Title: The Demon Catcher
Author: Lesley Hastings
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Fantasy m/m
Length: Novella (78 pdf pages)
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: In this suspenseful fantasy adventure story, monk Euan must learn to trust his own feelings in order to save his world and find his personal happiness.
The Blurb: Brother Euan has always been skeptical about the existence of demons. He may have spent his life in a monastery dedicated to the God Ajen, but that doesn’t mean he has to indulge in superstition. Even the unnatural storm that batters the monastery one night isn’t enough to make Euan believe.
But superstition becomes the least of Euan’s worries when Leon of Tremea arrives at the monastery to investigate the reports of demonic activity. Leon is nothing like the frightened, shame-filled monks, and when Euan is assigned to assist Leon in his work, he finds himself struggling with desires he’d thought firmly under control. After a second demon attack on the monastery—one that not even Euan can explain away—Euan’s beliefs and assumptions about the world are shattered, and with nothing to hold him back, he opens himself to his feelings for Leon. But then Euan discovers that Leon is not all he seems to be…
The Review: Leon, a wayfaring demon – catcher, comes into the remote Anghen monastery which has been recently doomed with demon – infestation in order to clear up the danger. Brother Euan is assigned to help with that task since he, as the monastery’s Sacrist, knows the building best. Although reluctant at first, Euan quickly warms for the stranger who has got around quite a lot and knows the most fascinating tales of exotic places.
Euan has been a monk for as long as he can think. He isn’t exactly unhappy with his life, but sometimes he can’t wonder what it is like out there in the great wide world about which he reads in the books. What’s more, although Euan piously believes in his God and Goddess, keeps the rules and faithfully says his prayers, he isn’t that convinced that demons actually exist. At first, Euan is unsure what to do with Leon, and he’s unsure if Leon has the best interests of the monastery in mind. As they work together, though, Euan finds himself attracted to the stranger in a way he has only experienced once before – and had thought he had overcome since. What’s more, it seems to Euan that the feeling is mutual. Leon threatens to unsettle Euan’s peace of mind in more ways than one, and Euan can’t decide if this should scare him or make him happy.
Euan’s convinctions are turned upside down when he and Leon, while working on the demonsbane, are surprised by the very beings Euan believed didn’t exist, and have to flee. Forced together with Leon in a narrow hiding spot, his beliefs gone topsy-turvy, Euan can no longer resist his need to give in to his attraction to Leon. A few days later, though, Euan stumbles upon Leon in a situation which shatters all his beliefs anew, making Leon appear a traitor. Euan, shaken and furious, acts foolishly, thus bringing a deadly threat over his monastery, his confrères and largely a big part of his world. The danger can be averted, though, but only if Leon and Euan work together. Now Euan must ask himself if he can find trust in Leon again, because trusting Leon means putting his own life and the life of his brothers in Leon’s hands.
This was clearly a plot-driven book. The adventure story was told in an entertaining and gripping way, taking up more room than the romance. Not that the latter was unimportant, though.
I liked both Euan and Leon, which were both well – rounded characters. Euan was sweet in his boyish innocence and book-smart ways. Still, he was capable of thinking his own thoughts and not as gullible as his fellow monks, and he didn’t change his lifelong beliefs and ways on a whim, but thought hard about his decisions. He took his responsibility to the monastery and his faith very seriously. All this made him appear much older than his twenty-one Years and believable as the monastery’s Sacrist. Since the story is told from Euan’s point of view, we don’t get much of Leon’s inner workings, but he comes alive nicely through Euan’s eyes and his own acts. Leon is a very likely person for Euan to fall for, with his exotic beauty, his frankness, his worldly-wise ways and his unusual talents.
The secondary cast wasn’t very elaborate, although some stood out, like strict, embittered Brother Leden or kind, wise Father Brennon.
The worldbuilding was really good, familiar enough so that I found myself immediately at home in the monastery and among the monks with their rules, their habits and sermons, and yet there were enough foreign elements to remind me I was in a fantasy reality. I loved the way in which the author played with familiar religious (christian) symbols and gave them new meaning, like “the cross of Ajen with the circle of Kara” which forms the celtic cros Cheilteach in the title. I also found the concept of time-measurement by prayers very enticing, even more so since this is another ancient concept in many religions.
I had also a few minor niggles, mostly with the writing in itself. The characters’ speech pattern occasionally jumped from modern to ancient and stilted in one sentence, not enough to throw me completely out of the story, but enough to be noticeable. There were also some lengthy narrative passages, although the “showing-not-telling” was mostly avoided, and thus the story flow wasn’t disturbed overly much.
All in all, a gripping, entertaining adventure story with some very original ideas and a sweet, believable love story worked in. Heartily recommended.