Review: Keys to the Coven by Vicky Loebel

Keys to the Coven (A Hellfire Universe Novel) - Vicky Loebel

Series: Demonic Interventions, #1


Book Description:
Get ready for "Keys to the Coven," a witty, tightly plotted, (adult) urban-fantasy/romance set in an original universe where karma is power, sex is karma, and it's not who you know but whose soul you own that matters.*

To become a demon, you must die in complete and utter despair. Three hundred years ago, Max passed that test with flying colors and joined the afterlife resolving never again to have innocent blood on his hands. Now a successful Demonic Intervention Agent, Max has been given the job of breaking a young woman's family curse. But what she doesn't know, what Max can't bring himself to tell her, is that completing his mission almost certainly means her death.

When Felicity Woodsen inherits her mother's coven, she learns each firstborn Woodsen daughter must become the consort of an evil-arch demon. Felicity's only hope is to ally with the mysteriously charming Max. But is saving her body from one demon worth the price of losing her soul to another?

Roxashael became a demon when his Roman captors sent his family, one by one to be devoured by lions. The lesson was clear: power is good; lots of power is better. Two-thousand years later, Rocky has power. He's purchased hundreds of souls, and he's created the Minsk Homunculus, a magic artifact that, by binding a human witch as his consort, turns him into an arch-demon and places him above the goody-two-shoes laws of karma.

Unfortunately, Rocky made a mistake. He fell in love with Felicity's mother and in a moment of weakness promised to give up his demon-consort charm. Now Felicity's mother is dead, the Minsk Homunculus is slated for destruction, and Rocky's power as an arch-demon is about to end.

No demon can break a promise. If Rocky refuses to give up the Minsk Homunculus, he'll become the lowest, most abject slave in Hell.

But then, why break promises when they're so easy to corrupt?
*Caution: This book contains violence, strong sexual themes, moderately explicit sex between consenting adults, (unfulfilled) threats against children, and one completely gratuitous reference to unicorns. Not intended for readers under 18.


My Thoughts:

I was a bit confused but totally engaged by this book. Yep, that's what I said...confused but engaged. I never thought I'd say that--never even thought those two words could live happily together in my brain about a book. But there it is.

This book has a deliciously complicated plot. There are a lot of rules about how Karma works and the hierarchy of witches, demons, demis, and Hell. I liked all that. The author created an interesting world and I thought it gave the story some uniqueness as I don't recall reading a story that approached the use of Karma like that. Not saying that there isn't one out there, but if there is then I haven't read it yet. However, this is also one of the things that got confusing about the story. A glossary at the end of the book to explain a lot of these concepts and the characters/creatures in the story would have been very helpful and I'm sure I would have referenced it several times. (See Addendum at end of review.)  These things were also explained as the story evolved but it was often in bits and pieces and I had to keep backtracking and trying to find where something was explained. Did I mention a glossary would have been helpful? Many PNR/UF books with complicated worlds or characters do this and I always end up referencing it. Finally I just gave up and went with the flow hoping it would all make sense later. And for the most part, it did. Twists and turns and double-crosses abound in this book (well there are demons after all!). You'll need to read closely to keep up. ...
Another thing that may have contributed to being a little confused other than the plot was the writing style. Sometimes the way things were explained didn't always feel very clear and the style of dialogue didn't always suit me. In particular, pieces of related dialogue were occasionally interrupted by some rather long internal monologues or descriptions. By the time it got back to the dialogue I had to go back to where the dialogue started to remember what the heck was being discussed. Max could also read Felicity's mind but that wasn't really made clear near the beginning so the reader has to kind of figure that out. Until then, it felt like he was making odd comments that made me wonder what the heck he was talking about. I think the author is leaving some stuff up to the reader to figure out or imagine on their own, which again, is not a preferred writing style for me.

