Jackie Kessler,
The Road to Hell
(Zebra, 2007)

Jezebel "Jesse" Harris loves sex. OK, that might not sound too unusual for a healthy, attractive single woman in New York City. But you might think, after 4,000-some years of seducing mortals as a succubus (and spending most of her off-hours wrapped in the limbs of fellow demons) she might want a break. But no, not Jesse. After becoming mortal, she gets work as a stripper and finds herself a needy boyfriend. And even that doesn't sate her.

So when the forces of Hell steal Paul's unsullied soul as a slap against the fugitive Jezebel, it's a little hard to take her heartbreak and woe completely seriously. Jesse spends most of the book wholeheartedly lusting after any number of other men (and the occasional visiting demon) and it's usually only a quirk of timing that prevents her from consummating her desires. And believe you me, she has a lot of desires.

So when Jesse strides into Hell (after a quickie with a demon friend) to lure Paul's soul away from a content afterlife in the arms of his beloved (but dead) fiancee -- well, it seems once again Jesse is thinking more about her wants than his. Well, OK, she is a demon, but still....

I enjoyed The Road to Hell quite a lot, complaints notwithstanding, although I don't think it was as enjoyable as Hell's Belles, the previous book in Jackie Kessler's sensual contemporary-fantasy series. And it didn't really get interesting until Jesse's return to Hell, when she began confronting a variety of forces arrayed against her and started dealing with the issues surrounding a recent change in management.

Of course, when one plot to distract her from her mission involves setting her up as Hell's new queen, she immediately launches a perdition-wide orgy to celebrate. And I swear, if she "pebbled" one more time in this book, I was going to start shredding pages.

Kessler has a lot of fresh ideas, and Hell itself should tremble as she begins rearranging the infernal furniture. That, much more than Jesse's questionable devotion to Paul, made The Road to Hell a solid read. And certain character developments, particularly the holier-than-everyone angel thrust into the unwelcome role of seductress, are sheer brilliance. I can only hope the angel named Angel will play an even bigger role in the next volume.

As for Jesse -- I'm no prude and certainly don't have a problem with her voracious sexual appetites. But Kessler needs to rein in the prose just a bit; too much of anything becomes tedious, and Jesse is aroused constantly. By anything or anyone. Really. I think a change in the barometric pressure would set her off.

review by
Tom Knapp

20 October 2007

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