Friday, May 13, 2011

The Tragedy of Immortal Love

I just finished Dante Valentine: The Complete Series by Lilith Saintcrow and I’ve got to rave about it.  That was one damn fine set of books.  It was sad and dark and totally kickass and if you haven’t read it, get thee to Amazon or Barnes & Noble immediately.   (It’s 10 bucks for the entire series in ebook format! Cha-ching!)

While this series is not a romance by any definition, it got me thinking about paranormal romance in a new way.  (Spoilers ahead!)

A lot of the paranormal romances I’ve read have the same basic plot. Immortal being meets mortal.  Immortal being falls in love with mortal.  Immortal remembers/learns what it is to be mortal and changes his ways. 

Except, what if he doesn’t?

The Dante Valentine series isn’t a romance and it isn’t a love story, but it is the story of an immortal love.  Dante Valentine is a Necromance, a type of psion that can commune with the dead.  She’s the best at what she does and Lucifer decides to give her some contract work – whether she wants it or not.  Lucifer dispatches his best assassin, the demon Japhrimel, to guard Dante as she fulfills her duties to him. 

This sounds like your basic set up for hot lovins and it’s really just not.  Dante is not attracted to Japhrimel; there’s no spark or chemistry.  In fact, Dante resents and fears the demon she’s been saddled with but she eventually comes to terms with the fact that he’s just doing his job.  She treats Japhrimel like she would a human colleague - she’s professional, fair, and sometimes kind (or what passes for kind with Dante).

It might seem paltry to us, but it’s enough for Japhrimel to bind his existence to Dante’s forever. He becomes one of the Fallen – the meaning of which he never quite explains to Dante. 

Again, this sounds like your basic set up for hot lovins, and again it’s not.  Japhrimel isn’t human and never has been – nor does he desire to be.  What he feels for Dante seems to hover somewhere between murderous obsession and outright ownership of property.  After declaring that he has ‘set her as a seal upon his heart,’ he decides to protect her by giving her a piece of his power.   By doing so, he turns her into a human-demon hybrid called a hedaira, which drives her dangerously close to insanity.

While their love story isn’t the main story of this series, it strikes me as a fairly realistic take on love between two very different beings.  Japhrimel’s idea of truth isn’t even strictly the same as Dante’s, so it’s very difficult for him to be honest with her to her satisfaction.  She can’t understand why he doesn’t give her answers to basic questions like what it means for a demon to Fall or even what she actually is now that he’s changed her. 

Saintcrow does a masterful job of showing Japhrimel’s motivations without him ever once outright explaining them to Dante.  By the end of the series, you have a good sense of why he’s so rabid to protect her, why he values her so much, and that they may forever have the conflict of immortal and mortal, demon and human.  They’ve got their ever-after but they’re light on the happily.

Ultimately, this story is about love without understanding and the glaring disconnect between two eternally connected beings.  It’s complex and often tragic, and yet it feels like a truer representation than the wish-fulfillment paranormal romances I’ve been reading.   It made me terribly sad.  

I can’t wait to read it again.
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  1. Great review of the series. I loved it to -- for what Saintcrow showed so deftly between the two characters. They both had their flaws and motivations, and it was fascinating.

    I'm glad that I saw the Tweet about this. :-)

  2. This is an excellent review of the series. I liked it precisely because it wasn't a happily ever-after immortal becoming mortal thing. Japhrimel remained essentially himself throughout the books, something you'd expect of a several-thousand-year-old being with his own morals and cultural influences. It was refreshing after a spate of, shall we say, unrealistic portrayals of immortal beings interacting with mortals.

    Ultimately, Dante was too broken for my taste, although why she was so broken is understandable. That's merely a personal preference and nothing to do with Saintcrow's prodigious craft as a writer. Saintcrow was true to Dante's character; she didn't choose the easy path for Dante, the one that would have turned her into a Mary Sue. She chose the harder road for her mortal character, even if it meant the character might be unlikable for some readers. I respect her all the more for that choice and have gone on to read her other books because of it.

  3. This series was just great overall. The world building was inspired, the story was a tight narrative arc, and the characters were compelling. I felt thoughtful about it for a few days afterward and picked up some lighter fare to clear my head.

    The ‘brain bleach’ book I picked up was a fairly standard paranormal immortal romance and the contrast was really striking. There's this immortal dude being all, "You have shown me life and love, single 30ish human female! You complete me!" Then there's Japhrimel declining to discuss some fairly basic matters with Dante for a few centuries until her humanity 'wears off' a little. That’s… different. And also awesome.

  4. I picked this 5-book series up on a whim 2 weeks ago and am just getting into the 3rd book. I'm in love with it. I DO think there are some issues with the dialogue at times, but the overall story is FAB. I think this entire world Lilith created is utterly fantastic and creative, and Dante is so REAL. This is my first time reading Saintcrow and I plan to continue on to her other books once I finish this series.

  5. I agree with this review so much. I read them all, and can actually remember waiting quite impatiently for the newest one to come out, because their love was so realistic to me that I just fell in love with the characters. Actually, much more so than your basic paranormal romance, which I hesitate to even connect to this series. Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I agree with your review completely and it makes me want to re-read the series ASAP!

  6. Cool, just picked it up based off your recommendation.

  7. Thanks for all the kind words, folks! I'll have to do more reviews in the future, it looks like.

  8. I'm rereading the series for about the 10th time as I write this. I am spellbound by Saintcrow's writing style as much as the substance of her storylines. You should also check out the Jill Kismet series!

  9. I was deeply moved by the religious subtext of the story. Saintcrow is a master storyteller and world builder!