Today it’s my pleasure to review Hell’s Belle by Marie Castle. Let’s take a look at the blurb:
Cate Delacy is glad she’s a witch—and you can take that any ol’ way you like.
As a very mortal woman she has a target on her back, so she has no intention of following in her mother’s footsteps as an enforcer for the Council of Supernatural Beings. She didn’t ask to be a Guardian and she has to pay her bills. Opening the Darkmirror Agency is her solution. Her clients are mostly human and they pay on time.
But one day it all goes to Hell, figuratively. Then literally.
Because that’s the day the Council’s detective Jacqueline Slone slinks her way into Cate’s life. Jacq. So alluring. So powerful. So immortal. And up to her sexy neck in a secret that will unleash Hell’s Belle.
What I Loved: Stumbling, fumbling, first girl-crush anxiety. Cate doesn’t know what to make of Jacq and the immediate attraction. After the intimacy of sharing their magic, things take off with sparks galore—and Cate gets singed.
I love that Cate’s feelings are allowed to unfold in all their uncertainty and awkwardness, but with honesty and sincere intent to figure it all out. Rather than chapters upon chapters of angst, we get the sweet, brave and terrified first steps into new territory for Cate and are allowed to see it followed through—even with hell literally on their doorstep.
I also love the fact that there’s no rush to label Cate’s orientation based on her attraction to Jacq. Her past relationship with Were Alpha Luke isn’t dismissed as previous confusion and there’s no cry of “so you’re a lesbian now”. In other words, no biphobia or bi-erasure.
What I Liked: Although Nicodemus’ plans are always a credible threat in the background, this book is not about the villain. When considering how often he’s actually on the page in comparison to his absence, the big bad is a just above a footnote to the story. From a literary standpoint, this should be in the “tolerated” or “cringe” category, but I personally like the fact that Nicodemus doesn’t get more page time than is his due. This is Cate’s story and focuses on the relationships and interactions around her, rather than on our villain rubbing his hands together and cackling in glee.
Sometimes a story is about a hero going up against a villain and how their interaction changes and elevates the hero. But most of the time, life is about every day heroes going on about their day, with villainous machinations only in the background right up until the moment they’re not. Most of us never see the bad guy until the confrontation and our stories, like Cate’s, are about the day-to-day details that get us that far. I like seeing that reflected here.
What I Tolerated: The Rachel Morgan/Hollows Series by Kim Harrison meets the Anita Blake series by Laurell K Hamilton vibe that’s dominant throughout the book. The similarities are part “nothing new under the urban fantasy sun” and part “this is the urban fantasy landscape we’ve carved out the last fifteen years”, and I’m willing to give leeway on that. There’s enough about Cate Delacy and the Darkmirror-verse that stands on it’s own, to put those similarities aside and take Hell’s Belle on it’s individual merits.
Also on the tolerated list, the southern rambling style of the book as a whole. There is a leisurely stroll to the story that evokes southern charm and sweet tea afternoons, but the carpets of this rambling mansion grow threadbare and the crumbling plaster dust of the walls stings the eyes in places. A tighter reign on things would have made for a smoother storytelling, but nothing is taken from the tale as a whole.
Last, but not least, telling. We’re told so much in this book rather than being shown directly, that it starts to feel like a campfire story rather than an immersive experience. Mynx seems like an intriguing character that I wanted to know more about, but I’m told about her in bits and bites, and nearly shown nothing of her in comparison. The same can be said on aspects of the world building. Things that could have easily been shown in context are instead given as an aside that took me out of the story from time to time.
What Made Me Cringe: Either a flaw in editing, or error in ebook formatting allows for large chunks of text and undifferentiated dialogue that cause eyestrain and a bit of confusion in places.
That’s is. Seriously, I got nothing else. Shocking, yes?
Final Verdict: Read it! The world is engaging, Cate is likeable, the same-sex attraction and unfolding relationship is handled respectfully and surprisingly, and there’s a boatload, (technical term), of potential to what can unfold in the Darkmirror-verse.
Openly bisexual author of erotic, polyamorous, paranormal romance, focusing on bisexual and sexually fluid characters and cultures. Works include the Therian World series and PsiCorps Chronicles, out with Samhain Publishing and Liquid Silver Books.