By Paula R. Stiles
Kenner, Julie; O’Reilly, Kathleen; and Davis, Dee. Hell on Heels (Satan’s Heirs). New York: Berkeley Sensation, 2007. 314pp. USD $14.00; CDN $17.50. ISBN 13: 978-0-425-2157-2.
Hell on Heels is hot paranormal romance with a straightforward premise: the Devil wants to retire, but before he can do so, he must install an heir to his empire. He can only find one in his three immortal-but-half-human daughters by mortal women. They all hate his guts, but each feels that running his empire would finally get smothering Daddy off her back and give her purpose in her endless (and rather joyless) existence. So, he sets out tasks for them one by one, to see which one will inherit his empire. Complications intervene when each of them falls in love and discovers she’s not quite as evil as she thought she was. Well, you know, it is paranormal romance.
The stories of the three are told in separate novellas, by different authors, oldest daughter to the youngest, with little connection (save for theme and shared universe) between them. Julie Kenner gives us the tale of Lucia, an assassin doing one last assignment for Daddy to prove that she can take over Hell. Too bad she falls hard for the target’s son. He doesn’t like his daddy, either, but he sure doesn’t want to see him dead.
In Dee Davis’ novella, Jezebel is a Lara-Croft-style secret agent hunting a treasure for her father that’s been hidden and guarded by the Knights Templar (Sadly, they are more of a macguffin than a theme particularly well-explored). Then she runs into the competition – another secret agent hell-bent on revenge for his dead brother, who evokes her long-dead instincts for rescuing lost puppies and hot tough guys (and just happens to be her ex). And then there are those pesky Templars in the way, too.
Lola’s tale, by Kathleen O’Reilly, is my personal favourite. Lola is a bitchy, heartless, gorgeous (even by Hell’s standards) succubus who seduces men and steals their souls. She runs into a guy, who has learned to become the world’s rescuer the hard way due to being a (literal) trouble-magnet, and falls in twu wuv with him. Just when things are looking great for a longterm romance, her secret superpower kicks in and off goes his soul, leaving him such a drab drone that he doesn’t even miss it. What’s Lola willing to give up to get it back?
I’d be unsurprised if this were where Sera Gamble of Supernatural got her idea for the Sambot storyline (Gamble’s also a published writer in paranormal erotica). If she did, she should have hired Ms. O’Reilly because this idea is done a lot better here than on the show. Crash isn’t evil or even a jerk without his soul. He’s just blah and colourless, little more than a living sex toy, which, ironically, is no longer all that Lola wants. With no passions or desires, he might as well be dead.
Hell on Heels had the potential to suck hard, but turned out a lot better than I expected. Possibly, this is because the same three authors had done an anthology involving Satan’s sons called “Hell with the Ladies” the year before, so the women in this anthology had to be similarly tough and hardboiled to fit the idea. I’m not wild about premises where someone has to give up their uniqueness for love. You shouldn’t have to disappear as a person for a successful romance. There’s a happy medium between compromise and self-annihilation. But all three stories do a pretty good job of showing that these three women are all approaching love as a chance to grow as people, to break out of the endless ruts they’ve fallen into. There is no hint that they are going to settle down into some domestic little routine afterward, but instead, that they might end up in new places, doing new things. They might even be willing to give up the man they love if it’s the only way to save him.
And the men are reasonably progressive-enough so that you don’t have to grit your teeth through some kind of 70s domineering-male thing, either. If anything, they are a bit too perfect physically and too neutered in personality to stand out as characters in their own right (Though I did like Crash, who had a sort of Matthew McConaughey vibe to him). Unfortunately, you get that blandness a lot in paranormal romance. Part of ensuring that the guy fulfills the broadest possible range of fantasies in the (mostly) female readers, I guess. But that’s okay, because the stories really belong to the ladies, who are all extremely strong-willed and don’t take any crap, not even from the Devil himself. It’s their stage.
Incidentally, in case you missed what I said at the beginning, this is hot paranormal romance, which means that every story has multiple, explicit sex scenes in it. That, too, is part of the sub-genre’s conventions. However, unlike some stories, these scenes don’t drag or slow down the rest of the story and they all seem pretty in-character for each heroine. So, you can enjoy, or skip over, them if that’s not strictly your thing.
You can find Hell on Heels on Amazon.com.