Jackie Kessler,
Hell's Belles
(Zebra, 2007)

If you think a book titled Hell's Belles -- starring a succubus named Jezebel and taking place largely inside a New York City strip club, no less -- might dip into areas of a sexual nature, you'd be right. First-time author Jackie Kessler is unabashedly lascivious in her writing, so much so one wonders exactly what lies in the depths of her untapped imagination. But Hell's Belles exceeds the bounds of lusty paranormal romances, in part by making Jez's love interest one of the least interesting aspects of the story.

Far more appealing is Jezebel's flight from Hell, where her job was the seduction and disposal of evil men. But big changes are afoot in the underworld -- saying what, exactly, would be telling too much -- and Jez has fled to the world above to shed her demon skin and lose herself among the mortals.

The Salem witch to whom Jezebel flees for help is one of this novel's more intriguing characters, and I'm a little disappointed Kessler put her to such brief and limited use. (Here's hoping she returns in the inevitable sequel.) But then it's on to New York City, where Jez (now Jesse) gravitates toward the sex trade, naturally, to make her mortal living.

But "demon" isn't a job that comes with a cozy retirement plan, and Hell's minions are still trying to track Jesse down and bring her back to the fold. Meanwhile, changes in Hell itself are revealed to readers slowly, leading to far more intelligent theological philosophy than I ever expected to see here.

But yeah, there's a lot of sex, talk about sex, thought about sex and sexual innuendoes, too, so prudes need not apply.

All in all, Hell's Belles is an entertaining book that manages to be both raunchy and thought-provoking, and at times even a little sweet -- and that's no mean feat. Let's hope Kessler plans on plumbing the depths of her imagination again -- and soon.

review by
Tom Knapp

14 July 2007

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