Almost Demon is the debut title from AJ Salem, and while it isn’t a perfect piece, it is a great start in both writing and the intended series, The Sigil Cycle. I fully expect that by the time the story has come to a close Ms. Salem will have addressed most of my concerns and questions from this novel and blossomed fully as an accomplished writer.
Starting the senior year of high school is difficult enough, but Gemma Pope is struggling with the aftermath of a horrible car accident that took the life of her twin brother, Brian, and her best friends while leaving her physically and emotionally scarred. Everyone in town blames her for the deaths since she was the one behind the wheel when emergency personnel arrived on the scene. To complicate matters Gemma began seeing strange dark coloured spirits after she awoke in the hospital, and she isn’t sure if her perceptions have changed from the near death experience or if she’s slowly going insane. The new year will bring a lot of changes into her life, and Gemma’s going to have to find her own inner strength to make it through them all.
Almost Demon was an engaging read, and I found it very easy to just let myself sit and flow from chapter to chapter. At the same time I wasn’t always entirely certain what story the main plot line was following, and some of the events distracted me from the focus of the novel.
What I Liked:
- Gemma’s personality and characterization felt real for a teenage girl. When hints of her pre-accident persona came through via flashbacks or when she allowed herself to relax I could see the type of young woman I could run into down at the high school by my house. The author did an excellent job tapping into her high school memories to create a well-rounded protagonist.
- Gemma’s trauma from losing her brother and best friends also seemed very real. While I have been fortunate enough to never lose a close family member in an accident, my understanding of how survivors can react and deal with the loss matched with Gemma’s behaviour.
- The ritualistic way that Thom and Gemma performed the various summonings fascinated me, and I loved the detail in the sigils.
- The descriptions of various locations Ian and Gemma visited via The Drifts were amazing. Each new locale had a distinct flavour and atmosphere that helped me visualize it.
- The description of Harrisport and small towns in the Hudson Valley showed the author’s love for the region, and the understanding of how smaller communities work vibrates throughout the book.
- The way the angels and demons summoned by Gemma were characterized were wonderfully tongue in cheek. They fit the descriptions from Thom’s grimoire, but none of them were exactly what you would expect for such august beings.
- The revelation about Thom actually surprised me. I knew he wasn’t human from the hints dropped in the text, but he wasn’t the obvious “villain” of the piece. Well-played!
What Didn’t Work For Me:
- At times the book felt like two or three different stories all blended together, and it didn’t always feel like a coherent whole. Gemma’s recovery from her twin’s death with the accompanying social ostracism, the Ian storyline, and the demon summoning all had enough meat to stand alone. Together they bogged each other down in places while they somehow worked effortlessly together in others.
- I really didn’t like Ian very much even from the beginning. I suspected he wasn’t entirely on the up and up, and, sadly, he failed to disappoint me. While I can understand why a teenage girl, especially one who feel isolated, would be attracted to a handsome young man who expertly makes her feel like a princess, he began to make my skin crawl rather quickly.
- Charlotte’s birthday party with the psychic made me roll my eyes. It was incredibly cliché to use past life regression to find something odd about Gemma’s past. There had been other hints about oddness at this point that could have been expanded more effectively, in my opinion.
- Gemma’s interactions with her high school principal felt horribly stilted and awkward. If my high school principal had started spouting off at me about how my mother had dabbled in magic with her when they were young, and my absent mother wouldn’t want me to follow the path, I would roll my eyes and think she was on something. It also seemed very out of line for a principal to be doing in an official capacity.
- I had even more questions at the end than I did at the beginning because while the book tied up one dramatic event, readers were left with a tenuous understanding of Gemma and her powers. However, I assume her true nature will be explored more fully in later books.
Believe it or not I greatly enjoyed reading Almost Demon, and I definitely think it will appeal to many readers especially those closer to Gemma’s age. It’s a great first novel, and I look forward to later works by AJ Salem. She has excellent potential, and I think she will continue to grow as an author with each new book she publishes.
3.5 Mysterious Sigil Tattoos out of 5
Almost Demon will be available where books are sold on October 31, 2013.