3 out of 4 stars
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The Gates of Hell sculpture at the entrance to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia depicts a scene from Dante’s Inferno. It is also a portal in the world of Rule Breakers, Soul Takers (Hell Runners Book 1), a paranormal romance novel by Jacqueline Jayne that builds on Dante’s work and scriptural accounts of fallen angels with a modern plot and characters.
The book is mainly set in a Hell whose first circle includes the accidentally damned who have been deceived into coming to the wrong eternity. Enter the Philadelphia-based Hell Runners Society, whose mission it is to rescue these souls and deliver them into the light. Feisty and talented heroine Prudence Luckett is itching to run her first mission after qualifying when she learns that her father, Chancellor Jack Luckett, is hell-bent on banishing her to the Research Desk. What is he trying to protect her from? And why is the hero and Prudence’s love interest, rugged and sensual instructor Jesse Thorne, also being kept out of Hell by the Council?
Right from the start when they plunge down in an elevator together, the attraction between Prudence and Jesse is palpable. This is a staple of romance, of course, as is the presence of an obstacle preventing the couple from being together. In this book, both the magnetism and the obstacle are connected with the story architecture in a striking and clever way. The reasons behind them run deep, maybe all the way down to the ninth circle. I was impressed by the author's construction and integration of the different story layers.
Rules of the romance genre aside, as the title suggests, this book examines the theme of rules in general. Who makes them and why? I love it when paranormal narratives show characters learning to wield their gifts, including when these bring them face-to-face with ethical issues. Prudence has a special ability to empathize but knows it is off-limits to use this on friends and family. The author describes her as refraining from “copping an emotional feel” of Jesse. I appreciated the innovative turns of phrase like this one. When Prudence defies her father in her determination to continue liberating souls from Hell in partnership with Jesse, the Council lands her with a mission where she will be damned whatever she does. Now she must decide which rules need to be broken.
This book explores the problems of knowing who to trust in this artfully constructed world where much is not what it seems. For example, the first circle of Hell looks like a suburb with white picket fences and baking smells – but this is all an illusion cooked up by the demons. This adventure includes gripping scenes where humans of integrity wrestle with demons who want to feed on their fear. With a plot that doglegs like Prudence and Jesse racing through a clapboard mirage, this will appeal to you if you enjoy fast-paced fantasy adventures and battles between good and evil including angels and demons. It comes highly recommended to paranormal romance fans.
The story has a substantial erotic component. It includes many evocative details that are suitable for adults only. While he can be a protective hero, Jesse is also drawn to Prudence for her spark and strength. They are well-rounded characters, and their frequent dialogue is lively and plausible. Sometimes Jesse got a little too macho for my taste. For example, I cringed when he wanted Prudence to show him her cheerleading routines.
The sexual tension between the pair is repeatedly re-established throughout; sometimes this felt a little overdone when it was already quite clear. The “Britishisms” spoken by one of the characters were also a little overdone. These minor negatives aside, I would love to give this impressively crafted book a four-star rating. Unfortunately, although it was edited, some errors slipped through the cracks, and I have to rate it three out of four stars. While this is the first book in a series, it could stand alone in that its weightiest problem is solved by the end. This causes a new set of problems, however, and Jesse and Prudence will be partners on more missions yet. I look forward to reading the sequel.
Rule Breakers, Soul Takers (Hell Runners Book 1)
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