Succubus Blues, by Richelle Mead (Kensington, 2007)

At first glance, Georgina Kincaid is just your average everyday retail monkey, working as a clerk for Emerald City Books and Cafe, one of Seattle’s finest bookstores. Her weaknesses: shoes, white chocolate mochas, and Seth Mortensen, one of today’s most brilliant authors. Unfortunately, that’s just Georgina’s day job, the one that pays the rent. In truth, she’s a succubus, tasked with seducing and corrupting mortals so Hell can get their souls. It’s a thankless job, filled with mindless bureacracy, sleazy people, and a growing sense of regret, especially since it prevents her from having any real sort of relationships. After all, every time she touches a guy, she’s apt to steal his strength; actual sex might just kill someone if she’s not careful.

Despite all this, Georgina maintains a delicate balance between the two aspects of her life, steering clear of anyone she’d regret hurting, and doing odd jobs and regular assigments for her demonic boss, an oddball who has a thing for John Cusack films. And then things get messy. Really messy. First, Georgina’s favorite author shows up in town, and swiftly becomes a regular at the bookstore. Second, someone — or something — seems out to get everyone connected to Georgina, leaving them terrorized, maimed, or just plain dead. Third, Georgina finds herself falling for Roman, a hot guy who shows up at the bookstore one day. As the attacks on her supernatural friends increase in severity, Georgina has to keep herself safe, even as she juggles her feelings for Roman and Seth. And when representatives of Hell and Heaven are forced to get involved in things, you just know it’s not going to end prettily. Worst of all, Seth Mortensen might never finish writing his newest book at this rate!

In Succubus Blues, Richelle Mead has conjured up a fun new heroine. Georgina may be playing for Team Evil, but she’s a reluctant sort of bad guy, a delightfully flawed succubus who never lets her powers go to her head. She’s complex and believable, and easy to root for as she tries to keep two very different areas of her life from colliding, with decreasing success. Mead takes gleeful advantage of the world she’s created, populating it with supernatural entities that are a welcome relief from the same old werewolves and vampires. Even better, she manages to give us angels which aren’t one-sided, moralizing, absolute avatars of Goodness and Light, and demons which aren’t cackling cliches of Evil. No, these are fully-realized, three-dimensional characters, and great fun to watch. And in what might be considered a surprise contrast to the concept, this is a book about a succubus that doesn’t entirely revolve around sex; the first truly in-depth sex scene doesn’t occur for quite some time, and when sex does enter the picture it’s part of the story. Given how easy it would be to use a succubus as a main character solely to justify many erotic scenes, I commend Mead for taking things in a more organic, plot-driven, characterization-heavy route. That’s what made the book work for me.

Mind you, there’s also an intriguing mystery at hand, as Georgina works to figure out why someone’s targeting her friends and enemies, and why she’s on their hit list as well. Even when things seem obvious, Mead pulls some nice surprises out of her hat, keeping things from getting overly predictable. Of course, Georgina’s a classic sort of character, the sort that has no business getting underfoot and uncovering mysteries, yet does so anyway, much to her inevitable dismay. That’s half the fun, watching her stumble through an increasingly dangerous situation, right up until the messy end.

Overall, Succubus Blues is an excellent start to a new series, with a memorable heroine and a genuinely interesting take on the paranormal romance/urban fantasy genre. I look forward to seeing future offerings from Richelle Mead, and the further adventures of Georgina Kincaid, reluctant succubus.

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