Genre: fantasy: alternate history / low fantasy / steampunk (blends the three)
Queer Representation: cis lesbian, cis bisexual/pansexual (not defined)
Demons power steam engines, occasionally get out of control, and rampage around killing humans. Witch Stella Ochoa and the Hellfighters are on the job, although a certain demon seems to have it out for Stella, personally. Stella, meanwhile, can’t quite seem to sort out her love life between her dead husband and prostitute/lover Karie. There’s a lot of dialogue and period scenery described, and that’s pretty much the book.
Okay, here’s the deal. While I didn’t dislike this book, it also failed to grab my attention. The premise is neat and there’s some great tension between Karie and Stella, but in the end I felt like the tension kept snapping every time we got an extended dialogue and/or description of the city. There’s a lot of over-description for a relatively short and plot-light book, although I will say for those who enjoy the nitty-gritty of how does it work in the magical steampunk subgenera, this may be right up your alley.
On the surface, interning a loose demon is simplicity itself–tease it back to where it doesn’t want to go and then imprison it. Two witches take turns baiting the fiend with mild damage spells, getting it to chase them. Three others block the demon’s view and access to anything but its tormenters. The last witch heals any of our team who is damaged in the process. In the end, he is also often the one that seals the beast in place. But for all of that, every hellfighter has to be on their toes as something always goes wrong.
And there are fun little nuggets of real life humor embedded between all the slice-of-life moments.
“So, how do I make this work, Henry?”
“First, we put this belt around your chest,” he says, lifting a belt from beside me.
“My apologies again. I hadn’t considered women when I put it in. It buckles through the loop on the other side.”
I eye the leather belt. The height puts it right across my breasts. “Are you sure this is necessary?”
“Quite, Stella. It is essential if there are any sudden stops.”
Ahh, the joys of seatbelts and breasts.
Stella is an interesting protagonist, who doesn’t get to do a whole lot of protagging. She does have some excellent internal monologues every so often, however,
I oft wonder if I would have made Aaron a good wife. We’d only been married for a scant few months, and only weeks of that together. My cooking manages not to poison, but nothing better. Cleaning doesn’t come naturally. I can barely throw a stitch. And I dress only well enough not to be stoned by other Catholics. My only natural talents seem to be sarcastic, witchcraft, and sex.
The relationship between Stella and Karie may leave some sapphic readers unsatisfied, as there doesn’t seem to be resolution on Stella’s side (Karie is delightfully polyamorous).
In the end, if you love world building for world building’s sake and a lot of period-appropriate talk and and humor, you’ll like find yourself at home in OF DEMONDS AND COAL. If faster pacing and plot movement is your preferred MO, better to look elsewhere.
Trap a demon and maybe kiss a lady of the night by buying the book here.