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Hell's Belles

by Jackie Kessler

(Zebra Books, $15.00, 320 pages, paperback, January 2007; ISBN: 0821781022/978-0821781029.)

Review by Martin Owton

cover scanHell's Belles is the debut novel of NY author Jackie Kessler. With a striking red cover, it is marketed as a paranormal romance - currently the hottest corner of the SF/F market.

The central character is Jezebel, a succubus on the run from Hell. As a succubus her role was the seduction of sinners and the removal of their souls during sexual congress. Jezebel was good at her job and put her soul into it (except she hasn't got one) to the extent that she developed feelings for her victims (though presumably only those good in bed). Following a corporate refocusing, Jezebel is downgraded to a nightmare operative so she quits. However, you don't just walk out on Hell and she is pursued by all manner of nasties. With the aid of Caitlin, a witch, she takes refuge on the mortal plane posing as a human. She flees to New York and on the train she meets Paul, who is destined to be the love interest. When she arrives in NewYork, Jezebel takes a job as an exotic dancer in an upmarket Gentleman's club. Teasing and seducing men is second nature to a former succubus and it seems that she is well set, but Hell hasn't forgotten her. A couple of old friends (yes, even demons have friends) drop by to warn her that the King of Hell himself is taking a personal interest in her case, then the bad guys show up and it gets messy.

Essentially then these are the sexy adventures of Jezebel in New York, stripping for gentlemen and hiding from demons. It's light and it's fun; Jezebel has a good line in dark humour and a nuclear-powered libido. The sex scenes are smoothly done and not jarring. The scenes set in Hell are interesting and well set up, though I'm unclear about the theological justification for separating Lucifer and the Devil. Everything bounces along at a good pace and Ms Kessler writes with admirable clarity.

A flawless debut then? Not quite, there are weaknesses. Paul, the love interest, doesn't really rise off the page as a character and it is an enormous, and unexplained, coincidence that he is the first person Jezebel runs into, when he was her last assignment as a nightmare. The identity of the new CEO of Hell is withheld from the reader for a long time for no obvious reason and we never find out how Jezebel knew Caitlin. These are minor; my main difficulty is Jezebel's role in the story. She makes the choice to quit Hell and after that she is at the mercy of events, running without a plan. This, I'm afraid, diminishes my involvement with her. I prefer my protagonists to protag.

I would not want to be too critical. Hell's Belles is a fun read and a promising debut. I'll be interested to see what Ms Kessler and Jezebel do next.

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