Wandergurl reviewed this book a while back, so I’ve been looking forward to reading it. The previous book in the series, Dark Desires After Dusk, overlaps with this book, and we got a peek of an unusually frazzled Rydstrom who had apparently kidnapped a sorceress, chained her up in his bed against her wishes, and as I recall, sounded like he was intending to do all sorts of naughty things to her. So, yes, I expected all sorts of good things from Kiss of a Demon King. I was happy with how the book ends, and there were some excruciatingly heartbreaking moments when Rydstrom and Sabine reached their emotional crises, but I’ll be honest: I hated the first part of the book.
Rage demon Rydstrom Woede is a king without a castle after his kingdom, Rothkalina, was plundered centuries ago by the demon Omort, the Deathless One—a demon who apparently can’t be killed. Except maybe he can be. Omort’s brother has fashioned a sword guaranteed to kill Omort, and Rydstrom will do anything to get it. As king, Rydstrom is also duty bound to beget an heir, which he can only do when he finds and has sex with his fated mate. In his youth, he’d bedded countless women in an attempt to find the one, but to no avail. That novelty quickly wore off, and now he’s kind of sworn off women until he finds his female (I suppose all that vigorous activity must’ve been exhausting). Plus, his first priority is to get his castle back and restore his kingdom and his people to their rightful home.
Except his fated mate is Sabine, Queen of Illusions and Omort’s half-sister. Sabine has preserved her virginity—“hymenally speaking”—especially for Rydstrom, because it’s been foretold that she’s his female and that their son would unlock the key to the Well of Souls. Or something like that. Honestly, the mythology has become so complicated that I mostly skimmed over the details. Suffice to say, Omort wants their future kid as a sacrifice in exchange for world domination, and Sabine plans to double-cross Omort when the time is right.
Because Omort lusts after Sabine. Her hymenal virginity protects her from his advances, but once Rydstrom does away with that technicality, she’s fair game. And no one says no to Omort. So Sabine’s situation is ever precarious, and she and her sister Lanthe scheme and plan and use subterfuge to protect themselves as much as possible. To prevent them from escaping, Omort has them poisoned, and they must ingest an antidote (or more poison, I can’t remember which) every few weeks or they’ll die slowly and painfully.
Rydstrom, on the other hand, is the poster boy for integrity and selflessness. His sense of duty—and probably guilt—means he’s always put the needs of his kingdom first, and he actually has a reputation as someone who never lies. So it’s ironic that his mate is a sorceress with pretty much no scruples who lies all the time.
Sabine traps Rydstrom and attempts to seduce him. But before she gives it up, she wants his vow, which will bind them and make her his queen. Rydstrom refuses, and what follows is a battle of wills and emotions that tests each of their fundamental beliefs about themselves.
Torture is not romantic
Here lies my main problem with the book. The scenes where Sabine tries to coerce Rydstrom into saying the vow by arousing him sexually and then leaving him unfulfilled weren’t titillating or hot or anything but awful for me. In a sense, Kresley Cole’s writing is actually very good because I was horrified for Rydstrom and I absolutely felt his humiliation and, at times, self-disgust. But mostly I felt his despair and helplessness and rage as his body betrays his mind and reason is overcome by his rage demon instinct. To me, it’s as good as rape, and I cannot find it acceptable.
There are mitigating circumstances, of course. First, Sabine and Rydstrom are paranormal creatures. They’re not bound by human limitations, and they belong to violent cultures where power plays are brutal and often mercenary. But because Sabine starts off already pretty evil, I’m not inclined to give her any sympathy. Her precarious position in Omort’s castle gives her a bit of vulnerability that allows me to feel a little sorry for her, but not enough to feel like her treatment of Rydstrom is justified.
Mind you, I’m pretty sure many readers won’t agree with me and will like these scenes just fine.
Rydstrom and Sabine
Eventually, Rydstrom turns the tables on Sabine, and this is where the story picks up for me. It’s interesting that Rydstrom never really treats her as badly as she does him. I never feel that he truly wants to subdue and humiliate her. And even when Rydstrom does something that I thought comes close to what Sabine did to him, it’s followed by a moment of emotional catharsis and he redeems himself quite beautifully. So Rydstrom is full of win, and I’m happy to read about his super sensitive horns any day.
Once Sabine loses the upper hand, Cole does a much better job of making her a sympathetic character. Still, some of her character development is predictable and seems contrived considering how utterly selfish she was initially. I’m glad, though, that Sabine never becomes stupid or changes her fundamental nature because of her feelings for Rydstrom. We see her channelling her schemes for less selfish reasons, but she never stops scheming.
Another thing I love about her relationship with Rydstrom is that he doesn’t expect her to change for him. He despairs that Fate gave him a completely unsuitable mate, but he never truly expects her to change. What he does is show her the consequences of her actions in the hope that she’ll develop some empathy and make better choices.
One thing that did jar me, though, was the pseudo-pyschology over Rydstrom wanting someone who isn’t sexually submissive. I don’t feel it adds anything to the story, and in fact it just seems tacked on so we’d understand why Rydstrom is attracted to Sabine. You know what? Sabine is hot, she’s seductive, and it’s pretty freaking easy to figure out why he’d be turned on by her. The fact that Rydstrom assumed his mate would be submissive sounds fairly silly to me. Centuries as an immortal, and he hadn’t already figured it out?
And all the bits I love about this series
The plot of this book is relatively dark, but Cole manages to inject the kind of humour and sarcasm that make her stories so enjoyable. Yes, sometimes the snarky talk is a bit out of place, but it’s usually either so funny or so enjoyably mean that I can’t begrudge her those one-liners.
For two days, his female had free run of the camp, wreaking utter havoc.
The once reviled sorceress could do no wrong in the eyes of the demons here—and she was taking full advantage of that fact.
When a group of young females had asked her what one should name her horse, she’d answered, “I like the sound of Fellatio.”
It’s pretty juvenile, but it still cracks me up. I love her spoonerisms: “Suck off, fister!” and, of course, “Nucking Futs Nix”. And yes, Nix makes an appearance and is her usual vague, chaotic, adorable self.
If nothing else, Cole has consistently written strong romances for this series, and at book 6, she hasn’t lost her touch. I don’t think the previous books are essential to enjoying Kiss of a Demon King—in truth, the external plot isn’t the strongest part of the book—but the backstory can get a little convoluted and if you’re new to the series, you might miss a few minor details.
Yay or nay?
The emotional climax between Sabine and Rydstrom is beautifully done, and I alternately felt dread, despair, hope and, finally, satisfaction. Really, romance doesn’t get any better than that. But it was a struggle for me to reach that point, and I wish Sabine had been a more emotionally vulnerable character from the beginning. Click here for an excerpt (NSFW).
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