Diabolical by Cynthia Leitich Smith

31 Aug

Until the night I was taken, demonically infected, the guardian angel Zachary watched over me. Now, I watch over him.

One of my (admittedly, many) pet-peeves is when authors write a “trilogy,” see the piles of money they’re accumulating, and then decide to publish a fourth/fifth/sixth/eleventy-billionth book. What started out as a contained story spirals out of control into series-ville, where the original snappy idea gets hashed and rehashed until faithful fans start grumbling that the seventy-eighth book just isn’t as good as the first twenty-two. So, given my general grumpiness when it comes to the inevitable add-on, you’d think that I would have just ignored Cynthia Leitich Smith‘s newest release, Diabolical. Well, I didn’t, because this series is my personal paranormal romance guilty pleasure; it’s full of allusions to some of my very favorite things (most notably Dracula and very occasionally Buffy the Vampire Slayer) it’s funny, and not too obnoxiously sappy. So, I sold my soul to the series devil and took Diabolical home with me.

A supernatural alarm is raised when Miranda, former Eternal (vampire) royalty now sitting bored in the Penultimate (a sort of heavenly limbo), sees that her best friend from her mortal life, Lucy, is starting at Scholomance, an elite New England finishing school that almost certainly has demonic connections. When slipped guardian angel, Zachary (who is also Miranda’s long distance boyfriend, btw. More on that later), catches wind of the sitch he and Kieren (werewolf) decide to do the ol’ fake enrollment con while Quince (vampire, Kieren’s girlf) cools her heals in a B&B. Of course, the whole jam goes to hell (haha! Literally.) when Zach and Kieran realize they are (dum dum dum!) trapped in Scholomance, where not only their mortal lives are in danger, but also their immortal souls.

Now, as to general good points, this book maintains the spirit of the previous three: witty paranormal that doesn’t take itself too seriously and refers to lots of cool, canonical crap. The plot was relatively well-paced, there was real and true PERIL with real and true THINGS at stake, and overall it was a fun book. This book read a bit more like a typical teen horror movie than previous titles in the series, what with everyone being trapped in the demonic boarding school and mirror hallucinations and people getting possessed (sidenote: if you are possessed you ALWAYS fondle your bare breasts in front of your aghast peers. ALWAYS.). One thing that I particularly enjoyed was the treatment of heaven/the Penultimate (basically the waiting room for heaven), in that she allowed for people from every possible faith the option of eternal fluffy clouds and zen and all things that are good. It was a funny, quirky depiction of the afterlife that actually felt pretty novel. However, aside from generally enjoying the book, I had quite a few issues with it. NAMELY:

1) I am sorry, but I couldn’t get behind the Miranda and Zachary’s romance in the previous books, and I still don’t buy it. Not just because she’s a teenager and he’s not, but also because, well, Miranda sucks more things than blood. She’s boring, boring boring boring, and I do not get Zachary the angelic mega-babe’s devotion to her.

2) On the Miranda theme, she gets approached several times by victims from her days as a vampire princess, and each time I thought YES. SHE IS GOING TO GET HER ASS HANDED TO HER ON A PLATE. But instead, each time the victim started with a woeful story and then finished with THANK GOD YOU KILLED ME! What? I mean seriously, what? I almost threw the book across the room when one character in particular expressed gratitude for being murdered because it liberated her from her cheating s.o.b. fiance. Eff that in the face. Seriously.

3) Who gives a crap about Lucy. No, I really want to know. Does ANYONE actually care about her? I get that she was a plot device to put Kieren and Zachary in danger. I really do get that. But the danger all seemed horribly contrived because I didn’t CARE about their mission. I didn’t care if they rescued Lucy or any of the other kids that ended up at a Satanic finishing school, regardless of whether or not they knew what it was going in. Well, maybe I cared about the queer were-otter. On that note, I’m not sure if Cynthia Leitich Smith is up on her LGBTQ terminology, but an otter is an….interesting choice for a queer lady character. I’ll leave it at that.

4) I really wanted Lucifer to be a more complex character. I guess this is the Paradise Lost fan in me speaking, but I was really hoping that after all that buildup and allusions to what a dastardly fiend he is, he’d have a bit more of a multidimensional presence on the page. Instead he read a bit like the typical Satan figure and was vanquished in about two seconds. Kind of anti-climactic.

So, verdict: This is an enjoyable conclusion (PLEASE) to the series, though I don’t think it’s the strongest of the books. I was really happy with Blessed as a conclusion, so this just felt a bit like overkill, and like it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. Parody of the genre? Epic? Scary? A little of everything? Regardless, people who like the previous books will most likely enjoy this one. People who did not like the previous books OR did not read them…well, why would you read this? Just move along.

Musical accompaniment is High on Fire’s “Devilution,” because obvi.

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