The setting is modern-day Salem, Massachusetts the New England coastal town famous for its witch trials of 1692. For centuries Salem has been trying to erase the horrible images of its past of witch hunting and twenty-first century Salem is nothing like the town immortalized in Arthur Miller’s “Crucible.” In a complete turnaround, the town began welcoming all witches, and today, one in four Salem residents either claims to be, or to know, a witch. There are other beings that have also made Salem their home – demons, angels, vampires and were creatures. Most of Salem’s residents both earthly and otherworldly try to live as peaceably as possible with one another. But dark forces hover and they are not always found amongst the seemingly obvious.
The StarCrossed Series by co-authors Reno MacLeod and Jaye Valentine currently consists of three main books – Demon Tailz (Book 1), Opposite Ends of the Spectrum (Book 2), Objects in the Mirror (Book 3); and two short stories – Sangria and Seraphim (Book 2.5) and Angel Tears (Book 3.5).
This series is an extremely well-written, dark, homoerotic modern day tale that I believe forges a unique path and stands heads above other books and series that strive for equal footing, whether within the realm of erotic horror or paranormal romance or urban fantasy. On the surface the authors have created a world where demons, angels, vampires, witches and other beings live and interact amongst humans. But, there is much more to this series than simply a focus on homo-eroticism or literary gay porn. In the true tradition of the horror story and through some ingenious and solid world building, a compelling over-arching story and characters that intrigue the series both examines and challenges moral and religious notions of good and evil and has social and political undercurrents running through it that speak to more sobering issues, such as, the influence of religion on society’s treatment of those who are Other – those who are different.
In Demon Tailz we meet Jace Barton, a demon who, along with his twin brother lover and life partner Konner owns Demon Tailz, a popular Salem pub. On Hallows Eve, Demon Tailz is hopping with patrons warming up for the climax of Halloween festivities. Cash Rowan a demon hunter enters the pub as Jace is preparing to close for the night. Cash is in desperate search of something that only Jace can give him, the implications of which are for all of eternity.
Demon Tailz is the introduction to this brilliant series and to Jace, a central and recurring character who is the epitome of both hero and anti-hero and who serves as both instigator and conduit through which the concepts of good and evil are explored and challenged in this and other books throughout the series thus far. Book 1 opens the door to StarCrossed Salem by introducing the reader to the inherent nature of Jace’s type of demon (there are several types of demons) within this world and begins the world building itself.
Demon Tailz was quite theatrical for me in that it read like a two-act play with an epilogue. I attribute this to the physical setting of the story – the “Demon Tailz” pub (Act I) and Jace and Konnor’s apartment (Act II) and the intensely written and well-nuanced pas-de-deux between Jace and Cash, which accounts for almost the entire story.
Through their writing the authors create quite a potent chemistry between these two characters and with much tension, sexual and otherwise. The dialogue itself is extremely well crafted, intelligent and clever and despite its darkness, the book embodies elements of the satirical through sarcasm owing to some very wry and witty verbal exchanges between the two.
As the introductory book, Demon Tailz sets an excellent pace for the rest of the series.
StarCrossed 2: Opposite Ends of the Spectrum
Opposite Ends of the Spectrum offers up two new and recurring characters in the StarCrossed community. Incubus Dekin Swain is kidnapped by a travelling carnival freak show and is caged beside a fellow freak, Kelly – the Scarlet Angel who bestows blessings. While their contrasting natures make them mortal enemies, they are forced to put aside their differences and band together in order to escape their cruel captors. Their ordeal binds them to one another and they fall in love.
We follow Dekin and Kelly’s story over the span of a decade and learn that as unnatural as it is for a demon and angel to come together as lovers and life partners, they are both willing to test and compromise aspects of their innate natures and appetites in order to stay together. However, over the years these sacrifices begin to take an emotional and physical toll, in particular on Kelly, and something must be done, because while life together is not, nor will it ever be easy, the alternative – a life apart – would be unbearable.
In Book 2 the authors begin to give us insight into the nature of angels in the StarCrossed world (yes as with demons there are several types of angels) and the contrasting natures of demons and angels. I found Opposite Ends of the Spectrum to be a psychologically seductive read on several counts.
First, the writing – whether in reference to the prose, narrative or dialogue – is utterly captivating and entrancing. I was riveted and felt as if I myself had been bewitched while reading Dekin and Kelly’s story.
