Yup, here we are again right away with another review. This time I’m reviewing Gypsy Madden’s 2012 fantasy novel, Hired by a Demon. Like I mentioned in my last review/overview, this review will have plenty of spoilers, but that is so that critical conversation can occur more easily here than on Amazon.
So, with that, on with the review of Gypsy Madden’s Hired by a Demon.
Bumpy and a bit confused at times, but not all bad
Three stars given: ∗∗∗
WARNING, SPOILERS BELOW (they will be highlighted in red so you know when they are coming)
Pros: There’s lots of potential throughout the story. I think it could really reach its potential if the world’s inner workings were just expanded upon and the characters were all developed a lot more. Either way, there’s a lot of wiggle room deep in the story and/or, if there is a sequel, the mythos and characters could all make for a good story if they were expanded on more.
Oh and I liked the gargoyles. I really liked their fun mannerisms, like magical stone dogs. I really wish I saw them come in towards the climax to bring some lighthearted and charming spirit to help alleviate the dour mood of the ending events.
I was also excited to see in the beginning of the story (in Vara’s perspective) that the modern-day world might be blended with a magical one. Usually magic is segregated to a medieval time period, so it was refreshing to think that it could be woven into a world very much like our own. This was only somewhat true, however, as there still appears to be a large separation between magical and non-magical worlds.
Cons: Vara and Austin are pretty much useless. Vara’s actions and ineptitude are more or less the cause of everything bad that happens in the entire story. Not only that, but when she isn’t being manipulated or duped into doing something bad (such as releasing the demons or taking Laris to the demon realm), she’s being blamed for something that she realistically couldn’t prevent, such as Laris and Richard giving Vara and Derek the slip early in the story.
Austen… oh, Austen. While Vara might have set up all of the problems that occur during the story’s plot, it’s Austin’s staggering incompetence that allows those problems to actually become dangerous. He starts off by failing to guard Laris and throughout the rest of the story he contributes very little. His attempts at hunting the wolf fails, the hunters he hires fail, there’s even an entire chapter where he is just pinned to the ground and beaten up by demons. It didn’t exactly contribute very much to the story.
It made me hard to root for the characters when they so routinely failed their tasks or were duped into doing something against their will. I thought that this problem would be dealt with by the end of the book and, in a way, it was. Except, it was done in a way that ultimately harmed the book rather than helped it: Deus Ex Machina.
Yes, Deus Ex Machina rears its head in this tale. Vara’s discovery of her inner “god-power (something I’m still a little lost on)” at the precise moment when she needed it, despite the oft-reinforced point about her painfully average magical ability, is very reminiscent of Deus Ex Machina. I would also lump the reveal of Vara’s mother as a “god” to be in a similar vein. The fact that the story makes little to no mention about Vara’s mother’s power or status makes this reveal of a point which is incredibly important to feel random and almost impulsive.
Moving right along though, Vara, Austen, Vara’s mother, father, Laris, Laris’ father, Derek, and Lulu (most of the cast, actually) very rarely get time to develop as characters. The plot moves forward at such a breakneck pace that I never got to learn about the characters aside from what was immediately necessary to know. While that’s acceptable and encouraged during the quicker parts of the book, there was never a moment in the book where I felt like I could just sit and enjoy the character’s character. Needless to say, the random reappearance of Vara’s mother and father, the startlingly out-of-character power-grabbing of the former and of Laris’ father, and the introduction of Lulu and Vara’s brother as the wolf spirit (yet another thing I’m still trying to comprehend) came out of the blue at best and directly contradicted a character’s personality at worst. For instance- why would Vara’s mother arrive just in time to take Laris’ power for herself (meaning, she knew about the job her daughter was involved in and the danger she was in too) and place her daughter in even more danger when she clearly appeared to be a caring mother?
I don’t know the answer to that and the story never slows down enough after that point in the plot to explain why Lara’s mother would do such a thing.
The World: There’s a very distinct difference between being sparing with your world-creating, such as allowing the readers to fill in things on their own, or spreading sporadic bits of information throughout the story to avoid a knowledge dump, and not building up a world at all. There’s so much happening behind-the-scenes in the background and history of the world in this story and its slim 250-ish page count just can’t do it justice. For instance: is this our world or a totally fantasy world? What is the relation between regular humans and magical humans/demons? Why are the Nature Children kept as slaves/when did that happen/how does that relate to the world at large? Is magical passed down by parents or is it something that can be learned? Are the Nature Children actually anthropomorphic animals? They are often referred to as “fur rugs” and the like, but there is never any mention of things like muzzles, claws, digitgrade or plantigrade legs, tails or anything else that might help to define them as being exactly bestial in nature.
Furthermore, I’m sorry to see that the world, in general, lacks originality. The demons are very clearly plotting and devious- as demons usually are. They live in a place that is very reminiscent of hell. The Nature Children live in heavily-forested areas. The magical government is full of corruption and runs the same way any non-magical government would. The latter reminds me quite a bit of Harry Potter’s Ministry of Magic, even down to the investigation/court room which features only a singular chair in the middle and the ministers up top.
Also, the ending was… confusing. Vara, who again and again has proven herself as startling incompetent with things both magical and corporeal, is placed at the head of the magical government. Despite her young age and relative inability to tap into her hidden “god-power,” she is placed in charge of a very powerful governing body because she managed to displace the previous leader. The Roman Empire went through a period of its history where that kind of government reigned supreme. It was called the Crisis of the Third Century and its name should speak for itself- without adhering to succession laws, the powerful replaced the less-powerful on the throne and anarchy swept across the empire, almost bringing it to an end. I bring this up because the idea that a relatively young person could be placed into a role of such power without a sense of irony on the author’s part or trepidation on the in-world character’s part rubs me as being very strange.
The flaws in both character and world development also didn’t help the story any when it came to the climax and ending. Since I had little idea what the world was about and wasn’t given much time to really bond with the characters as human people and not just as characters, the ending fell a bit flat for me. I didn’t feel like anything was really at stake and needed protecting because I wasn’t told much about the world to begin with.
Overall: Really, I think what this story really needed/needs above all else is more space. It needed more space, upwards of one-hundred more pages to really give the characters, world, and plot the time they need in order to function well. The plot, unfortunately, ran over things like character and world development which made me feel like I was being left behind as a read, seeing all of the events from a distance. Compound this with the constant failure of the characters to accomplish or solve anything and the less-than-inspiring setting and mythos and I admit that my interest was waning towards the end. Still, if the author refines her work and skills, I think she can make something really interesting out of her world and characters.
Needless to say, I think that Hired by a Demon had good ideas scattered amongst its narrative, but the information was simply too scant to really get me to dive into the world or characters. If there is ever a sequel, I’d really like to see the author expand all of the story’s aspects three-fold.
Which is kind of redundant considering what I already said above… but that just shows that I mean it!
So, with that…
Good luck, you brave writer folks!