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Saturday, March 10, 2012


Author:  Zoë Archer
Plot Type:  Soul Mate Romance (SMR), Historical (HIS)
Ratings:  V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles:  Zebra/Kensington
          Devil's Kiss (12/2011)
          Demon's Bride (5/2012)
          Sinner's Heart (4/2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 5/20/13 to include reviews of the second and third books in the trilogy. Those reviews appear AFTER an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

     Set in 18th century England, this series starts out in a normal, non-supernatural manner. Five English noblemen, who call themselves the Hellraisers, are out for a night of entertainment, which for them means drinking, gaming, and womanizing. They are perpetually bored with their existence and live only for their nightly exploits. 

     As the series opens, the Hellraisers are visiting a gypsy encampment in the countryside when one of the gypsies tells them of a Roman ruin on a near-by hill. The five men jump on their horses and ride to the site where they find a hidden door that opens to a stairway leading down into the, apparently, hollow hill. Next comes a TSTL moment, but these are, after all, wealthy, alpha males who believe that they are invincible, so they all head down into the darkness. When they reach the bottom, who should greet them but the devilor as he calls himself: Mr. Holliday. He's thrilled that the Hellraisers have freed him from Hell, and in gratitude he vows to grant them each one power. Apparently, these guys have never heard that old saying: "Be careful what you wish for." They each agree of their own free will to accept their new powers in exchange for a token gift to Mr. Holliday. What they don't realized is that instead of a mere token, they have given the devil their souls. Soon, the men travel back to London and begin putting their powers to use. Each book will follow one of the men as he discovers that a life of evil isn't as much fun as he thought it would be. They also learn that Mr. Holliday's gifts have lots of strings attached. As each man deals with his chaotic future, a women will come to his rescue and help him overpower the devil. The series theme is the age-old battle between good and evil that goes on within every person.

Here's what each man receives:
 > Whit, the gambler, is granted the ability to control the odds in any game or situation. 
 > Leo, an investor, and the only one of the group who is not a gentleman, is granted the gift of foretelling a person's financial future after touching a piece of their money.  
 > Bram, the womanizer, gets the ability to persuade anyone to do anything, which includes getting any woman he wants into his bed. 
 > Edmund, who has loved and lost, is told that he will get back his former lover, who is now married to another man. 
 > John, the quiet and reserved one, gets to read other people's minds.
     Archer also writes the historical paranormal series entitled BLADES OF THE ROSE. Click HERE to read my summary of that series.

            BOOK 1: Devil's Kiss             
     Our first hero is James Sherbourne, Earl of Whitney, who is called Whit. He is an inveterate gambler, more for the thrill and the risks than for the money. At the gypsy camp, Whit is entranced by a beautiful gypsy woman, Zora Grey, who is an expert at cards and at fortune telling. The two are immediately attracted to one another. When Whit goes along with his buddies to the Roman ruin, Zora has a vision that they are in danger and goes after them. She arrives too late, though, and Mr. Holliday threatens to have her killed. Whit steps up to claim her, and Holliday makes her disappear, putting her body and soul into a playing card that he gives to Whit. As long as Whit has the card, Zora can never move more than 20 feet away from him. He takes her back to his London home, where he forces her to teach him all of her card tricks. He also tries to bed her, but she tells him that the only way that will happen is if he forces her. Being the gentleman (and the egotist) that he is, Whit decides to work on seducing her. After a few days of being imprisoned, Zora is visited by the ghost of Livia, a Roman woman who had her own terrible experiences with the devilish Holliday. Livia helps Zora escape, but Whit tracks her down. Eventually the couple flees across the countryside with the other four Hellraisers in hot pursuit, led by Whit's geminushis demonic, identical-twin double. As the story plays out, Whit and Zora must find a way to get Whit's soul back and destroy his geminus.  

     This book reminds me of an old-time romance novel, but with a demonic, supernatural injection. Whit and his friends could have walked out of any bodice-ripper novel by Kathleen Woodiwiss or Rosemary Rogers. Zora, too, is a familiar heroinethe feisty gypsy beauty who charms the wealthy British aristocrat. Beyond the stereotypical characters, the story is, for the most part, well told. Some of the battles with the demon hordes are a bit too long and repetitious, but if you like historical paranormal fiction, you'll probably enjoy this series.

