Hell Bent: Realistic struggles with powerful magic

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHell Bent by Devon Monk urban fantasy book reviewsHell Bent by Devon Monk

This is the first Devon Monk book I’ve ever read. After some digging, I discovered that the main characters in the BROKEN MAGIC series, Shame and Terric, were introduced as backburner characters in another book/series that Monk wrote, the Allie Beckstrom series. Never fear, you obviously don’t have to have read those other books to enjoy Hell Bent. I didn’t have a clue who the author or her characters were, and I still had a lot of fun. That being said, I’m sure if I’d read other books by this author (as they are set in the same world) I would probably understand some of the nuances more clearly. For example, I never really did figure out the ins and outs of the magic system, or why some people are able to “break” magic and make it more powerful, but most can’t. Maybe if I’d read the other series, I’d get it.

Hell Bent follows Shame Flynn, a transplanted Irish guy who can control death magic and has basically isolated himself from the world due to that. He has a drinking problem and an issue with being awful to everyone on the planet to keep them away. His partner in crime, and his magical equal and balance, the yin to Shame’s yang, is Terric, a man who controls life magic. Shame is the lead character in the book, but Terric isn’t that far behind. A few other “breakers” enter the plot, all of whom I gather were characters in Monk’s other series. At best these characters seemed rather unimportant to me; at worst they seemed, well, unimportant.

Shame and Terric take the limelight, and that’s a good thing because the rest of the cast and crew are pale comparisons to their well-fleshed-out individuality. The two characters balance each other well, and their issues and behavior patterns are excellent reflections of how most people would act and react when saddled with the magic that these two men control. Shame’s caustic humor adds a nice levity to the situations he finds himself in, and Terric’s bleeding heart gives the duo a soulful, emotional feel that they would have otherwise been lacking.

The magic itself was a mixed bag for me, and I’m not sure if I’m the best person to judge it. As I said above, this series is set in the same world as the Allie Beckstrom series, which I didn’t know until after I read Hell Bent. Therefore, I’m pretty sure that some of the back characters that were rather forgettable to me would probably be a lot more impressive and memorable to fans of that other series. I’m also sure that some of my questions regarding the magic system and what exactly happened/why it happened would have been answered if I had read that other series. As it was, while the magic was interesting and well done, a lot of the history and the whys behind it all didn’t ever really get described or make sense to me. What exactly happened that made magic so powerless? Why are some people “breakers” who can work together to make magic as powerful as it once was? Why do people want these breakers dead? Who knows. The questions are posed, but for new readers of the broken magic series, you might find yourself wanting answers more than anything else.

My complaints regarding the nuances of the magic system aside, the magic system itself was probably one of the things that I enjoyed about the book more than anything other, aside from Shame, who ended up being a riot to read about. Shame and Terric are both, in a sense, trapped by the magic they can control. It has warped their lives and twisted them into vessels instead of men. Shame has a hard time entering the world and functioning like a normal person, as he is always craving life to feed off of, and Terric has a hard time saying no to people when he could use his life magic to help. While this might not seem like a big deal, I really enjoyed reading how their own individual struggles have shaped these two men and Monk portrayed them well in this respect. The characters themselves just make the magic even more interesting.

There is a little bit of romance in Hell Bent, but it’s nothing that will make you roll your eyes or quietly throw up into the nearest trash can. There’s some sexual tension and you can kind of smell the love interest as soon as she enters the book, but Monk decides that subtlety works better than anything else. This is Shame and Terric’s book, and the love interest, while being a nice aside, really never amounts to more than that. I really appreciated this. So many times in urban fantasy, authors take a really interesting book and then derail it as soon as romance is announced, but Monk never did this. Things happen in their own natural time and then things move on and the book never strays from its original purpose.

The plot itself is rather stereotypical: there’s a big faceless evil and a few people have to stand against it. In the process, some betrayals and backbiting is slipped in. Add the love interest and you have a sort of mystery/adventure stew that you’ve probably read about plenty of times before. Hell Bent is incredibly fast-paced, but the more I read of it, the more I realized that I wasn’t really reading it for the plot. I was reading it because Shame and Terric were fascinating. I loved their struggles with magic, and I loved the magic (even though I never really understood it). The world was dark, a little too narrow of a focus for my liking, but rife with history that I ended up wanting to know more about. There’s a lot here that kept me turning the pages.

Hell Bent surprised me in the fact that it is a lot darker than I expected. Shame’s caustic humor never really added levity to the plot; instead it added a bit of humor at the price of the character’s self-respect. Shame is a rather tortured soul, and the book is filled with his inner torment. It just shows what Monk does best — atmosphere and characterization. Often she works these two important elements together to create unforgettable moments in her book. It’s dark and I couldn’t seem to get enough. The book ends on a determined, if properly somber note, with just enough left open to allow Monk to write a slam-dunk next book in this series.

So, the final verdict? I know absolutely nothing about Devon Monk, but I’d love to read more. Hell Bent is character-driven, focused, and fast. The magic is interesting, the protagonists are incredibly well done, and the world is layered and full of texture. The atmosphere adds a nice, irresistible layer of darkness over it all. In the end, this wasn’t what I expected it to be, and I loved it for that. Hell Bent has me anxiously waiting to read the next book in this series. Hell, I might even have to read more of Monk’s books. Time to hit up the library.

Broken Magic (Shame & Terric)  — (2013-2014) A spin-off from Allie Beckstrom. From Shame’s perspective. Instead of the deadly force it once was, magic is now a useless novelty. But not for Shame Flynn and Terric Conley, “breakers” who have the gift for reverting magic back to its full-throttle power. In the magic-dense city of Portland, Oregon, keeping a low profile means keeping their gifts quiet. After three years of dealing with disgruntled magic users, Shame and Terric have had enough of politics, petty magic, and, frankly, each other. It’s time to call it quits. When the government discovers the breakers’ secret—and its potential as a weapon—Shame and Terric suddenly become wanted men, the only ones who can stop the deadly gift from landing in the wrong hands. If only a pair of those wrong hands didn’t belong to a drop-dead-gorgeous assassin Shame is falling for as if it were the end of the world. And if he gets too close to her, it very well could be….

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SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.

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