Thursday, March 12, 2015

Demon Squad: At the Gates reviews

    The Demon Squad series by Tim Marquitz is one of my favorite independent urban fantasy series. It's not as funny as the Dresden Files and focuses a little too much on world-ending threats versus stopping to let us know the characters but it's entertaining as hell (no pun intended). We also get a bit of focus on the heavenly side of the equation after spending two books getting to know the demonic.

    The premise of the series is God and the Devil have made peace, leaving the Earth to the human race before departing. This really upsets both angels and demons who have been preparing for Armageddon since almost before time began. Both sides have produced a number of psychotic fanatics and caught in-between is Frank "Triggaltheron" Trigg a.k.a The Devil's Nephew. Frank likes the world the way it is and has allied with monster-hunting group DRAC and those demons as well as angels who don't want everyone slaughtered in a M.A.D. situation.

    While Frank was able to preserve the peace in Armageddon Bound and took a dangerous player off the map in Resurrection, At the Gates has him utterly fail to predict the next problem's source: Heaven has fallen. Gabriel and Michael, most famous of all Christian archangels, have gone down the left-handed path and slaughtered the majority of all non-Armageddonist angels. The surviving peace-faction have barricaded themselves in the Garden of Eden for a last stand which may well end in the genocidal war everyone's been trying to avoid. Can Frank and his angelic cousin, Scarlett, save the universe? Well, there's at least five more books so let's hope so!

    I'll be honest, At the Gates isn't my favorite of the novels. This isn't because the book isn't entertaining. It has a delightfully off-kilter globe trotting Indiana Jones-esque plot to recover three rib-bones from Adam, Eve, and Lilith to provide a secret backdoor to Heaven. The stakes are also shown to be suitably high by having Sodom and Gomorrah fire reign down on humanity on a regular basis as the angels class. There's only a few aftermath moments but watching Frank look at a helpless humanity mourning its losses provides the book with a number of poignant moments.

    No, sadly, I think this book suffers a little bit because there's not enough of a page count devoted to the character's reaction to the War in Heaven. I recommend readers pick up either the first series omnibus To Hell and Back or buy the e-short story, Betrayal, separately. This short-story, starring Scarlett is really essential to appreciating the emotional gut-punch of Gabriel and Michael's betrayal as well as the issues involved in this conflict. Frank, sadly, just doesn't give enough of a damn about Heaven to make him a good POV for the conflict. I would have much preferred an entire book from Scarlett's perspective.

    Really, the War in Heaven could have been the background for a number of books without diminishing its story or importance. The events are all resolved in one book, however, before we really get a chance to appreciate the full scope. I also felt this was a missed opportunity for Scarlett and Frank to get closer. Then again, I'm a Scarlett/Frank shipper (cousins matter less when one is the former candidate for the Anti-Christ) so I'm admittedly biased. I'm very glad that we did get the perspectives we did and Scarlett's return to the series was most welcome. She's, easily, my favorite character in the series.

    The action, adventure, and spectacle in the book is all well-done. It reminds me strongly of the Christopher Walken Prophecy series. Massive gigantic stakes just off-screen while smaller people struggle with them. Frank, as always, is entertaining and able to wheel his deal out of most problems. I also like his relationship with Karra, as much as I prefer to ship him with Scarlett or Veronica, and enjoy reading about their interactions. I hope she'll play a bigger role in future books as she's arguably a better warrior than Frank and should have been on the front lines with him fighting the angel threat.

    Fans of the series will note Tim Marquitz is not afraid to kill long-standing characters. There are a number of shocking deaths in this volume of the franchise. This may turn some readers off but I think it contributes to the idea no one is safe and this is a book with genuine stakes. I also am a big fan of some twists we've found out about Frank's heritage as well as who becomes King of Heaven after events play out. Newcomer villain Azrael and the return of existing villain Gabriel both make the book exceptionally fun as well. They're both deliciously hateable and a joy to read about Frank opposing.

    In conclusion, this is a fun book but I hope we'll get more focus on the zany fun characters next time than apocalypses (is that even a word?).


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