Tuesday, 13 April 2010
Review: Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda
Fifteen-year-old Billi SanGreal never meant to make history. Dragged at the age of ten into the modern-day Knights Templar by her father, the Grandmaster, Billi's the first girl ever to be a Templar warrior. Her life is a rigorous and brutal round of weapons' practice, demon killing and occult lore – and a lot of bruises. But then temptation is placed in Billi's path – an alternative to her isolated life. But temptation brings consequences. In this case – the tenth plague – the death of all first borns and so Billi must choose her destiny. And as she soon discovers, death isn't even the worst . . .
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to the London launch event of Jon Mayhew's debut novel Mortlock. A friend had told me that another author, Sarwat Chadda, might also be present and a quick look at Amazon suggested that his first novel, Devil's Kiss, was a book I really should have read. And then I forgot all about reading it until that day so I popped in in my bag so I could read some of it on the train. By the time I got to Waterloo I had to force myself to put it down I was enjoying it so much.
Fifteen-year-old Bilqis (known as Billi to pretty much everyone) is the daughter of a white British father and a Pakistani mother. All sounds pretty normal so far. However, Billi's life is anything but normal - her father is the Master of the order of the Knights Templar, and Billi is a Knight in training (and the only female one at that). The books starts with her Ordeal, a rite of passage that all 'trainees' must successfully pass in order to become a squire and move up the next rung of the ladder on the climg towards becoming a full-blown Knight. This Ordeal is a nasty and pretty terrifying episode and certainly gets the story moving with a bang, and the pace doesn't slacken until the very last page, and even then you are left wanting more.
Sarwat Chadda obviously has a great interest for the history and legends surrounding the Templar Knights, but he is also more than happy to play around with these stories to create one of his own. Centuries ago, before falling foul of a paranoid King and a jealous Pope, they were medieval protectors of the Holy Land, and their Order has been mentioned in connection with the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant, or some other powerful holy treasure. Fast-forward to a modern day (but pretty spooky) London and now Mr Chadda has them as protectors of all that is good, and fighting a seemingly never-ending battle against the Unholy.
Perhaps the idea of being an ass-kicking, sword wiedling heroine (or hero) might appeal to some teenagers, but Billi is a reluctant participant in this war. She has been forced into this hard life by her father and his not-so-merry band of Knights, and has none of the luxuries enjoyed by her peers - no friends, no social life, no chilling out after a busy day at school, nothing but a brutal regime of hard physical training in armed and unarmed combat. However, like most teenagers forced into doing things by their elders Billi harbours thoughts of rebellion, thoughts that are further compounded when she meets the mysterious Michael. And this is where things really begin to get nasty for Billi and the rest of the Knights.
Billi's character is devloped well throughout the book; at no point do we question her actions or motivations. Some of the other characters are less well detailed, perhaps deliberately so, as Mr Chadda wants his readers to dislike these Knights, despite their noble cause, and thus generate more sympathy for Billi and her situation. This is especially the case for Billi's father - as a reader I really did begin to strongly dislike him. However, this does mean that we hardly blink as some of these characters come to a sticky end.
Again, like other books I have reviewed such as Hattori Hachi and Heist Society, this book has a female main character, and as such some boys may not pick up this book. However, they would be doing themselves a disservice as this book is fast paced, full of particularly nasty demonic creatures and has many great action scenes. It is also a great book for horror fans - there are some scenes set in a hospital that are particularly disturbing and the author is not worried about scraing his readers. He also builds nicely on the history of the Templar Knights - not too much to make readers lose track of the story but enough that they get a real feel for these 'men' and their mission in life. As for the romance? Boys shouldn't be deterred by this - it is a small part of the plot, and by no means its central theme.
Obviously, with a premise like this it is impossible to avoid drawing parallels with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. However, this is certainly no Buffy rip-off, although fans of the series will really enjoy this book. This is the first in a series featuring Billi and I look forward to seeing what the author delivers in his next book, Dark Goddess, which is due to be published in July of this year. Devil's Kiss finishes on a particularly harrowing note for Billi and I am intrigued to find out where the story will take her next as she "throws herself into the brutal regime of Templar duties with utter abandon". You can find out more about Mr Chadda and his books at this website.