While I do my best to avoid spoilers in my book reviews, in the interest of highlighting some content within Mark of a Demon, I must break that rule. So consider this a spoiler/content/trigger warning, if you will. This is a story where a demon watches a young girl from babyhood. He starts visiting her from the age of fourteen, which continues for a few years (which would have the girl aged roughly between seventeen and eighteen, though the book doesn’t clarify this), at which point, he sleeps with her. Taken at face value, this can be read as the demon grooming an underage girl.
I’ll admit to this aspect of Despoina Kemeridou’s Mark of a Demon making me uncomfortable, though I imagine comfort levels will vary from reader to reader. This novella is a gothic romance aimed at the young adult audience, but from the moment I started reading this, it felt very much like a fairy tale in the vein of the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen. Rather than the sanitised Disney movies that come from such fables (though, I must confess to imagining how such a Disney adaptation would work), these stories were dark, and often featured girls in romantic situations who are much younger than today’s social norms will accept. For instance, the original Snow White could be read as the prince having groomed her from age seven.
Mark of a Demon tells the story of Heather, a girl whose mother, upon her birth, made a deal with the demon the Naberius to save her life, sacrificing her own in the process. The story covers Heather’s life, up until the point when she and Naberius embark on a love affair. Throughout its 90 pages in paperback, or an estimated 50 pages on Kindle (I read this on Kindle, and it certainly felt more like 50 pages than 90), Kemeridou builds the story carefully, crafting a slow burn tale about this girl, who has always been different, given the secret of her existence.
Due to its short length, while Mark of a Demon focuses on Heather’s life, it doesn’t spend much time establishing the characters beyond their archetypes. While in some ways, it feels as though the romance hasn’t been earned as a result, as the blurb states (so I don’t really consider this a spoiler), to save Heather’s life as a baby, Naberius shares his heart with hers. The two sharing a heart is a literal representation of these two intertwined souls, something that plays beautifully against the gothic romance and fairy tale aspects of the book.
I would have liked to see the characters expanded further, particularly in relation to the book’s themes. While it is predominantly a romance, the book also deals with prejudice and bullying. While we see how this impacts Heather throughout her life and this, itself, is unsettling enough for the reader to truly feel for her, more detail about the perpetrators, as well as those who love her and have to see her go through this, could have elevated this further.
While Mark of a Demon‘s main focus is on Heather and her world, Kemeridou makes interesting use of mythology as it relates to Naberius, the general demonic population, and other supernatural beings. While as presented in the book, demons are from Hell and angels are from Heaven, the novella cleverly infuses mythology from various sources, blending these in a way that work together for the story being told. It results in a rich mythology; while the limited page count didn’t provide the author much room to delve deeply into this, I would love to see her return to the book’s world and mythology in future works.
The prose sometimes feels a little stiff and the dialogue is often a bit wooden, aspects that can be attributed to English not being Kemeridou’s first language. Considering this, it is a commendable effort, particularly due to how easy it is to read. While the author’s language barrier has resulted in text that can lack nuance, this is a book that is incredibly easily digestible and brings the reader along for the ride.
Mark of the Demon’s fairy tale trappings and romance give the reader a fair indication of where the book is going, and as a result, the book’s climax isn’t hugely surprising. Yet, by the end of the book, aided by a wonderful epilogue, I found myself quite satisfied by the story that was told.
If you can get past the allusions to grooming, Mark of a Demon is a thoroughly engaging story. While I would have liked to see more depth to the story, it is still an entertaining romance that feels very much like a modern fairy tale.
At that moment, I turned my gaze to the shop window. I saw a familiar figure staring at me and felt my heart race. Without being able to control my body, I walked mechanically to his side. My eyes revealed my excitement and he understood immediately. He looked at me, his gaze showing how much he had missed me. He used his human form this time.Mark of a Demon, Chapter 7: “The Truth”
Mark of a Demon was purchased for the purpose of an honest review.
Mark of a Demon is available in paperback and on Kindle, exclusive to Amazon).
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