Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong

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Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Indebted to the local mob, still smarting from a failed love-affair with a Werewolf nearly twice her age, Hope Adams finds herself as an undercover agent in an investigation instigated by the Cortex Cabal, but apparently sanctioned by the Council. It's dangerous and chaotic – but chaos is food to this girl. That the guys are gorgeous, and there's a point to be proved, is increasingly beside the point as the deaths start to mount. Not quite up to the last Otherworld instalment, but great fun all the same.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 512 Date: October 2008
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841493978

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If you think you've had a tough day at the office, imagine what it's like working for a Cabal. Not your ordinary everyday real world cabal – which is just a price fixing network – but the kind that (quite possibly really) lie behind the big corporations. These are places run by the Supernaturals.

Their function is to provide safe havens for folk who'd have tricky stuff to explain if they worked in ordinary companies. You know, stuff like having to change into a wolf at regular intervals, stuff like casting a spell on autopilot, being a ferratus (which is cool if you're ever attacked – but can take some explaining in the playground when your best buddy thumps you in a play-fight & has a broken hand to show for it), raising the dead.

They give jobs to these people. Provide schools for their children. Support their adolescents through the pain of discovering the extent and limitation of their powers.

Actually, their real function is to make lots of (semi) legitimate money and more importantly to keep the important families in power.

It is naturally a typically macho world – the Cabals are by tradition always headed-up by a Sorcerer who, by definition, is male and who, equally by definition has a racial prejudice against Witches, which obviously has nothing to do with them (by definition) being female.

This is Sabrina meets the Godfather!

And if you think working for this mob might be tricky…imagine being indebted to them. That's Hope Adams's problem.

She's an Expisco – a half-demon type that gets the worst of all possibly deals. Demons feed off chaos. Most half-demons get a limited version the power without the need for chaos. Hope gets the other end of the stick. Just the chaos.

The payback is that she can pick up historic chaos – visions of violence from the past – and feed on that. It helps. Her day-job is investigative journalism.

Unfortunately, in a previous adventure she (together with a now very EX boyfriend) ended up owing Benicio Cortez her life. Of course the likes of Cortez don't call in debts…they ask for favours…which is how she ends up working undercover for the Cortez Cabal investigating a gang of young rebellious supernaturals that has been having a few altercations with the powers that be. In true Mafioso style, however, she may not have been told the whole truth about what she is getting into.

In equally true underworld clichés the gang is successful, hot, beautiful, hip, disciplined, violent and very good at what they do. And the Cabal is rife with internecine strife that's kind of predictable if you name your youngest son as the heir to the kingdom, when he's the only one that doesn't actually want it.

So the stage is set.

As, actually, are most of the pieces in Armstrong's latest addition to her Otherworld series. There is the set-up, the infiltration, the heist, the surprise disappearance, the unaccounted for murders, the attack on HQ, bluff and counter-bluff, unfounded suspicion and realistic trust-no-one responses, car-chases and security systems and guards who really should have their right-to-bear-arms revoked.

On that level we have a straightforward mystery adventure. An adequate degree of forensics, an eloquent sufficiency of red herring, but ultimately a perm-one-from-eight perpetrator (with reducing odds as some of them die off).

Armstrong is a good-enough writer in that if those were the kind of books she wrote – they would still sell. Her observation of human vanities and pretences is spot-on. Her sex scenes are not the most erotic around, but have the added reality of frequently being disturbed or otherwise collapsing just when they're getting interesting.

She can twist a plot just enough to keep you reading.

Plot is the driver for this kind of book and the action is relentless – but it only works, because it could work.

It's the quirk that makes the difference. The fact that this is the world as we know it. And a lot of the people aren't. She uses the supernatural abilities of the demons and werewolves to complicate the crimes, and also to uncomplicate the solutions, but she is also very strong on making sure we realise that these are people too.

She doesn't waste space on backdrops, but ensures that every character has a plausible back-story. Why do werewolves behave in certain ways, and why do some of them not? What are the limits of a given power? If everything isn't what it seems – is that just the glamour? Or is there something else? Yes, you need to be of a mindset that will take this kind of fantasy on trust – but within the basic premise, Armstrong does you the courtesy of explaining the rules. Everything does actually have a limit. You can't ignore the laws of physics to quote Star Trek – authors can rewrite them in their fantasy world – but they can't ignore them: there must still be laws. After all it is the limits that give us morals.

And as ever with Otherworld novels, Personal Demon is a morality tale. Not one where the good guys necessarily win, but one where all the guys have to question their own motives. Fundamentally focussed on the nature of power plays – it takes time out to examine love and lust and friendship and family, the nature of noblesse oblige, duty, honour, trust. Gender and race issues might not be overtly stated all that often but the human/supernatural divide is clear as are the downright bigoted inter-species exchanges. There might even be a sideswipe at global capitalism thrown in there somewhere too.

But you can choose to ignore all that stuff and just enjoy it for the surf. I wouldn't blame you one bit. Darker and not quite as much fun as No Humans Involved…it's still a great way to while away time with a smile.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you like this – you'll love the preceding instalment No Humans Involved. Don't worry – they're stand alone books & don't need to be read in order.

Buy Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong at

Buy Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Personal Demon by Kelley Armstrong at


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