Even though the Dante Valentine series has gotten pretty decent reviews on Goodreads (particularly from geek goddess Felicia Day), I avoided reading the series for a really long time. Mainly because, between the author’s pseudonym and the cover art and description, the book seemed like it would be a little goth. Now, there’s nothing wrong with goth, there are plenty of goth or goth adjacent things that I love (Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, Storm Constantine’s Wraeththu books and, um, I can’t think of a third thing off the top of my head… the first couple of Anne Rice vampire novels maybe?) but I personally don’t find goth tropes engaging unless they’re attached to a really compelling narrative. However, in a fit of Kindle based impulsivity, I downloaded a bundle of five Dante Valentine novels so the die was cast.
As I expected, Dante is a pretty goth character. She’s a Necromance (a raiser of the dead), her naturally blonde hair is dyed black and she’s got a tattoo on her cheek (apparently, there’s a law that Necromances have to do these last two things so they can be identified by the public). She (sort of) worships Anubis. And, because this is an urban paranormal mystery, she’s also kick-ass; she supplements her Necromance income by working as a bounty hunter and wields a katana in the line of duty. The good news is, Lilith Saintcrow does a good job with her world and with her main character so even though I’m slightly making fun of all these tropes, I think she pretty much pulls the whole thing off.
In the opening scene of the book a (hot) demon, Japhrimel shows up at Dante’s front door and brings her to a meeting with Lucifer in Hell. The Dark Prince has a job for Dante, one she can’t turn down. He wants her to hunt down and kill a renegade demon, Santino. Lucifer thinks Dante might be particularly well suited for this job because Santino brutally tortured and murdered Dante’s best friend Doreen and nearly killed Dante as well. To a certain extent all genre novels use their plot devices for metaphors; Dante Valentine is a troubled woman who is literally and figuratively forced by events in the novel to confront her demons. A friend of mine used to say that the job of a writer was to strand her main character in a tree and then throw rocks at him/her. Dante Valentine may want to invest in a shield because sh*t is about to get real. In order to track down Santino, Dante is forced to work with her former lover and partner, Jace Monroe, the man who broke her heart. Of course, a sexy love triangle (Dante/Japhrimel/Jace) ensues. Where this story diverges from the run of the mill is that it’s not a simple manhunt. In her pursuit of Santino, Dante uncovers truths about her past and the world around her that she’d rather not know and is changed forever. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the day is (more or less) saved by the end (because that’s how all books in this particular sub-genre end) but what is refreshing and interesting is that solving one problem just creates a new set of problems for Dante. Actually, that’s not actually fresh for an urban paranormal mystery either, is it? Since these books tend to come in series, there’s always something at the end that leads you into the adventures of the next book. So perhaps I should say that I was really taken by the weight of the ending and engaged enough to want to know what it all means for Dante in book two. Lilith Saintcrow has the courage to treat her heroine mercilessly and I found that very interesting.
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t love this book as much as some other people did. But I did like it and I think that if you enjoy this genre, you will too.