The second in the series about demon hunter Maxine Kiss.
Publication year: 2009
Page count: 360
Hunter Kiss and her living demon tattoos are back!
The story starts in the middle of action. Maxine has traced a zombie who kills people and she banishes it from the body of the human host (in this world, zombie aren’t dead: they possess living humans). The zombie has just killed a girl and Maxine is furious at herself that she wasn’t on time. However, even though she knows that often enough the possessed people might be inclined to do the horrible things the zombie makes them do, she decides to not leave evidence behind for cops.
She returns home of her boyfriend Grant. They live above a homeless shelter which his financed and run by Grant. A weird fat man comes to see Maxine. He calls himself Mr. Erl King and Maxine’s demon boys get really weird vibes from him. Then another weird man arrives, but to see Grant. The newcomer is Father Cribari and he used to know Grant. Cribari is very hostile towards Maxine and she’s convinced that he’s dangerous, probably to Grant, too. Cribari tells Grant that one of Grant’s former friends is in trouble; he’s become a murderer. Grant finds it hard to believe but decides to help him. The problem is that Grant’s priest friend is in Shanghai and Maxine can’t fly that far because her tattoos will change into the demons when sun sets.
Maxine tries to get another way to China but before she can arrange it, she’s kidnapped by men who are not entirely human.
Most of the cast from the previous book, the Iron Hunt, return. The mad woman Mary who turns out to be a lot more than anyone expected. The desperate former street kid Byron. The old man Jack Meddle who turned out to be not human at all. Rex, the zombie who is looking for salvation through Grant, appears, too, although briefly.
Maxine is much the same as in the previous book. She’s used to a life of wandering and loneliness but she’s slowly finding out that she now has a home with Grant, and she afraid that he will be in danger because of her. She’s stubborn and loyal. She has strange relationship with her demons whom she calls her boys. By day the demons are tattoos on her skin and make her invulnerable. By night they return to their own forms and are formidable fighters. They are determined to keep Maxine alive; if she dies, they die. Yet, they don’t tell her nearly everything, just the things she need to know to survive now. So, Maxine can trust them with her life but not with unraveling the secrets around the family and lineage.
Some of those secrets are revealed her but often enough they are difficult to put into context simply because we readers and Maxine don’t know enough. Grant’s secret lineage is also revealed and it’s very strange indeed.
Grant is perhaps the most gentle character in the story. He tries his best to heal people and the keep them alive, even when it might cost his own life. When he sings he can heal not only flesh but souls as well, and he can sooth zombies and demons. Yet he and Maxine are an awesome couple and complement each other nicely. (As an old Elfquest fan, I was reminded of Leetah and Cutter or perhaps more appropriately the hunter/warrior woman Nighfall and her gentle gardener man Redlance.)
The pace is intense and it doesn’t allow Maxine, or the reader, breathing space. Maxine uses her new weapon she got in the previous book, the finger armor, to teleport when needed. However, the teleportation isn’t instantaneous; during it Maxine hallucinates or dreams. It can also take her through time in addition to space and take her to witness things done to her bloodline in the distant past. Also, every time Maxine uses the armor, it grows, and she has no idea what happens when it will cover her completely.
The quick shifts in place and time can feel disorienting especially when Maxine herself isn’t sure what’s going on. Liu also doesn’t explain much. Some characters know more than Maxine and they make cryptic comments which they don’t explain. Then there’s the Labyrinth which seems to be a world beyond Earth and where Earth is just one world among many. There’s also the darkness inside Maxine herself and she doesn’t yet know where it comes from or if she can control it. Yet, she has to draw on it on some of the more intense fights.
The book has climatic fight scenes which are also intensely emotional. The writing itself is beautiful and doesn’t have too much description which many fantasy books tend to do.