Recent Reading: SRB

So! All done with Sarah Rees Brennen’s Demon trilogy.

It’s been interesting to hear peoples’ varying opinions about these three books, and interesting now to compare my own reaction with theirs.

I thought the first book, THE DEMON’S LEXICON, was very strong and it is still my favorite. This is because of Nick. I’m just so impressed by Brennen’s use of his point of view. Remember that Nick has a very circumscribed range of emotions. He’s certainly, um, unique, when it comes to protagonists. I can see why some readers might find him hard to like as the point-of-view character, but I thought he was fabulous. One of the things that makes this book so fascinating is that the reader gets the subtext that Nick misses, and one reason the book works so well is that the really strong sibling relationships come across so vividly even though Nick misses so much of the normal interaction among the other characters.

People who love this book should definitely think about finding a copy of Dan Wells’ I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. There are definite similarities between Brennen’s emotionally limited protagonist and Wells’ sociopathic main character. Presenting a character like that as a convincing good guy takes nerve! Both Brennen and Wells really pull it off splendidly.

The second book, THE DEMON’S COVENANT, is also really good and it might be my favorite sometimes, if I’m in the right mood. The pov character is Mae, of course, and she works extremely well as a protagonist. I honestly don’t think Nick could have carried off another book, plus of course the protagonist needed to be someone who did NOT know about the details of the ultimate plan, because it was important for Brennen not to give too much away to the reader.

I did think Mae was stupid about a couple of things. I can see how she would deceive herself about Seb, but honestly, she should have realized instantly what Nick’s greatest fear actually had to be – obviously it would be losing Alan; obviously nothing else could come close.

On the other hand, Mae could definitely be clever about most things, and I loved her attitude in general. Check out this passage – it really captures Mae:

“I wasn’t distracted,” Mae said. “I was just, uh, thinking about something else.”

She had been thinking about something else all day. It was all well and good to decide she was going to save someone, but she didn’t have the first idea how to go about doing so. Everything she could think of ended up sounding like the modern equivalent of a single knight saddling up his horse and going on a quest to rescue a princess – very brave and showy and all, but unlikely to actually work.

If Mae had been a fairy-tale knight, she would’ve brought an army.

“What were you thinking about?”

She glanced from the passenger seat to Seb and his gorgeous profile at the wheel, feeling a flash of guilt. Gorgeous profiles should not be ignored like this.

She gave him her best smile. “Armies.”

“Uh, joining one?” Seb asked. “Not the career path I would’ve expected you to choose, but okay.”

“Leading one,” said Mae.

“That does sound more like you,” he admitted, and smiled at her sidelong.

It sure does! Mae had more of her mother in her than I think she recognizes or would be comfortable with. And speaking of that, her mother is a GREAT secondary character. I love how Brennen made the mother into a real character in this book.

I thought the ending of the first book was amazing; I thought the ending of the second was also strong but a bit more predictable. Though I admit, the ending of the first book would be hard to beat. I was not sure I believed in Jamie’s actions at the end of the second book.

Now, I was sort of expecting Jamie to be the pov protagonist of the third book. Of course Brennen couldn’t do it that way, because in the third book Jamie knew too much about the wrong things and she had to try to hide some of that stuff from the reader. One problem for me with the third book was it was pretty obvious what some of that stuff was.

But the main reason I didn’t like the third book as well as the other two was the lack of on-stage time for Jamie himself. He made me laugh in the first two; I was sorry we saw so little of him in the third.

Like here in the first book, shortly after we meet Jamie and Mae:

[Nick says] “. . . A few people in this world are born with a certain amount of magic, but they don’t grow out of it. They either learn to control it and keep it a secret forever, or they try to do something with the magic. Which means that most of them become magicians and call up demons. It’s the safest and easiest way to get more power, but there’re also rituals with the dead, and –”

“Rituals with the dead,” Jamie repeated in a faint, stunned voice. Nick turned and looked at him coldly. “I mean,” Jamie said, and swallowed, “how interesting and not at all creepy! Please go on!”

Or here, when Jamie’s offering to help (dyslexic) Nick with his homework:

“So we could go over some stuff together,” Jamie persevered. “We’d be in the same class. It will just be homework. Everyone has to do homework. Maybe sometimes I could read the assigned books to you. Auditory learning helps a lot of people with reading problems. And it would help me remember as well!”

Jamie looked up to see how this sales pitch was going, and frowned some more.
“And if I help you with schoolwork,” he continued in a small, reluctant voice, “it would be great if you could help me with . . . self-defense.”

“You want to learn how to use knives?” Nick asked. He might have dwelled on the word “knives” an instant too long.

Jamie flinched. “Absolutely,” he said. “Instruments of brutal death? I’m very keen.”

Or right at the end of the second book, when Nick gives Jamie a knife:

“A knife, Nick?” he asked piteously. “I feel so betrayed.”

“It’s a magic knife,” Nick said. “I made it myself.”

“I don’t want to seem ungrateful when you have given me this thoughtful, homemade, and totally terrifying gift,” Jamie told him. “But you can’t imagine that I’m going to use it.”

So in the third book, when we very seldom see Jamie, and when we do he is mostly putting on an act, well, it’s a loss, that’s all.

The third book, THE DEMON’S SURRENDER, is from Sin’s point of view, of course. (Cynthia’s her given name, for those who haven’t read it.) At first I found that disappointing because I’d expected to have Brennen show us Jamie’s pov, but Sin is actually a really good protagonist. I loved the way she developed as a character, and – this isn’t really giving much away – I REALLY loved the way it worked out between her and Alan. Because Alan is pretty amazing, though I know I’ve barely mentioned him, and I get why it didn’t work between him and Mae, but he really needed and deserved to have things work between himself and somebody, and Sin will really suit him. She is pretty darned good with masks and roles and presenting herself the way she wants people to see her, and that does make her just about perfect for Alan.

But, having said that, you know what else I really appreciated about this whole trilogy? That the most important relationships are not the romantic relationships; that they are sibling relationships instead; and that the parent-child relationships are also really important, although they get relatively little time on screen. The most profoundly touching scene in the whole third book, for me, was the one when Sin showed up on her father’s doorstep with her little brother and sister. And in the second book? The bit where Mae rescues Jamie from embarrassing himself at the club? That was great, too.

So, the things I had trouble with – Jamie’s act when he was with the magicians, which I thought was too transparent; the thing about how he got himself free, which I didn’t really believe; the way he was willing to forgive all the magicians, which I thought was a stretch for some of them in particular – yes, those were things I had trouble with, but since Sin was the main character and Jamie was by no means the focus of the story, I did very much enjoy the third book.

I do agree with some commenters that making Sin the protagonist and keeping the pov limited did force Brennen to go to some trouble getting Sin into places where she could overhear important conversations, and this strained credulity, but thus it goes with a limited pov! Yes, it was awkward, but it’s hard to see how Brennen could have done it better.

Overall a really strong trilogy, and now I have yet another author to keep an eye out for.

Also! The short stories here , well, I could have done without the ones from Gerald’s pov — honestly, don’t care — but I LOVED “Nick and Jamie Go To The Movies” — so if you haven’t read that one, why not go check it out? And thanks again, Mary Beth, for the link!

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