            BOOK 2: Demon's Bride             
     The next Hellraiser to meet his romantic match is Leopold (Leo) Bailey, a financial wizard whose success on the Exchange is highly enhanced by Mr. Holliday's special gift. Leo's nickname is "Demon of the Exchange," and "his gift of prescience required him to touch an article of money belonging to an individual, and from that, he would have a vision of their future financial disasters." (Chapter 3) For example, in one scene, he visualizes that a cargo ship will be destroyed by fire and is able to punish one of his enemies by urging him to invest heavily in that ship's voyage. Leo is the only one of the Hellraisers who is not a gentleman. Leo is the son of a saddler who grew up in poverty, and he is determined to make the gentry pay for treating him badly over the years. As the story opens, Leo has just married Anne, the gentile daughter of an impoverished baron. For Leo (at first, anyway), the marriage is an investment: He gets some high-society connections, and she gets a life of wealth and privilege. But then, something unexpected happens to Leo: He falls in love with Anne.

     In the meantime, the three remaining Hellraisers (Leo, John, and Edmund) are trying to find Whit so that they can destroy him. They are afraid that Whit will somehow take away their demonic gifts, so they decide to take him down before he can ruin their lives. Meanwhile, life in London is getting more and more violent and the Hellraisers contribute heavily to the rising dissonance.

     The plot centers on Anne and Leo as she realizes that he is keeping dark secrets from her. Leo hides his flame marks from Anne and tries to convince himself that what he has done is for the best. Anne is further confused when Valeria Livia Corva (Livia), the ghostly Roman woman, visits her and confers new powers on her, and when Whit sends her a letter detailing the devil's gifts to the Hellraisers. At first, Anne doesn't believe Whit's outrageous story, but then certain dark events occur that make her change her mind. The story ends in violence and heartbreak as Whit, Leo, and their ladies confront the Hellraisers.

     The silliest scene in the book occurs when Leo is trying to regain Anne's love after she realizes that he has been lying to her and using her for his own purposes. Leo is desperate to get Anne back and promises to do anything that will ensure her happiness. To that end, Anne decides to test him. She thinks to herself, "Prove yourself...Prove to me that all is not lost." (chapter 16) You'll never guess what she wants him to prove himself to her. Without going into detail, let's just say that it involves male tongue action. Really? That's how she tests his love for her? 

    My main problem with this book (and with this series in general) is that it too often gets very melodramatic. If the narrative was toned down a few notches, I'd enjoy the story more. The lead characters are well-developed, with interesting back stories and sympathetic personalities. The ending is particularly well plotted, as love wins out when the remaining Hellraisers begin to turn on one another.

            BOOK 3: Sinner's Heart             
     The final book in the trilogy tells the love story of Abraham (Bram) Stirling, Lord Rothwell, as he falls for Livia, the ghostly Roman priestess who helped free the souls of two Hellraisers (Whit in book 1 and Leo in book 2). At the climax of book 2, Livia and Bram were permanently bound together when Livia jumped in front of Bram just as Mr. Holliday attempted to zap Bram with some new powers. Needless to say, Bram is quite unhappy with his new "partner," particularly when she interferes with his constant womanizing. Bram's gift is to be able to persuade people to do anything, and he uses those powers to bed as many women as possible.

     As this book begins, the violence in London is at an all-time high, with gangs roaming the streets and fights breaking out even at high-society events such as the opera. Livia keeps trying to convince Bram to repent, but Bram doesn't want to give up his gift, so he rationalizes that he and the Hellraisers aren't responsible for the brutal disorder in the city's streets.

     The story follows Bram as he slowly realizes that he must help Livia, Whit, Leo, and their wives defeat John and Mr. Holliday. By now, John's powers are so great that he is on the verge of taking over Parliament and becoming the sole ruler of England. Bram must take on the role of an undercover spy to discern John's plans and then try to disrupt them.

     In the meantime, Bram is falling in love with Livia, although her transparent form does not allow him to touch her. In one memorable scene, they try to relieve their sexual frustration by having what amounts to graphic phone sexbut without the phone. Eventually though, the ghost problem gets solved, and the remaining former Hellraisers and their ladies have one final showdown with Mr. Holliday and his minions.

     The entire series theme is the battle between good and evil, and in this series, good generally triumphs. The general tone in all three books is melodramatic extravagance and angst-filled emotion. The characters are fairly well developed, but rather stereotypical. The men are all handsome, decadent rapscallions who repent their disreputable ways and become loving husbands and solid citizens. The women are all feisty, smart, and self-reliantand, of course, extremely beautiful. It helps that each lead character has a back story that contributes to their personalities and explains their reactions to various demonic and magical events. If you enjoy historical paranormal romance (or just historical romance in general), you will probably enjoy this series.

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