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Barred Souls (Pandemonium) (Volume 1) Paperback – February 10, 2017
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The book opens with The Cobbler's Soleless Son, a fun little short story that introduces us to the Pandemonium universe, its humans, and its cubants. What are cubants, you ask? They are sex-demons, male incubi, female succubi, and (most delightfully) gender-fluid intercubi. This opening story - a prologue to the series, if you will - is about the passions between the races, with Renart Walker looking to land himself a demon - and not just any demon, but Prince Hrahez. It is a clever little fairy tale, full of magic, riddles, and foot fetishes. Lighthearted and happy, it sets the stage for what comes next.
The book that follows, Behind Bars, is a full-length novella that builds on the opening story, but which is so much deeper, and so much more significant. Having introduced us to a city where humans and cubants live in an erotic sort of peace, this story takes us to a human town where a brutal Inquisition exists to root out the demons and their sympathizers. It is a story that does some wonderful things with fear and prejudice, exploring where they come from and how they can rot a society from within. Less a fairy tale and more a serious piece of paranormal fiction, it is peopled with wonderful characters, sparkling dialogue, and glorious moments of magic. It is connected to that first story through a cubant named Tarigan, who comes to town in disguise, ultimately forcing Pelerin to confront the legacy of fear and hatred built up in his heart by the death of his wife at the hands of an aluga demon. His son, Bruant, is something of an enigma, but once the cat arrives, things start to get interesting.
I am leery of saying too much about the story of Barred Souls, because there are so many little things to discover that really should remain surprises. Suffice to say, the idea of gender-fluid sex-demons is not just a kinky bit of window dressing, but an integral part of the story. Katz weaves a deeply emotional tale, one that will make you happy, angry, and fearful in equal measure. She makes you care about these characters, elevating their passions to something that is both sorrowful and romantic. I came away from it entirely satisfied, yet wanting more. Fortunately, there is already a third story available in Hair to the Throne, and hopefully more to come.