabotage her own chances of success, including ditching her allies/bodyguards at every opportunity and shooting herself in the legal foot. It’s frustrating to watch a protagonist go through so much trouble when a touch of patience, understanding, and trust would have saved her the grief.

But you know what? I’ll be here for the next book in the series anyway. Perhaps in morbid fascination, I have to see how this turns out, and of course, I want to see the supporting cast get more time in the sun. They’re what makes this series memorable, as far as I’m concerned. Before I wrap this up, let me reiterate: this is by no means a bad book, or a bad series, for all that I’ve got some major complaints. Black lures me back with each new volume because there’s a lot of potential here, and some solidly enjoyable underpinnings to the series. Speak of the Devil still has plenty going for it, enough to keep fans happy at the very least.

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