Saturday, February 25, 2012

Book Review: Forsaken (The Demon Trappers), by Jana Oliver (third review for the 2012 TBR Reading Challenge)

Here's my third review for this
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Title: Forsaken:The Demon Trappers
Author: Jana Oliver
Format: Trade Paperback, 423 pages
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
Publication Date: February 7, 2011
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy

This is the UK edition of The Demon Trapper's Daughter, which I bought because I loved the cover at first sight. 

This is a gritty, fast-paced story, and yet, it does contain some depth, since several of the characters do quite a bit of soul-searching along the way. 

At first, I thought I would finish the book quickly.  However, I got stalled by a completely unexpected event pretty early in the story -- one that came very close to home, and I could not continue.  Of course, I won't spoil things for other readers by divulging any details of said event.  I will merely say that it was one that had a strong emotional impact on me. 

Another element I disliked was the presence of necromancers, and thus, of zombies.  Although they're not really an integral part of the story, they are there, at least on the sidelines.  If there's one thing I dislike in paranormal/urban fantasy fiction, it's zombies.  The concept of revived dead people mindlessly walking around is totally repugnant to me!  I must concede that the ones in this book are not entirely mindless, and they don't go around eating people.  Still, the concept does bother me.

So I put the book aside, and picked up a nonfiction book, which I subsequently reviewed on my nonfiction book blog.  I didn't think I would return to Forsaken; in fact, I began to seriously contemplate getting rid of the book.  I felt chagrined about it, too, because I also own the original American edition, as well as Soul Thief, the American edition of the second book in this series. 

Someone pulled me back into the book, which I then went on to finish, without a hitch, in spite of the above-mentioned elements.  Who was that someone?  Riley Blackthorne, the novel's seventeen-year-old heroine.  As in Angelfire, by Courtney Allison Moulton, and the River of Time series, by Lisa T. Bergren, I had come across a character that I could really admire -- a strong, yet feminine, girl with firm convictions, one who didn't take kindly to being ordered around by her male companions, even if they had her best interests at heart.  It was Riley who kept me reading, with her combination of strength, compassion, and paradoxically, emotional vulnerability. 

Incredibly enough, I've ended up loving this book!

Riley is the daughter of Paul Blackthorne, a legendary Demon Trapper.  The trappers work for the Vatican, and have an arsenal of weapons, chief of which is holy water.  For those not acquainted with Catholic beliefs, this is water that has been blessed by a priest.  When thrown at a demon, the water causes it great pain, since it burns demonic skin.  Holy water is also a key component in the making of spheres, which are magical globes that are either thrown directly at demons, or near them, causing several types of effects on them. 

One of the interesting things about this book is that the demons manifest as real, physical entities, which can then be fought through physical means.  Even more interesting is the fact that they're classified into categories.  A Five is more powerful than a Three, for example.  This doesn't mean that a Three is not a formidable foe, however.  Riley manages to trap one of these on her own, while still an apprentice trapper, a feat admired by the other trappers.

There are also different kinds of demons; Biblios, for example, love to destroy books, Magpies love to steal shiny trinkets to stash in their secret hoards, and Pyro-Fiends love to play with fire.  These three types are so-called 'minor' demons.

The Demon Trappers Guild, to which Riley and her father belong, has regular meetings in an abandoned auditorium.  (The setting of the book is a rather bleak, futuristic Atlanta, Georgia.)  These meetings are protected from demon intrusion by the preparation of a magical circle of holy water around the participants.  It's here that Guild business is conducted, master trappers take on apprentices, and so forth. 

As the story opens, Riley, who happens to be the only female trapper in the Guild, has been sent to a law library to trap a Biblio.  Things somehow don't turn out as she expects, however, since a more powerful, yet invisible, demon intervenes.  The result is that Riley is summoned to a Guild meeting, with the possibility of having her apprenticeship with her father completely suspended. 

The series of events that follow give the reader a comprehensive picture of Riley's character, as well as that of Beck, her father's close associate, and the second one in the book I found very appealing.  Denver Beck is totally devoted to Riley's father, and thus, to Riley herself, who had a crush on him when she was a young teen.  Although not that much older than Riley, he's gone through a lot, and comes across as a hard-boiled guy with tons of experience.  This really annoys Riley, as she feels it makes him feel superior.  Still, Beck is not quite the insensitive 'macho' trapper she takes him to be.  Underneath his 'tough guy' exterior, he cares deeply for Riley.  I suspect he doesn't want to admit to himself that he really loves her, and not as he would a little sister, either.

