I have focused on a couple of paranormal romances that centre on vampires over the last few months and so, for the purpose of today’s post, I’m going to be looking at one that is slightly different. As this review has been written on the basis of an advanced reader copy that I received from NetGalley, please bear in mind while reading this entry that it may not represent the quality of the published novel.
Dante’s Kiss was first published in 2014 and was written by S.L. Nadathur. Although it reads as though it is the first part of a longer series, at the time of writing there has been no word regarding future instalments.
The story focuses on Kiriela, a three-quarter angel who has recently been exiled to earth after her relationship with a fellow angel (Jadiel) sparked a fight with her father. Forced to spend her rehabilitation in Puerto Rico, she chooses to attend school like a human teenager in order to make her new life feel as normal as possible.
She quickly discovers human life to be neither simple nor peaceful. Teenagers within the school are roughly divided into two groups – rockers and reggaetón – and Kiriela (in her human disguise of ‘Krystal’) is quickly accepted into the latter. However, the young angel quickly finds herself drawn to a young rocker called Dante.
Dante is horribly unpopular, frequently picked on by his peers and possessing a deeply negative outlook on life, but Kiriela has been friends with his guardian angel, Malakiy, for years and over that time has nurtured a deep affection for the human. Yet her feelings for Dante attract the jealousy of another. Jadiel has fallen further that Kiriela and accepted a place as one of Satan’s generals. Still determined to win Kiriela, he has made it is mission to deliver Dante’s soul to his master.
Caught in a battle for a human’s soul, Kiriela is forced to make a life altering decision. Does she risk falling further to protect the soul of a human or does she allow Dante’s life to be utterly destroyed?
Dante’s Kiss is a very strange novel, and is certainly not the easiest thing that I have ever had to write about, so I think I will begin by talking a little about what I liked about this story.
As I have noted before, I am not a huge reader of paranormal romance. Generally, I do not really see the appeal in reading about a doomed romance between a human and a supernatural entity. That said, there was something about the synopsis of Dante’s Kiss that sparked my interest. The added layer of a battle between heaven and hell adds tension to the story and helps to give it depth. A weakness that dark romances often have is that the plot is tissue thin and serves more as set dressing for the relationship than being cohesive and engrossing.
The fact that the supernatural being in this tale was the girl also peaked my curiosity. I’m sure that this novel is not unique in this regards but it is the first that I have encountered while working on this blog. It immediately meant that this story had a completely different tone to a novel like Twilight or Vampire Diaries. There is no girl fawning after a brooding (and totally dreamy) creature of the night. The attraction that Kiriela has to Dante is far more sweet and tender, having her initially appearing to him as a kind of guardian spirit that adds a little beauty to his otherwise miserable existence.
The setting of the novel is the other thing I found rather intriguing. My knowledge of Puerto Rico does not stretch much further than what I have gleamed from watching West Side Story and so it was fascinating to read a novel set entirely on the island. Young adult novels that feature characters that are not white are still unfortunately rare and so it made a nice to change to read a novel which contains a cast who are virtually all Hispanic. I enjoy reading about other cultures and so it was interesting to have a little glimpse into a culture I know nothing of and learn a little about the foods they eat, the way they live and the values they hold. If I have learned nothing else from this novel, I now know that reggaetón is actually pretty catchy.
Unfortunately this novel was a disappointment to me on the whole. The story was just too unfocused to truly grab my attention. Although, as I note above, I think the overall purpose of the story was to be a kind of struggle for Dante’s soul but I’m scraping this summary together from a plethora of different plot threads. In the end, the story did not really go anywhere or build to anything. It just kind of happened.
I think part of the problem with this was that the character motivations did not appear to be fixed. It is difficult to talk about the characters in the novel because most of them did not really have any kind of personality. All of the secondary characters in the story kind of blurred together into one forgettable mass – some of them (like Armando and his gang) even seeming important in the beginning but then disappearing for large chunks of the novel. Although Nadathur tried to give them distinguishable traits, these were merely exposited to the reader and so we never got a real impression that the characters felt the way the author wanted us to believe they did. An example of this is Salena, who we are told again and again has constructed a “wall” around herself to protect her from harm. Although this is exposited frequently by the other characters, I never really got a feel for this actually being the case. Salena herself seemed relatively ordinary and held a boyfriend for most of the story. Where exactly was this wall then?
Even the more important characters in the story do not seem to have any clear goals in mind. Jadiel wants Kiriela to be his, that much is clear. However, he goes about this in the vaguest way. Sometimes he is violent and sometimes he is sweet. Sometimes he seems to want to kill Dante while other times he just wants to make him miserable. I get that Jadiel is a demon and therefore prone to being underhanded and malicious, but I really do not get exactly why he goes about this in such a convoluted and erratic manner. Similarly, Malakiy is supposed to be Kiriela’s best friend (though he only appears a couple of times in the story) but in his last appearance he tells Kiriela that her only way to rise again is to allow Jadiel to fall in love with her. Let’s note that this was the action that caused her fall from grace in the first place, so why will that help anything now? I’m not sure if I missed something fundamental here because it does not seem to make any sense to me at all.
The novel also has this dual perspective thing going on, similar to Vampire Diaries but in first person, so that alternate chapters were told from Dante and Kiriela’s point of view. However, unlike Vampire Diaries, this technique was not used very effectively as chapters merely told the same events from the different points of view without really forwarding the development of either character.
Kiriela really remained unchanged throughout the story and I could not really get behind her as a protagonist. It felt as though she was trying to be an altruistic character, throwing away her own happiness to protect Dante, but this really did not come across. In all, she always seemed to be a bit whiny and pathetic, quickly seduced by Jadiel whenever he appeared and completely incapable of defending herself. Her relationship with her father was also very weak as this was a major plot point up until her fall, but then disappeared from the novel altogether. Although Kiriela occasionally insisted that her father still loved her, there was nothing to suggest that this was true at all. After all, he cast her into purgatory and then walked out of the story. Based on this, it doesn’t strike me as though he cares for his daughter at all.
Dante fared slightly better, as he was at least given a back story that cast a light on his motivations. It made sense for him to be so conflicted about his relationships after we learn about how his father treated him and his hurt at the hands of his (very vague) relationship with Gia, however he still is a little too angsty to be sympathetic. Although he hates being judged for being a rocker, he also is very quick to judge absolutely everyone else that he encounters based purely on their appearance. It felt to me as though he really deserved to be treated badly by his peers as he does nothing but look down on them based purely on what music they prefer.
Anyhow, I’m starting to ramble so it’s probably best to wrap up. Although Dante’s Kiss contains some really nice ideas that make it stand out from the other paranormal romance novels, it still is unfortunately a very weak story over all. Its plot has no clear goals and character actions throughout have no rhyme or reason, giving it next to no emotional impact. Although I’m mildly curious to see what direction the plot will go in based on this novel’s very abrupt ending, I don’t recommend this novel on the whole unless you are a particularly big fan of the genre.