Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Released: 25th February 2014
Rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm pretty sure that the initials JLA, together, and the person behind these initials, are synonymous with feels. Because her writing just leaves me with all of them. And yeah, maybe I knew this before, but I think it's worth saying again. Gargoyles and demons - together - are like book dynamite. Or triple chocolate cake. And then JLA has her way with them and BAM. You've got the bookish equivalent of some kind of cake that explodes in your mouth and is just the best thing ever (kind of like the sensation that Cam's cookies leave...). Mind = blown.
Since the gargoyle-demon mix was what drew my attention in the first place, let's start with that. The combination was as epic as promised. I was especially curious about gargoyles - not that I don't love demons, because really. Bad creatures who can also be good who are bad. I get on exceptionally well with demons. But this was the first time I'd entered a world with gargoyles and I was intrigued to see how they would be portrayed. Their role as Wardens - hunters of demons and protectors of mankind - was one I could appreciate, objectively and conceptually speaking, and Armentrout did a very nice job with the world-building in this respect. There is no such thing as standard mythology for her because clearly she knows how to give it her own, fresh twist. Both sides share a complexity that goes beyond the standard good/evil preconceptions. Even with the demons it seemed as though something had been added to it. Learning about hell has never been so interesting.
Layla is our feisty half demon-half gargoyle heroine. One of the consequences of this is having a kiss that takes souls. This is a girl whose insecurities and strengths mesh together to form a thoroughly relatable character. She's not afraid to take action and won't let anyone else get in the way of her doing something. When she's on a mission, she'll see it through to its end. At the same time, she struggles a lot. Sure, she makes mistakes along the way, but I could always see where she was coming from. I think what I most identified with was her struggle to accept and reconcile the two halves of her, to understand where it was exactly that she fitted in her world. What pained me was seeing the interactions she had with certain members of her surrogate family of Wardens, the true level of pressure they placed on her whether they realised it or not, and the constant reminder that she was not one of them. In the end, though, it only made her all the stronger when she went in the face of that by discovering the truth for and of herself, suffering a great deal more as a result, and finding some measure of happiness and belonging amongst all that.
It was at this point that the feels truly started to kick in. By which I mean, Zayne and Roth enter the scene. By which I mean, Roth does. I admit, I liked Zayne. A lot. Possibly even loved him? For all his flaws, he is a genuinely good guy, and I was glad to see at the end some recognition on his part that the world is not the black and white image that has been painted for him. And certainly he was swoonworthy. I could definitely see his appeal, both as a friend and something more, although again, I had concerns. But then...Roth made his grand entrance and oh, dear god. On all fronts I was made to feel for him. Beyond the basic charm and mischief - which still should not be underestimated in his case - is a quiet pain that comes of being borne of hell and also of his own personal history. And then, as if I wasn't already feeling enough, Armentrout writes in an astonishing ending that not only picks up the pace and leaves you wide-eyed, but also leaves you wondering how it is that authors can be so cruel (although thank goodness for the hope that follows after that).
Needless to say, I was left impressed with White Hot Kiss. My experience with this author has been extremely limited in comparison to many, and even within that I've had my ups and downs. But this was a world that very quickly had my attention, with characters I couldn't help but take notice of, distinctive whatever their character traits. Wardens kept company with Alphas, demons with zombies, and I really must take a moment to acknowledge Bambi, the concept of which I loved and as a character - for she is a character in her own right - who strangely I also loved. This was a treat to read - cake, anyone? - and one I shall certainly be coming back to.