‘Succubus In The City’ is about as far away from my usual reading material as you can get. It tells the story of Lily, a former princess and priestess of Ishtar in Babylon. 3000 years ago she was made an interesting job offer by Satan. In exchange for an immortal life and beauty, health and wealth, she would become a succubus or sex demon. Lily’s contract with Satan means that she has to pick up three or four men each month and deliver their souls to hell via a very specific fleshy portal. Over the years, she has become very selective in her targets. If a man hits upon her in a sleazy way and fails to satisfy her sexual needs he is hell-bound. To her taking the most vile men out of society means she is improving the lot of mortal women everywhere.
By day, Lily works as the accessories editor for a cutting edge fashion magazine. By night she and her three demonic friends frequent the most fashionable New-York restaurants and night clubs. Hell is presented as a modern organisation with research, security and business departments. These days Satan herself usually manifests as Martha a very slick and beautiful woman. Martha has a soft spot for Lily and her friends and treats them as an immaculately dressed and intimate inner circle of Hell. When a series of organised attacks on Lily bear the hallmarks of The Burning Men, an extreme Christian sect who have been working against Satan for centuries, Satan puts all the resources of hell on the case.
Lily’s demonic life has a specific get out clause. If a human can fall in love with her and resist her sexual charms for a month, she will become human and mortal again. Coincidently, at the same time, the Burning Men begin their attacks Lily seems to have found the man of her dreams. Caring and well dressed, Nathan begins to sweep her off her feet with a perfect series of dates. Why does he keep trying to get her to go out in Brooklyn where no devotee of Manhattan social life would be seen dead, so to speak, and where she knows the Burning Men have their base?
I know more about the asteroid Ceres than fashion. Perhaps it is unfair but I imagine the Venn diagram of SF and fantasy fans and fans of ‘Sex And The City’ and ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ has a very small union. This book is proof that a good story is a good story whatever its subject matter. The descriptions of the minute detail of the fashion industry serves to show the fairly shallow waters these characters swim in. It makes sense that an immortal being would have a finely developed aesthetic sense as something to occupy the time. Such a long existence would almost certainly give you the chance to make a pretty decent living, too.
Lily and the other agents of Hell are presented as senior employees of a large modern company. Satan is an efficient boss with a keen eye for talented workers and Hell is an organisation where tormented souls may be promoted into demons and improve their lot. Lily and her friends give mortals the chance to become damned but the final fall is purely down to the human concerned. The morality of most of the characters is pretty ambiguous but they are mostly sympathetic. The Burning Men are, by Judeo-Christian values, the good guys, but the reader is not rooting for them in any way.
‘Succubus In The City’ is the first book in a series. We will have to wait to find out the resolution to most of the issues raised in this entertaining and energetic book.
Nina Harper’s biography describes her as coming from a family which has been in the fashion industry for fifteen generations. This three hundred year plus history certainly seems impressive, so I am happy to take her word as to what makes a good handbag. Nina Harper is a pseudonym of Shariann Lewitt, a writer of SF fiction including a ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ novel.
Potential readers of this book shouldn’t let the obvious references to the fashion industry put them off reading what is a very well written and entertaining story.
Demons, hell and the Devil are always popular fantasy characters. ‘Succubus In The City’ proves to be an interesting take on these eternally tempting creatures.
(pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 392 paperback. Price: $ 6.99 (US), $ 8.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-49506-8)
check out website: www.delreydigital.com