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Saturday, May 19, 2012


Author:  Juliana Stone
Plot Type:  SMR
Ratings:  V5; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles: 
       "Wrong Side of Hell" (Prequel e-novella, 3/2012)
       Wicked Road to Hell (4/2012)
       "To Hell and Back" (e-novella, 10/2012)
       King of the Damned (11/2012)
       Awaken the Damned (6/2013)      

     This post was revised and updated on 1/12/13 to include a review of the second e-novella ("To Hell and Back") and the second novel (King of the Damned). Those reviews appear first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the prequel novella and the first novel:

           E-Novella 2: "To Hell and Back"           
     This novella tells is the second part of the romance between Logan Winters, a hellhound, and Kira Dove, a human. In the first novella, Logan rescued Kira from District 3 (aka Hell), and now they are back in the mortal world and on the run. Logan is taking Kira to his mysterious mother so that they will be safe from the demons who are on their trail. Unfortunately, Kira talks Logan into stopping in a small town that is decorated for Halloween. She is enchanted with the decorations, and Logan can't resist her begging, so they make an extremely bad decision and check into a bed and breakfast for an overnight stay.

     Almost immediately, Logan is kidnapped by demons and dragged down to Hell where Lilith is determined to break him with some heavy torture. Meanwhile, two Guardians—Priest and Cale—rescue Kira and attempt to get her to a safe house. But Logan reaches out to Kira in a dream and tells her that there is a traitor within the Guardians and that he's not sure that Priest and Cale have her best interests at heart. He tells Kira to escape from them and go to his mother. We don't see any of Kira's travels as she makes her way to Logan's mother. In one scene, she's running away and then a few pages later, she's there. 

     Back in Hell, Lilith is about to continue torturing Logan when a new character enters the story. At this point we learn the identity of Logan's father and mother. The rest of the story line follows Logan as he figures out a way to get out of District 3 and back to Kira.

     Like the first novella, this one seems rushed and incomplete in its character development and story line. What the author has done is to write a sketchy Logan-Kira romance and then divide it into two novellas. The only thing that this particular novella adds to the series story arc is the confirmation that there is an unknown traitor in the Guardian ranks. Other than that, it's just a below average paranormal romance. The novella is available on the Kindle for $1.99 (which is how I purchased it) and in a mass market paperback for $3.99. It's such a short story that I would have been upset with myself if I had paid the paperback price. 

           BOOK 2:  King of the Damned           
     The hero of the second book is Azaiel, the Fallen, who caused all kinds of trouble in the JAGUAR WARRIORS series. Azaiel is a Seraphim who spent long torturous years in the underworld after he lusted after a demonic woman who betrayed him. Eventually, Bill, the mysterious leader of the League of Guardians, rescued Azaiel and bound him to serve the Guardians. As the story opens, Azaiel is in Salem, Massachusetts, investigating the death of Cara James, a powerful witch who assisted the Guardians in their endeavors. Azaiel must determine who killed Cara. Was it a demon, or was it the unknown traitor within the Guardians? 

     The heroine of the story is Rowan James, Cara's granddaughter, who arrives at Cara's home to find the bloody aftermath of her murder and a strange, but sexy, man lurking in the house. Rowan has been running away from her witchy heritage for six years. For many generations, certain James witches have been marked by the demon Mallick. The marked witches are eventually dragged to hell, where Mallick sucks out their magical energy until they suffer through a painful death. Rowan is next on Mallick's list. Years ago, Cara put a spell on Rowan's demon mark to keep her hidden from Mallick, but now Rowan has had enough. She vows that on Samheim she will gather all of the surviving James witches together and defeat Mallick once and for all.  

     The plot follows Rowan and Azaiel as they get to know and trust one another and fall in love. We also meet the rest of Rowan's eccentric family and get the set-up for a future romance between Rowan's cousin, Hannah, and the jaguar shifter, Nico, who is now a Guardian. 

     This is a typical paranormal romance, with most of the story centering on the romantic relationship, with all of its ups and downs, so you can be sure that the angst level is quite high. Although Rowan and Azaiel spend a lot of time battling various demons, we don't get much graphic detail on those fights. The final inevitable showdown between Rowan and Mallick happens relatively quickly right at the end, and the major roadblock to the couple's HEA is solved off-page, so there's no real drama there. This isn't the strongest SMR story I've read, but it isn't the weakest. I guess I'd have to rate it as middle of the road average. The ongoing suspicion that there is a traitor within the Guardians is mentioned in passing, but with no details and no suspects.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novel. (Click on "Read an Excerpt" on the left side of the page.) 

     This series begins about 2 years after the final book in Stone's JAGUAR WARRIORS series. At the end of that series, we met "Bill," the mysterious, otherworldly man who rescued Julian Castille and Declan O'Hara from Hell. In exchange for his help, Bill required them to serve him. Now, we learn that Bill is really Askelon, a Seraphim who leads the League of Guardians. The Seraphim are angelic creatures who rule the upper realm, but they sometimes go too far in their zeal to destroy everything and everyone they believe to be evil. Their army is called the Seraph. 

