Maria Violante recently did a review for my novel and I am returning the favor on her short novella, Hunting the Five. It's a piece of a larger work and I'm excited to read the rest soon.
Maria's world building is exciting and engrossing. She creates characters I want to continue watching. The magic system is also very very cool. I spend a lot of time thinking about magic systems. I used two in my last book and I have a new one lined up for a fantasy series I'll be writing late next year. I should know when someone comes up with a golden magic system. Maria uses a dual magic system where each demon possesses minor powers, akras, along with one kernel of true power, their kevra.
De La Roca (as she calls herself) once was human and wound up in Hell. After an indefinite amount of time being tortured, she is offered a chance at freedom...with some catches. She must relinquish her memories, her name, her kevra, and become a sort of demon bounty hunter. She calls herself a mercenary, but that's not quite what she is. She and her horse, Alsvior, track and kill the nasties that shouldn't have ever found their way to Earth.
When Maria gets into De La Roca's head, it is compelling and well written stuff. I want to discover the secrets and get to know this character more and more. She does some dark and twisted stuff, sitting on the body of someone she killed as she smokes a cigarette, but then you get a back-story at the same time of her trying desperately to save a victim of one of the demons.
Alsvior is my favorite. He's loyal, clever, and able to change his shape to some degree, looking like any type of horse of any color. Who hasn't wanted a charcoal colored horse with flaming mane and tail?
She has some stunning descriptions. There's some dimensional travel, of which I'm a big fan, and she does some pretty imagery with it.
Maria's work isn't without flaws. She has some awkward sentences that I had to read over several times to understand her meaning. She doesn't use contractions as often as she should, especially in dialogue where people naturally use them without thinking. She also has some sudden jumps that I found annoying while reading. For the most part, she separates scene breaks with a little symbol, but now and again they show up from one paragraph to the next. It was distracting and disorienting. It also muddies up the plot, making the motivations of the other characters unclear when they shouldn't be.
She has some typos. Not a big deal. I can read over them easily and my own book still has several. Just things like "then" in place of "than", a missing "to" where one should be, a dangling "to" in another sentence where it should not be, "I" when it should be "It", and "her to knees" where it should have been "to her knees". Seriously, minimal problems.
The beginning feels out of line with the rest of the story though. I think it would have drawn me in more if Maria had dropped the first ten pages or so, but at least the first two. The character introduced there, Rico, doesn't seem to be important, doesn't show up again, and I dislike him. Not the best first impression of the story as Rico spouts clichéd sexist nonsense.
The story also uses profanity. I'm not the biggest fan of it, but I can ignore it most of the time when I read. I think sometimes it has a place, but it must be done well. Maria likes to use it in the same way, no matter what character is talking. Every single character uses "damn" the same exact way. People use profanity differently. I would have liked to see what kind of profanity some of the characters who are possibly thousands of years or more old might use...not just the same "damn".
All in all, a great read. I look forward to seeing what trouble De La Roca and Alsvior can get into as she explores this world of demonic magics and finds her way back to humanity...or not. It will also be a pleasure seeing Maria's natural talent develop and grow as she brings these things to vibrant life for us.