A couple of days ago a package arrived in my mailbox that made it most difficult to go to work that day. I didn't end up calling in sick (I do have a modicum of will power) but it was touch and go there for a few minutes. A few deep breaths and reminding myself I could snuggle up with it later got me out the door. You see, I've been wanting to get my greedy hands on this particular book in the worst way for lo these many months and then suddenly--there it was all blue and fiery and taunting me with its irresistible Goblin Market charm. The Demon's Lexicon roared onto my Best of 2009 list at the end of last year, fairly blowing me away with its wicked strong characters, dagger-sharp dialogue, and so much heart it set my blood to pumping three times its normal speed. I could immediately tell that Sarah Rees Brennan was something special and I knew it in such a way that I didn't waste a single moment hoping the next one would be as good. I knew it would be. Alan and Nick were going to be there, weren't they? It would be written by the same witty Irishwoman, wouldn't it? Right, then. Bring on the sequel. By the by, I really love both the U.S. and UK covers of THE DEMON'S COVENANT. Given that it's sort of Mae's book, she really deserves to be on the cover. Plus, that pink hair is just excellent. At the same time, I love seeing the demon's circle on the U.S. cover and as Sin and the Goblin Market play a larger role in this one it's quite fitting, too.
It's been just about a month since Mae and her brother Jamie returned home to Exeter, shook the last lingering remnants of magic from their palms, and went back to life as it was before the brothers Ryves made their entrance and changed the rules of the world. Going to parties with her friends and flirting with the possibility of a relationship with a boy named Seb, Mae's working pretty hard to avoid thinking about the knife hidden ominously in her dresser drawer and the dangerous memories it represents. But when she stumbles across some magicians threatening her and hers once more, Mae does the only thing she can think of. She calls Alan. And, in true Alan fashion, he drops everything and comes to their aid, bringing his brother Nick with him. And now it's no longer a question of whether or not Mae can block out the past, but whether or not she can handle the present. When Alan and Nick are in town, things have a tendency to get muddled, and Mae finds herself alternately attracted to and frightened by Alan's unassumingly kind presence, Nick's overwhelmingly brooding one, and the murderously complex relationship developing between the three of them. And then there's the matter of Jamie and his propensity for attracting trouble of the most appalling kind and in the most alarming quantities. You would think that with Alan's brains, Nick's sword, and Mae's nerve they would be able to keep one scrawny, slightly emotional lad safe without tearing the whole of England apart. But when the Obsidian Circle is involved, all bets are off. And if Mae doesn't put the pieces of the puzzle together in time, she might not have a future to worry over.
I didn't think I could fall further in love with the Ryves brothers than I was at the close of The Demon's Lexicon. That ending still gives me chills. But it turns out I could not have been more wrong. You know those relationships that hit you where you live? That knock the breath from your lungs and bring tears to your eyes and a fierce smile to your face all in one fell swoop? And your emotions are pulled in six different directions at once so that you're only sure of one thing and that is that you will follow wherever they go? That's what Alan and Nick's relationship does to me. I am at their mercy. And, while all of my hopes and wishes for them both may not be possible in the end, they are strong and real and that speaks to the powerfully rich and entertaining dynamic Sarah Rees Brennan has created. My love for Mae and Jamie is right up there as well, and I was thoroughly delighted to find Mae at the core of this second installment in the trilogy. She is a pleasing and sympathetic combination of audacity and uncertainty and I felt for her and was extremely proud of her as she fought to save all the crazy, beautiful boys in her life. Not one to stay at home and gather wool, Mae (like Mae West) prefers to confront the problem head on and fret over the sticky consequences later. This serves her well in almost all aspects of her life. Her heart being the notable exception. What to do? Who to trust? Which weapon to take? Where did Jamie just go haring off to? I was right there with her the whole time. A favorite passage:
Mae grabbed Nick's arm and he whirled on her, then caught himself and stood looking down at her with his pulse thudding against her palm and the knife still in his hand.
She lifted her chin. "Oh, put that away."
Nick put it away. "Just making a point."
"Yes, I took your point," Jamie muttered. "Right up against my throat."
Mae looked away from Nick and walked quickly toward the wall, scrambling over it and trying so hard to make the climb look easy that she skinned her elbow as she did so. She pretended it didn't sting.
Nick did not try to help Alan over the wall this time around. He stood with his hands clenched into fists in his pockets as they all waited for Alan to get over on his own.
"I wasn't trying to hurt you," he told Jamie suddenly.
Mae reached out and touched Nick's shoulder. Her hand brushed muscle, braced and tense under her palm, for a moment. Then he shied away from her and glared.
She smiled as if this reaction was perfectly normal. "Sometimes when you pull knives on people, they get this impression that you're going to hurt them, and then they're completely terrified. Crazy, I know!"
"Okay," said Nick. He turned to Jamie and popped his left wrist sheath again. "Look."
Jamie backed up. "Which part of 'completely terrified' did you translate as 'show us your knives, Nick'? Don't show me your knives, Nick. I have no interest in your knives."
Nick rolled his eyes. "This is a quillon dagger. That's a knife with a sword handle. I like it because it has a good grip for stabbing."
"Why do you say these things?" Jamie inquired piteously. "Is it to make me sad?"
"I didn't have you cornered," Nick went on. "You could've run. And this dagger doesn't have an even weight distribution; it's absolute rubbish for throwing. If I had any intention of hurting you, I'd have used a knife I could throw."
Jamie blinked. "I will remember those words always. I may try to forget them, but I sense that I won't be able to."
Man, I love Jamie. And I love the flashbacks we get in this tale. The past is a living and breathing entity here and it is with marked trepidation that our protagonists endeavor to parse out its meaning in the present day. And for those of you interested, Ms. Brennan makes good on her promise that this is the Make Out book. There is no disappointment in that regard. Though you may find yourself even more torn when it comes down to it. But that's the beauty of the story. It continually withstands pigeonholing and rises above expectations. THE DEMON'S COVENANT is an unbelievably satisfying and exciting second novel. It surprised me at every turn and it raised the stakes impossibly high. I gasped more times than I can count and my heart went out to each character repeatedly. And if it went out to Alan and Nick a little bit more, well that's my affair. I love them and I love this book. Not the least because it is above all about families, the bonds we form, and the sometimes feeble, sometimes illuminating ways in which we love--beyond reason, beyond blood, beyond even the bands of this world. Finest kind.