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I like this series a lot, it’s not as 'deep' as Sandman (the series which spawned it) but its well written, nicely drawn and very engaging.
We begin with the Lilium, and Mazekeen’s quest to regain her face. If this sounds a little odd, its because this is a series dependent on prior knowledge. You need to start at the beginning to know what’s going on, and while you’ll pick up some it as the story progresses you’ll still be thrown by the odd reference to the past. So, if you don’t know who Mazekeen is, go back to volume one and start there. (for the purposes of this review – she’s a demon whose original face was altered in a previous instalment of this series, the Lilium are her tribe)
The whole Lilium bit is a little short, but the outcome is important, not least because it affects our little angel in training. Yes that’s right – minus the brilliant grannies – Elaine is back, looking for her dead friend Mona. It’s not that I don’t like her, she’s engaging enough, but kiddie angels are just a little too sweet and sickly for my tastes. Fortunately she not only gets tortured, but her little quest is only really here to lead us back into Hell, and to introduce the major characters in this collection.
A Dalliance with the Damned has effectively two plots which run side by side, but also reflect on each other. The first of these concerns Lucifer's new world - including a rerun of Genesis - and the second concerns the demons of hell.
The Lucifer story is really a bridge between the last collection and the next one, which features a showdown between Lucifer and the Tarot cards of the previous book. It also highlights the on-going disagreement between God and Lucifer about what God will and will not allow to happen. The fight against 'divine tyranny' is a recurring theme in this series, and it should perhaps be noted that with a few exceptions the angels are all either thoroughly unpleasant or apathetic fools. Carey frequently seems to draw on Gaiman's characterisation of Remiel at the end of the Sandman, and the only nice angel in the series so far is Michael.
Anyway, the real story of the book concerns the demons of hell. Specifically it concerns Lord Arux and his two delightful children, Lys and Brosag. Brosag is planning to overthrow daddy dearest, and Lys is sleeping with a damned soul, Christopher, in order to humiliate her former lover, Duke Seviram.
Brosag is little more than a muscular brute, while Lys has some intelligence but is more interested in pleasure than anything else. The decadent nature of the court compliments their characters well, Brosag is not likeable, or even fair, making him a good villain, if a little two-dimensional. Lys is better drawn, perhaps because of her involvement with Christopher, whose guilt and disgust provide the focus for much of the story. Perhaps the most remarkable element of the tale is just how likeable Lord Arux proves to be, he is not shown to be kind, but is shown to be fair and honourable (for a demon). I got told off when I spoilt a plot in a previous review, so I won't do the same here, but Carey does manage to give this tale of court intrigue a slight twist which makes it more satisfying by preserving the ambiguities of character it creates.
The court plot ties in with Lucifer merely because he is there to arrange his duel with Amenadiel (see previous volume). The collection ends with a short stand-alone story about two people who get trapped in Lux while Lucifer's away. It's a sad hopeless tale which foreshadows the events of the next volume, and serves as a reminder that Lucifer is not a kind figure, however much we may like or admire him.
Throughout the book the writing is good. The characters are nicely judged, the stories link together well and there are some beautiful moments of suspense. However, this is a collection heavily dependent on your having read previous volumes, and in many ways it is more concerned with establishing the questions and plot threads of the next volume than it is with standing alone. As such I'd recommend that if you're new to the series you start at the beginning (or get hold of a plot summary) before trying this one.
The artwork is as good as the writing, especially the first and last stories, done by Dean Ormston. His pared down style suits the gritty and often harsh nature of Carey stories. That said it works better for those tales set in the real world and Peter Gross's more detailed style is perfect for the decadent world of the demons.
In short I liked this collection and consider it well worth a read. Perhaps not the best in the series, but it does a very good job of setting up the dominoes to be knocked down in the next book (appalling metaphor I know). Not the place to start, but if you're already a fan it's good to know there's no let-up in quality or surprises as the series progresses.
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