Marie Castle’s First Novel, Hell’s Belle: Book 1 of the Dark Mirror series revitalizes the Dark Urban Fantasy landscape. Lately, the fantasy landscape, regardless of sub-genre, has become littered with perfunctory, now cliché, devices: the detective agency run by supernatural beings, an individual whose magic is extraordinary for her generation, a council put into place to enforce the laws of magic use, and trips to hell replete with demons. In her novel, Hell’s Belle, Marie Castle indeed employs these ideas, however, she does so not only in an exceptionally clever manner, but she breaths new life into them.
Perhaps I was drawn to her ability to blend a depth of literary knowledge and re-package it in a non-alienating manner; thereby leaving no reader out of the story. Blending depth of research into a very accessible story takes a deft hand, and Castle does that well. Yet, Hell’s Belle goes beyond simply having an intellectually disposed author (as most authors have such dispositions in some manner.) Castle generates interest in the expected by adding to them, creating layers of gray, in a genre where evil is generally obvious and good may be as well.
The first idea that caught my attention was the detective agency, Dark Mirror. Of course, for this reader, who truly enjoys looking through the glass darkly, the name caught my eye; yet Castle used the allusion delightfully well. She wove the allusion into the main character, Cate Delancey, into her identity, into her core witch. Whether that technique was intentional or not doesn’t matter, for the action sets forth a complexity in Cate Delaney. The character never transcends her place in the magic-cum- human realm. Castle could easily have left Cate as simply a Guardian of humanity, hence “good” in character, yet she never truly is completely “good” in the traditional way. Furthermore, Castle extends the notion into the conception of Hell. While Hell has it’s Dante-esque cast, Castle manipulates it such that it can be simultaneously frightening and, contrarily, sexy.
There’s more to enjoy in Marie Castle’s debut novel. Her ability to capture Southern culture is exemplary. While many Southerners fail to capture the nuances of language, disposition, and sensibilities; Castle embraces the essence of the culture without trivializing it, particularly in the familial relationships and interactions with others – politeness, often with a bite.
I enjoyed this book a good deal more than I expected to do, as I am becoming a tad jaded by the over usage of once good ideas. I recommend Hell’s Belle and happily anticipate the rest of the series.
GCLS Goldie Awards
Hell’s Belle — Finalist, Lesbian Paranormal, Lesbian Debut Fiction.
Lambda Literary Awards
Hell’s Belle — Finalist, LGBT Speculative Fiction / Paranormal.
(publisher review copy received)
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