Second, the characterization of Dekin and Kelly and their contrasting natures. As an incubus feeding on the life force of others, sex keeps Dekin alive. By nature he is voracious in his sexual hunger and appetites and none too concerned with the comfort of his subjects of lust. In fact, the more fearful they are, the bigger and better the turn-on. This juxtaposed with the angel Kelly’s sublime ethereal essence, modesty, self-sacrificing and pure nature makes for quite a seductive cocktail. What equally stood out for me was the theme of the sexuality of angels. Popular beliefs stemming from Christianity (and other religions) tell us that angels are not sexual beings. But in the StarCrossed world the sexuality of angels is a recurring theme beginning with Kelly’s conflict over his fears of falling, of loosing his wings, because of his sexual relationship with Dekin.
Third, it is in Opposite Ends of the Spectrum that we begin to see what I think is the genius of the MacLeod-Valentine writing collaboration in respect of this series – their unique treatment of the concepts of good and evil. This series is indeed dark and MacLeod and Valentine do not hold back in terms of their characterization of demons and their violent, manipulative and tempting natures nor do they hold back in their characterization of the contrasting natures of demons and angels. While the authors use some basic and common religious notions to carve out and frame the essential attributes of demons and angels they do so without judgment. Meaning, they do not apply a moral or religious lens through which they present the demon character of Dekin and the angel character of Kelly. Demons and angels are as much a part of the organic order of the StarCrossed world as are humans and in this sense their instincts and actions are natural and are presented as such throughout the series. The thread of irony that runs through Opposite Ends of the Spectrum and indeed throughout the entire series thus far is that the most sadistic, violent and “evil” of acts committed in the StarCrossed world are usually at the hands of humans.
StarCrossed 2.5: Sangria and Seraphim
In Sangria and Seraphim we meet Ariel, an angel of protection. In this short story Ariel is on a quest to live out his sexual fantasies and seeks out Jace as the demon to help him. Much to Ariel’s surprise both Jace and his brother Konnor come to his assistance.
Through the introduction of the angel Ariel we are given further insight into one of the recurring themes of this series – the sexuality of angels. We first deal with this issue through Kelly and Dekin’s story, but it is further explored in Sangria and Seraphim where once again MacLeod and Valentine challenge the popularly accepted religious ideal of the asexual angel.
Ariel is different from Kelly in that he is more certain of what he wants sexually and doesn’t appear as afraid of his sexuality or of falling. By all accounts the coming together of Ariel, Jace and Konnor provides for some scorching sex and Ariel is a character of much interest that I hope the authors further explore in future books.
StarCrossed 3: Objects in the Mirror
Objects in the Mirror is set in both the past and present. The book starts some twenty years in the past where we learn of Jace and Konnor’s beginnings. Of how they were born in captivity of a demon mother who died during childbirth and were left alone to fend for themselves and the horrors they endured at the hands of their religiously fanatical and cruel human captors. Jace and Konnor do escape and are found by Gennady Zaitsev, a vampire, who adopts them and raises them alongside his biological son Jericho, providing Jace and Konnor with the only family they’ve ever known. The book then takes us into the present. Without giving too much away, Jace is kidnapped and framed for a series of brutal and heinous murders that he did not commit and the Salem Special Council is convened to investigate, rescue Jace and help him prove his innocence. In Objects in the Mirror both Jace and Konnor come full circle with their past.
Objects in the Mirror is the longest of the StarCrossed books, the most expansive in terms of story arc, character introduction and development, world building and by virtue of the central plot the most violent of the books.
The characters of Jace and Konnor are more deeply explored and developed through both their ordeal as demon children, as well as Jace’s ordeal to save himself and clear his name. We also learn much more about Konnor, who until now has figured less prominent. We gain important insight into the dynamics of Jace and Konnor’s relationship. While Jace is the alpha in the relationship there is no question of Jace’s love of and devotion to Konnor. Yet despite Jace’s dominance, we glimpse Konnor’s quiet strength in Objects in the Mirror. There is much more to Konnor than meets the eye and hopefully we’ll get to know him better in future books.
