Marjorie M. Liu

The third book in the fantasy series about demon hunter Maxine Kiss.

Publication year: 2010
Page count: 308
The publisher: ACE

The third book is as intense as the previous ones and has a larger cast.

Maxine Kiss is the last in a long line of women who have protected humans against demons for thousands of years. Her mother, Jean, and Maxine never settled down but instead moved from city to city and from one country to another. Jean taught Maxine that she should never rely on other people because that would put the other people in danger. Maxine doesn’t even know who her father is. However, a few years ago, she fell in love with Grant Cooperson who is a former priest and currently runs a homeless shelter. She stayed with him and has slowly gathered around her a small group who feels like family to her. She even has a grandfather who is a mysterious, immortal figure. Oh, and Maxine’s invincible as long as the five demons that are bound to her stay as tattoos on her skin. After sundown, the demons detach from Maxine but protect her as well as they can.

Now, she’s celebrating her birthday, which is also the anniversary of her mother’s murder, by exorcizing and killing a zombie. In this world, zombies are the least powerful demons. They can take over a human and make the human do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. Lately, Maxine has started to think that some demons might be saved. However, today she has no mercy. Later, she and her chosen family celebrate with pie her grandfather made.

Later, she wakes up covered in blood next to her grandfather’s body and no memory about what happened. Even her demons don’t remember which should be impossible. Then a man with a limp walks in. She doesn’t know who he is. He claims to be her lover, Grant.

Something weird has happened to Maxine’s, and the demons’, memory. They can remember their lives otherwise, but not Grant and not what happened when Maxine’s grandfather died. However, they don’t have much time to solve the puzzle because powerful people are plotting to bring down the veil which will release the demons back into the world. There’s also a growing darkness inside Maxine who has to wonder just who are the bigger monsters: the demons or herself.

This time we finally get most of the story behind Maxine’s bloodline. We’re also told more about Grant’s people, the Lightbringers, and what happened to them. Earth is just one world in the mystical pattern that in the universe, also known as the Labyrinth, and we get to know more about what lurks in the Labyrinth. This is another urban fantasy story where the scope is epic.

The plot is again very fast-paced. Maxine has a magical item which allows her to move instantly in time and place making the traveling very quick indeed. Sometimes the item takes her to another time, too, and she has no control over that, so there a few dream-like sequences as well. The item in question was a ring originally but grows over Maxine’s hand every time she uses it. It seems that finally it will cover her completely and she doesn’t know what will happen then.

The cast is as enjoyable as before. Maxine is a tough but she’s also scared for others around her and scared of the darkness inside her. Grant is the loving and loyal man who has a lot of power. Maxine’s grandfather, Jack Meddle, is an immortal who has lived thousands of years with his secrets and it’s very hard for him to tell them, even when he has to. That sort of justifies that fact that he doesn’t tell much until it’s almost too late. On the other hand, it’s incredibly frustrating, to me at least.

Familiar minor characters show up, too. The Catholic priest who was turned into a werewolf is a fascinating concept and I hope that Liu will do a book or a short story about him. The psychic woman treats Maxine with almost contempt and laments her bad fortune of being around the main characters. Bryon and the old mad woman Mary return from the previous books.

Maxine’s demons have an interesting relationship with her. Clearly, they all love her and want to protect her. Yet, she and they know that at some point, she’s going to have a child and the demons will switch protecting her, and Maxine will be vulnerable. Also, the demons are a close-mouthed with their secrets as Jack Meddle. They simply don’t talk about anything they don’t want to. Only one of them can actually talk, though, the rest communicate by humming appropriate tunes.

This book can be read as a stand-alone since the plot is self-contained, but you get a lot more out of it by reading the previous two books.

The second in the series about demon hunter Maxine Kiss.

Publication year: 2009
Page count: 360
Publisher: Orbit
Format: Print

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.