(Zebra Books, $15.00, 320 pages, paperback, January 2007; ISBN: 0821781022/978-0821781029.)
Belles is the debut novel of NY author Jackie Kessler. With a striking
red cover, it is marketed as a paranormal romance - currently the hottest
corner of the SF/F market.
The central character is Jezebel, a succubus on the run from Hell.
As a succubus her role was the seduction of sinners and the removal
of their souls during sexual congress. Jezebel was good at her job and
put her soul into it (except she hasn't got one) to the extent that
she developed feelings for her victims (though presumably only those
good in bed). Following a corporate refocusing, Jezebel is downgraded
to a nightmare operative so she quits. However, you don't just walk
out on Hell and she is pursued by all manner of nasties. With the aid
of Caitlin, a witch, she takes refuge on the mortal plane posing as
a human. She flees to New York and on the train she meets Paul, who
is destined to be the love interest. When she arrives in NewYork, Jezebel
takes a job as an exotic dancer in an upmarket Gentleman's club. Teasing
and seducing men is second nature to a former succubus and it seems
that she is well set, but Hell hasn't forgotten her. A couple of old
friends (yes, even demons have friends) drop by to warn her that the
King of Hell himself is taking a personal interest in her case, then
the bad guys show up and it gets messy.
Essentially then these are the sexy adventures of Jezebel in New York,
stripping for gentlemen and hiding from demons. It's light and it's
fun; Jezebel has a good line in dark humour and a nuclear-powered libido.
The sex scenes are smoothly done and not jarring. The scenes set in
Hell are interesting and well set up, though I'm unclear about the theological
justification for separating Lucifer and the Devil. Everything bounces
along at a good pace and Ms Kessler writes with admirable clarity.
A flawless debut then? Not quite, there are weaknesses. Paul, the
love interest, doesn't really rise off the page as a character and it
is an enormous, and unexplained, coincidence that he is the first person
Jezebel runs into, when he was her last assignment as a nightmare. The
identity of the new CEO of Hell is withheld from the reader for a long
time for no obvious reason and we never find out how Jezebel knew Caitlin.
These are minor; my main difficulty is Jezebel's role in the story.
She makes the choice to quit Hell and after that she is at the mercy
of events, running without a plan. This, I'm afraid, diminishes my involvement
with her. I prefer my protagonists to protag.
I would not want to be too critical. Hell's Belles is a fun
read and a promising debut. I'll be interested to see what Ms Kessler
and Jezebel do next.