I accepted a copy of Christine Schulz‘s Dawn of a Demon as part of its book tour with Goddess Fish Promotions. Then, in a completely unrelated turn of events, I happened to stumble across a prequel novella, Mixing Magic & Mayhem, over on StoryOrigin. So, I nabbed it too. Dawn of a Demon has been over on Sadie’s Spotlight too. You can head over there for details on the author and an excerpt.
About the book:
Raiding a bakery to confiscate a magical spatula may not have been on Zulli’s to-do list for the day, but when she learns a notorious criminal by the name of Ozcar Thorne is using the powerful magic object to mix illegal drugs, this hybrid shifter sharpens her cat claws and unleashes the spider fangs for a day of butt kicking and free cake.
Alongside her teammates, Zulli sets out on a mission to investigate the Sixth Scents Bakery, but when their plan goes sideways, she discovers Ozcar has his own secret agenda in store for her and her team. Will they be able to retrieve the dangerous weapon and put an end to Ozcar’s illegal business, or will they run out of time and fall prey to the man they are trying to take down?
I’m torn about how I feel about this story story/novella. On one hand, I liked Zulli and her crew a lot, think the world looks really interesting, the plot is silly-fun, the writing is easily readable, and the editing seems pretty clean.
On the other hand I am just SO DONE with stories in which a woman’s whole character is basically how unlike other girls she is. ‘Oh, look how I don’t care about my clothes or hair, don’t wear makeup, and eat soooo much, especially greasy foods. You know, I’m a female character who just isn’t like the other girls.’ I’m basically just done with ‘not like other girls’ in general. Do authors really not see how very, very insulting that is to women in general when they write these characters?
Also, the story has a certain vague general-ness in the language that shouts that the author doesn’t know anything about the military (like someone saying “I’m a badass military soldier…” instead of the branch or even just soldier). I was also confused that the team members were referred to as officers, when they didn’t seem to have any actual command authority and weren’t police officers (which would make a whole lot more sense to the story). I’m similarly confused that general grunt-level solders (been in the military 5 months) report directly to a colonel. I kept having to remind myself that the author can structure her world any way she likes. But I was still repeatedly pulled out of the narrative by the confusion.
This carries over into other aspect of the story. I would have believed Zulli and the events in this story had she been meant to be an amateur. But that I’m supposed to believe she’s a trained professional fails on almost every front.
Certain aspects of the story didn’t work for me, true. But I did like it enough to still go into Dawn of a Demon with an open mind.
When a toxic memory-warping drug starts breaking the minds of everyone in the city, it becomes my mission as a military soldier to hunt down the criminal mastermind responsible before its deadly magic claims any more lives. But when the target I’m pursuing attacks my father and I watch helplessly as a good friend perishes before my eyes, things get personal. Now, I’ll bend every rule to bring down the savage who dragged my family and friends into this mess.
Unfortunately, saving the city and the people I care about comes at a cost. When I discover the true reason this magic has infested my home, I’m forced to make an impossible choice: do I protect the people I love or put an end to this catastrophe once and for all to stop more minds from being destroyed ever again?
Like with the prequel short story, my opinion is pretty middle of the road for this book. I thought the world was interesting and I liked the characters well enough, Ryker especially. (Who could not like such a special cinnamon bun as him?) The book really is full of good people trying to do good in the face of evil and personal devastations. And I 100% appreciate the example of strong female-female friendships, without any petty jealousies (especially over a man). But the whole thing just felt a little loosey-goosey to me.
Zulli and her team are supposed to be professionals, but they feel like rank amateurs. Which honestly should make sense. They’ve been in the military 6 months and, one would presume, at least some of that time was training. So, they really should be new and inexperienced. Excerpt that Schulz seemed to insist on trying to make out like they weren’t. Ryker, at one point, said something along the lines of “I’ve been on innumerable dangerous missions with Zulli.” And I was just like, how? You’ve had 6 months, probably less, to even go on missions at all.
But my main issue was the ever present question of whether Zulli and her team really were military personnel or a police officers. This sounds like it should be a small thing, but it turned out to be huge for me. I discussed this above, but, honestly, are they military or police (and military police doesn’t appear to be an option)? Here’s an example of Zulli speaking to someone whose friend just died of a drug overdose:
“Um, I know you don’t know me that well but, if you need anything, I’m around. The military is trying to find the person responsible for distributing Bliss, and I’m helping them do it. We’re gonna get this guy. Promise.”
Everything in that passage, except for the word military, scream cop. But somehow they’re actually soldiers…specifically officers…but not police officers…but also not commissioned officers in any command position within the military. All the soldiers seem to be referred to Officer Name…but they’re not police officers, even if they appear to being doing the police’s job.
I realize that the author can structure her world any way she likes. If she wants all the members of the military to be called officers, to let rankless ‘officers’ who have been in the military for six months report directly to a colonel who sends them out to do investigations and collar criminals largely unsupervised, she can. I mean, it’s not even meant to be earth.
But Schulz is using the familiar language of the military and its hierarchies…but not in a form that even the most loosely familiar reader will be comfortable with. So the places where her world diverges from the familiar feel super jarring and the distinctions kept pulling me out of the narrative because I was so confused by it.
I prefer an author either use the language we’re familiar with AS WE’RE FAMILIAR WITH IT or develop something new. If you’re going to have officers, captains, lieutenants, and colonels, for example, then abide by the recognized hierarchies and perview. Otherwise make up your own terms! Essentially, I’m doing linguistic gymnastics to avoid saying ‘it’s wrong,’ because I do realize Schulz really can structure her fantasy world as she likes. But it feels wrong. And I know it seems like I’m harping on this. But it really did stand out for me and kept coming up because Zulli being a ‘military soldier’ (yes, that’s how it’s phrased) was mentioned a lot.
Moving past that, considering the character is 26 and in the military—therefore, a full-on adult—the book felt very Young Adult…maybe New Adult…but I’m sticking with Young Adult. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting, as it was unexpected…at least to me. Maybe I missed the label somehow before picking the book up. (So, that’s probably on me.)
All in all, like I said, I feel very middle of the road on this one. I know it sounds like I’m trashing the book. But mostly I just had one or two big things that tweeked me repeatedly. The rest of the book is quirky in a way that readers looking for a less-than-serious read will appreciate and enjoy. The book raps up well, with just a few big plot threads open to tie into future books.