One thing I didn't get enough explanation on was how Max became a demon. This was also fed to the reader in bits and pieces but I don't think I got enough of the full story to be satisfied. I really liked Max, right from the beginning I knew he was the good guy and that I would like his character. Max takes quite a beating in this book...repeatedly. He is like the energizer bunny of demons. Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Of course, he often gives as much as he gets. The beginning, by the way, pulled me right into the story immediately. I like it when a story can do that, and it didn't let up. I was never bored and the story never felt like it was dragging. Sometimes when I start a book I just know it's going to suit me and I'm in for a good read and this was one of them.

There were also a few of things that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Hmm... how do I explain this without giving something away. Okay, there is a point in the story where Rocky has Max at his mercy (actually there a few of those instances...energizer bunny, remember?). Well, Max shows up unexpectedly to save the day a bit later in the story and it was never explained what exactly Rocky did with him or how he got out of it. The other thing was that I didn't buy the fact that Wu Fen-Chu didn't know enough about demons to not know how they were made, which is important for the scene where this occurs. On the other hand, even if he did know he may not have had a choice. Finally, Rocky referred to Max several times as Jew-boy. There was only one very brief mention of Max's mother being Jewish before she converted. That's it. No other mention, emphasis or reference to him or his mother being Jewish. It was just not a factor in this story in any way, so it really didn't make any sense to me why Rocky would focus on that. There are probably much worse and effective names Rocky could have called him. It doesn't bother me because of PC-ness. If it had some relevance to the story I'd have no problem with it. It just felt out of place and gratuitous.

Besides Max, the other characters were also an interesting bunch. I thought they were well-rounded and I was invested in them. Kate is quite the ticket and I feel there may have been some opening left for her near the end to come back in a future book (I may also be reading too much into it). I adored the little shade that comes into the latter part of the story. Then of course there is Roxashael (Rocky) who was quite the villain. And considering what he did to Felicity's family and ancestors, he was kind of a sicko. Yet there would be times when he would exhibit some tender moments--mainly for Rose--and would then make a complete turnabout and do something twisted and evil, often with a good dose of snark. And you know what happens to him in the end? Well, I'll tell, no I won't. C'mon now, did you really think I was going to give away the ending? Let's just say this...Karma can be a real bitch!

I also enjoyed the sense of wit and humor in this book. Max would come out with some good deadpan remarks that gave me a chuckle and Felicity has a bit of spunk and snark, too. Oh, and I can't believe I almost forgot this... at the beginning of each chapter is a snippet from "The Girl's Guide to Demons" and some of them are hilarious. I couldn't wait to see what the next one would be. The snippet usually has some relevance to what happens in that chapter.

So I've said I was a bit confused but I also was completely engaged in the story. I also mentioned a few things that didn't suit me and some that did. I really struggled with what to rate this book. Four or five stars? Four or five stars? I went with 4 stars. I had to account for some of my quibbles but in the end it didn't really diminish my enjoyment of the story. In the end, for me, I ask myself how much I enjoyed it. How much did it engage me? How un-put-downable was it? How much did I want to get back to it when I wasn't reading? How much did I want to return to this world? How much do I want to read the next book? The answer to all of them in this case is...a lot. So, yes Virginia, a book can have issues and I can still love it.

Keys to the Coven appears to be part of a series, which I gathered from the "Demonic Intervention Series" in parenthesis after the title--yeah, I'm smart like that ;) However, a quick lookie-loo around the interwebz for more info on the next book revealed... nothing. Well, maybe a short reference somewhere I can't even find now about a possible novella that didn't really tell me anything. I really want to know what is up next in this series and what it will be about so I can keep it on my radar. Hopefully, I won't forget about it by the time the next book rolls around.

Addendum: After posting this review, I learned that a glossary was indeed in the works and was added to the most recent edition of this book.  It is also available on the author's website.  Even after reading the book, it was really helpful in clarifying some areas of confusion and was interesting to read.


Word Count: approx. 100,000 (Novel)
Print pages: 349
Epub pages: 308
Kindle Locations: 5140 (story text ends at 99%)
(word, page, and location counts refer to edition before glossary was added)
Includes Table of Contents
Source: My Library


Check out the book Q&A for Keys to the Coven that I did on my blog for more info on this book...