While scrolling twitter, I saw one of my mutuals interacting with an account raving about Victoria Larque’s Embers Duology, Demon Rising and Angel Falling. I had just seen the two books offered on NetGalley available to read now, so I went back and got them.
Fane is a low level demon, an Ember. She sculpts and shapes stone with her hands. She is owned by a more powerful demon, who is pressuring her for sex. She wants to get away from him, but doesn’t see many options. Mihr was born an angel and has been a warrior for Heaven for centuries. While investigating demonic activity with a younger made angel (once human, now angel), they are overwhelmed by demons and Mihr is dragged to Hell to be tortured. Fane offers him a deal, she will get him out if he will bless her, which is the only way she can escape Hell.
As you can see, Larque sets her fantasy world mostly within Christian mythology. I’m not inherently opposed. It’s familiar to a lot of readers. I did raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of Ifrit, creatures of Arabic mythology, being included among the Christian demons.
One of the most interesting things about this book was Mihr’s struggle to accept facts that undermine his reality. Mihr starts with the certainty that demons are evil and angels are good and there are no grey areas. The reality and complexity of Fane upends his world view. Fane wants Mihr to accept that both sides are bad and the war between heaven and hell is pointless brutality. Larque supports this by making all demons and angels, except Fane and Mihr, unrelievedly bad.
The review I’m posting is pretty different from the review I started.
I started reading fantasy and science fiction as a kid in the early 1980s. I had to ignore a lot of bad things to read the kinds of books I liked. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been unlearning ignoring content I don’t like to get content I do like. When I started writing this, I had erased from my memory a very disturbing scene early in the book. As I started to think about my review, I remembered it, and it’s changed the way I feel about the book.
Larque dances on the edges of some pretty icky stuff and I’m not sure she doesn’t fall over into the ick. At the beginning of the book, Mihr has a younger male angel patrolling with him. The younger angel races into a battle they can’t win and his death is fairly gruesome and disturbing. Some incubi (male demons who use sex) kill him with sex. I almost put the book down permanently at that point. I don’t have enough information to say whether Larque is intentionally or thoughtlessly homophobic. Regardless, it plays right into the idea that queer sex is a weapon used to corrupt and sully, and that is too bad a thing to ignore.
One of the running “jokes” in the book is Fane calling Mihr by women’s names. He asks her about it in a later part of the book and she tells him that she did it to make him seem less intimidating and then it became an endearment. It’s a weird joke that doesn’t really fit. In the world Larque sets her story, both angels and demons have men and women who are warriors and soldiers. It undermines the credibility of the rest of the world building.
It leaves me feeling uneasy. The great thing about being a reader now is that it’s so much easier for me to find the stories I want to read without having to wonder if the author is accidentally or intentionally homophobic.
CW: Some brutal battle scenes, the aftermath of torture, remembered domestic violence, disturbing murder by sex.
I got this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley. My opinions are my own.