Paul Blackthorne is also a wonderful character.  As the master trapper in charge of Riley's training, he must attempt to remain objective, while it's obvious that he really loves his daughter.  He would have preferred that she not follow in his footsteps, since trapping demons is a dangerous profession.  Yet, he respects her choices, and never treats her with any degree of condescension.  He and Riley have an ideal father-daughter relationship, and this is yet another factor of the book that I loved.

The minor characters are very well-done, too.  Harper, the senior demon trapper, is totally despicable, even memorably so.  He makes me grind my teeth in disgust!  Simon, the staunchly Catholic boy, is sweet and very engaging, yet firm in his dedication to his chosen profession.  Ayden, a member of the group of witches who make the magical spheres for the trappers, gives Riley excellent advice at one point in the story.  She suggests that Riley deal with school bullies not by taking revenge on them, but by emphasizing her own inner strengths, thus boosting her self-esteem.  Very sage advice, indeed!

Another element of this tale I enjoyed was the sense of humor displayed by the characters.  The overall tone is dramatic, of course, but there are sparks of humor here and there that serve as comic relief, and are not overdone.  Still, it might be objected that some of the minor demons come across as rather cartoonish.  I do think this is a valid point.  Riley herself remarks to Simon, during a discussion they have about catching 'hellspawn', that Magpies aren't that evil.  Simon sternly reminds her that all demons belong to Lucifer's army, no matter how 'cute and harmless' they might appear to be.

Coupled with the strong, believable characterization and plot is an equally believable setting.  Atlanta in 2018 is in deep financial trouble; kids are shuttled from abandoned building to abandoned building in order to attend classes, and gas prices are astronomical.  City corruption is rampant.  This setting goes quite well with the story's grim theme.

Toward the end of the book, a new set of characters appears -- angels.  I had already started to enjoy the novel, and this added element made me enjoy it even more.  Of course, this opens up the door to the next novel in the series, which I now know I will definitely be reading! 

In spite of the fact that demons are fear-inducing characters, I did not feel very scared while reading Forsaken.  That's because this is not a horror novel.  Horror novels have a completely different emphasis.  Their main focus is on inducing fear in the reader, not on evil being conquered in the end.  Thus, every element of fiction is geared toward that purpose.  Also, the evil characters in horror novels are not always beaten in the end; there's usually an element of ambiguity as the book reaches its conclusion.  (I know this from research I've done on the Internet, not from reading any of these novels.  I thoroughly detest the horror genre.) 

In contrast, Forsaken wades uncompromisingly into the eternal fight against evil.  Also, this is a character-driven novel.  The act of trapping demons is not just what the main charaters do; it's also a sort of metaphor for the soul-searching they engage in.

Summing up, I have completely changed my opinion of this book!  It's a solidly entertaining story with deeper implications, and I heartily recommend it to all those who enjoy reading paranormal/urban fantasy novels.  I also think this book and its sequels would make great movies.  True, the added visual element would make the stories pretty scary, but the very interesting characters would be sure to make the movies absolute hits!


Where To Buy:  Amazon


  1. Amazing review, Maria!

    I think I'm going to add this one to my pile. I don't mind necromancers and zombies as a rule, and if this book was so good that it made you love it in spite of them, then it needs to be extra-worth it!

    Thanks for the review!


  2. Hey, Ron!

    Yes, you do need to read this book, whether it's the UK edition, or the American one. It's just incredibly good!! I was surprised myself when I started to love it in spite of the objections I raised about it!

    You're more than welcome for the review, and thanks for another wonderful comment!! : )

  3. Really great review! I have heard a lot of really great things about this series! It has been in my TBR pile, I love a book that you think that you won't like and then by the end you have fallen in love!


    1. Hey, Kristin!

      Yeah, this series is absolutely riveting! It's interesting how you sometimes start out disliking or even hating a book, and then end up loving it!

      Thanks for the wonderful comment!! : )


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