There are many downsides to being a critic. Like when you write a theater review that has people accusing you of being a soulless hipster AND a Starbucks-swilling millenial. Thanks, Internet! But you know what I like about my part-time gig?I get to read and watch really good stuff I’d never have gone to/picked up on my own. With so much out there, it’s easy to stick with your preferred genres (musical theater, indie film, contemporary romance and YA). So when I get assigned a brilliant Shakespeare/hip-hop hybrid or I’m sent a cool paranormal ARC like Zoe Archer’s Sinner’s Heart, and I can recommend it to my peeps, it’s fun times.
Zoe Archer and I are friends. I’m on her Christmas card list. Yeah, you can be jealous. This is how cool she is: before sending me Sinner’s Heart (for free, with no obligation to review), she encouraged me to be honest if I didn’t like it. I try to heed requests, so here goes…
I liked it!
The plot: Lord Abraham (Bram) Stirling is having a grand time in 18th century London, throwing around his money, drinking and seducing all the ladies. On the inside, however, it’s not all fun and games. As a former soldier in the Colonies, Bram witnessed terrible tragedy. And he’s got some demons – literally. Along with his friends, the Hellraisers, Bram sold his soul to the Devil himself in exchange for a magical power (Bram chose the ability to compel, an old-school Jedi mind trick. Hey, it gets him laid!). Now two of Bram’s friends have successfully regained their souls and found true love, one has lost his life, and one is past the point of no return. London is descending into madness, and if all this weren’t enough, Bram is “attached” to Livia, the Roman priestess who first raised the Devil and gave her life to send him back. So Livia’s a ghost, meaning Bram can’t have sex with her and she’s immune to his power – but they have no choice but to save the world. Together.
I’m usually not a paranormal fan, and I’ll take contemporary over historical any day, but I found a lot to like in Sinner’s Heart. Far from a fainting, ditzy heroine, Livia is straight-up badass. She doesn’t take any of Bram’s guff (and he gives her plenty). She can spar (by casting verbal barbs and spells) like a champ. And the thing she misses the most about having a real body? Sex. Lots of it. Back in the day, girl threw down. So yeah, my kind of heroine!
I grew to appreciate Bram as well. It helps that I’m a sucker for the bad boy hero who eventually realizes the error of his ways. I pictured him as this guy. (Here’s who I saw as Livia. Yes, I did go to Les Miserables on opening day: why do you ask?) Though the book was written in third-person and alternated Bram and Livia’s perspectives, I got a better sense of Livia as a character and I found her the more courageous of the two – but maybe that was Archer’s intention.
Oh, and Archer’s prose is beautiful. She sets the scene so clearly, I can see everything happening with the crisp detail of a well-made BBC drama. The dialogue is so much fun: Bram and Livia have a lot of Benedick and Beatrice-style banter. Oh, and the sex scenes. Yes. You know what I love more than bad boys? Dirty talk. And there’s a scene straight out of my fantasies. (I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that, again, Livia is a ghost, so she and Bram can’t have sex. But they can certainly talk about having sex.)
For me, the biggest downfalls of Sinner’s Heart lay in its plot. I knew the Devil had taken Bram’s soul, but I had a lot of questions: was the Devil planning to destroy the whole world, or just England? Why do people’s powers seem to come and go? Ditto Bram’s friend John, who seems less a character than a plot device?
Despite my questions, however, I loved Sinner’s Heart: the steamy lovin’, the high stakes, the strong female lead. And it’s a quick read, perfect escapism on a family road trip or a long commute. And, perhaps the most telling, I even went out of my comfort zone and bought another Hellraisers book. Why not?
Sinner’s Heart is out today in paperback and ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online and brick-and-mortar retailers. For more about Zoe Archer, visit her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and right here on Persephone.