     The League of Guardians was formed to maintain a balance between the forces of dark and lighti.e., the Seraphim and the Demons. Here, the situation is explained in the introduction to the prequel novella: "For millennia the struggle between light and dark, between the upper and lower realms, has been policed by a secret group of warriors culled from every fabric of existence. They are both otherworld and human, male and female. They are known to each other as the League of Guardians. Their pledge, to protect the line between dominions and make sure neither side grows too powerful. If they should fall, so shall the earth, the heavens, and hells. And there will be no more."  As Cale, a Seraphim and a member of the League, explains to Declan (now a Seraph soldier), "Our job is to make sure neither the underworld nor the upper realm become too powerful...yin-yang and all that. Without darkness there can be no light, the line between the two is delicate, like the thinnest weave of silk....We answer to one of the original seven Seraphima true warrior who speaks directly to the highest power. (That would be "Bill.") Bill generally takes on a human form in which he is a short, fat, bald man who constantly chews handfuls of gummy bear candy. Why does Bill constantly carry around a bag of gummy bears? Who knows. For me it's just one more of those "cutesy" details that writers throw in to add humor and "humanize" their characters. Unfortunately, it's just silly and annoyingand not funny at all.

     If you enjoyed the JAGUAR WARRIORS, series, you'll probably like this one. It has the same handsome alpha males and feisty, hardheaded females. The plot has a few loose ends (What happened to the Egyptian necklace?), but in general, the story line is compelling and action filled. The primary problem continues to be with the sketchy mythology, which still is missing some concrete details.

          Prequel Novella: Wrong Side of Hell          
     This introductory novella tells the beginning of the love story between Logan Winters, a hellhound, and Kira Dove, a human. Logan's job is to "retrieve souls that were beyond redemption and escort them to District Threeone of several levels in hellfor processing." Logan is also a League member after having been saved from the Pit of Hell by Bill. Fifteen years ago, Bill asked Logan to lead a young girl back to the human realm instead of escorting her to District Three, where Logan's demon overlord had ordered him to take her. Now, the girl has been murdered, and, once again, Bill wants Logan to bring her back. The plot follows Logan as he finds Kira in Purgatory and fights off swarms of demons to return her to Bill. The ending does not completely resolve their difficulties, so I can only assume that we'll see more of this couple in future books.

     The problem that I have with this story, and with the series mythology in general, is that too much is left unexplained. It's as if the author knows way more about the mythology than we do, and she has decided not to let us in on some key points. For example, just why is Kira so important? She appears to have some kind of otherworld connection, but mostly she comes across as a mentally damaged, bratty post adolescent, and no clues are given as to why she is so important to the League. Also, the mysterious identity of Logan's mother is referred to several times, but we never learn just who she is and why it is so important to Logan to protect her identity. But the biggest mystery for me concerns the League of Guardians itself. Other than the idea that they try to keep dark and light balanced, we don't really learn much concrete information about themnot in the introductory novella and not in book 1. All we are told is that sometimes they battle the Seraphim and sometimes they battle the demons. We do learn in the novella that there is apparently a traitorous Seraphim in the mix, but that bit of conflict doesn't show up in book 1. So...there is little continuity in the series—so far. In Stone's previous seriesJAGUAR WARRIORSthe world-building was meticulously crafted, but in this series, it feels incomplete and thrown together

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novella. (Click on "Read an Excerpt" on the left side of the page.)

          BOOK 1: Wicked Road to Hell          
     This book tells the love story of Ana DeLacrux and Declan O'Hara, star-crossed lovers from the JAGUAR WARRIORS series. In the final book of that series (His Darkest Salvation), Ana was staked and seemingly killed by Cormac O'Hara (Declan's father, the series villain), leaving Declan in a state of devastation and grief. As Wicked Road to Hell begins, Declan is in New Orleans, where Bill has sent him to track down his latest target. When Declan locates the home in which the target—Kaden, a teen-age sorcereris hiding, he is stunned to find Anastill alive, or actually still undeadguarding Kaden. As it turns out, Ana was also rescued by Bill, and now she, like Declan, is forced to do Bill's bidding. Kaden is valuable to both the underworld and the Seraphim because he has the fifth of seven magical marks. Declan, Ana, and their friends soon learn that there are seven children, each bearing a special mark. Brought together as a group, these marked children will be able to wield tremendous power. The question is, though, will they use their power for good or for evil? Each one has both light and dark in his or her soul, so it's a toss up as to which way they will go. The Seraphim don't want to take any chances, so they plan to collect the children and either imprison or kill them. The Demons, on the other hand, believe that they can fan the flames of darkness, so they want to capture the children and work on their dark natures. The League wants to rescue the children from both groups and give them a chance to make the right decisions.

     The plot follows the twists and turns of Declan and Ana's attempts to protect Kaden and rescue two other marked children who have been captured by Lilith and taken to her Hellish lair. Declan was at Lilith's mercy the entire time that he was in Hell, so he's not happy to learn that he must head back down there to rescue the children. Ana, being the stubborn vampire that she is, follows him. The story is filled with anguished interior monologues by both Ana and Declan as they bemoan their years of separation and worry that they can never overcome the odds and be together. Even when the couple seems to have successfully escaped from Hell, their troubles aren't over, but rest assured that they eventually find their HEA.

     Click HERE to read an excerpt from this novel. (Click on "Read an Excerpt" on the left side of the page.)

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