Finally, it is in Book 3 that we are introduced to a host of extremely intriguing characters that are part of the StarCrossed community some of whom will likely be the focus of future books in the series. In Objects in the Mirror we meet Jace and Konnor’s loyal and devoted father Gennady Zaitsev (a vampire) and his beloved partner Fallon (a werefox), as well as Gennady’s other son Jericho (a vampire). We also meet members of the Salem Special Council formed to keep the balance among the forces residing in Salem and to deal with situations as they arise. With Gennady as its President, the Council consists of twelve members, and includes: Samantha (Sam) Wright a human police detective in charge of Jace’s case; the angel Sariel who along with Jericho helps Samantha to investigate the murders and rescue Jace; Rhett London (a werewolf); Logan Darcy (a vampire); Fiona (a demon); Dekin Swain (the incubus demon we meet in Book 2); Dr. Henry Sherman (a human); Keegan Sinclair (a witch); and Hallie Devonte (a witch).
The story in Objects in the Mirror is fast-paced and riveting alternating between past and present and within the context of the murder plot, between Jace’s ordeal after being summonsed by an evil force from his past and the efforts of his family, friends and the Salem Council to rescue him and solve the case. There is also a very interesting secondary story in Objects in the Mirror involving Samantha, Jericho and Sariel, and this, in addition to the introduction of some intriguing new characters foreshadows some of the stories that will likely come in future books. While the resolution of the murder case was a little too predictable, nonetheless it does not detract from the journey the authors take us on with plenty of twists and turn along the way.
Angel Tears is a deleted scene from Objects in the Mirror that was excluded because the authors felt it would have slowed the pace of the story. It features the character of angel Sariel whom we first meet and figures prominent in Book 3.
Although I am not altogether convinced that this scene would have indeed slowed the pace of Objects in the Mirror, nonetheless, this short story stands on its own, and I personally loved it because we learn much more about Sariel a character for whom I have developed quite an affinity. It is difficult to provide a summary of Angel Tears without giving away the story, but suffice it to say that it is important in respect of character development and what we learn about Sariel foreshadows events to come in future books.
Conceptually speaking this series is an original, unique and cuts its own path. While the series is characterized as erotic horror, in terms of substance, it brings together and blends elements of the classic (gothic) and modern horror story, paranormal romance, erotica, the suspense/thriller and urban fantasy. And as a result of some wry and witty dialogue the series is also interspersed with touches of the satirical through sarcasm.
What strongly resonated with me is the authors’ treatment of the concepts of good and evil throughout the series – whether it is within the context of examining the innate instincts of demons, their violence and sexual appetites, the qualities of purity and goodness of angels, the contrasting natures of demons and angels, or the concepts of good and evil as they apply to the actions and interactions of humans and supernatural beings in the StarCrossed world. The authors have gone to great lengths and have done their homework to ensure the authenticity of the inherent essence and nature of angels and demons. In so far as their treatment of these supernatural beings, their instincts and actions they are presented without judgment and portrayed as being part of the natural order of the StarCrossed world. There is much irony in the world that MacLeod and Valentine have created in respect of good and evil in that the instances of true evil are perpetrated by the humans in the StarCrossed world and done so in the name of morality and religion.
The StarCrossed series is very much in keeping with the literary tradition of good horror fiction that pits morality and religion against the supernatural as a premise to examine and challenge society’s conventional beliefs and what society deems as proper and acceptable behaviour. In this sense, the series serves as a metaphor for how our real world, a world that as a result of centuries of religious influence, fears, vilifies and seeks to punish differences, whether these differences manifest themselves in our physical make-up, our sexuality, or our beliefs and way of life. This, in my humble opinion, is at the heart of the StarCrossed tale and both the genius and strength of this series.
I am a lover of horror fiction and because of this I am forever leery of paranormal romance and erotic horror where often enough the stories are contrived, formulaic and predictable. No such worries with the StarCrossed series, because it is not like the regular fare out there. It is extremely well written, intelligent, highly erotic, raw, gritty, violent by degrees, and pushes all sorts of buttons and boundaries.
With stellar writing both in terms of narration and dialogue, methodical and solid world building, characters that intrigue, seduce and make you think, plots that twist and turn and themes and subtleties that run far deeper than merely the erotic I could go on and on about this series. But I’ll stop here and simply encourage you all to read the series for yourselves.
I understand that Book 4 in the StarCrossed series is already in the works. I am extremely eager to read what MacLeod and Valentine have in store for us next.
StarCrossed: Demon Tailz (Book 1), Opposite Ends of the Spectrum (Book 2), Sangria and Seraphim (Book 2.5) and Objects in the Mirror (Book 3) are available at Smashwords and Barnes and Noble.
Music: In The Blood – Robbie Robertson (Contact From The Underworld of Redboy, 1998)