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The Devil's Playground (Morgan Kingsley Exorcist Series) Paperback – March 23, 2010
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Predictable plot, and Black has done much better work in this genre. She goes way overboard on soft porn(?) in the whole series.
I'm not quite sure what to make of Jenna Black as an author. Her narrative is smooth, the mechanics of her writing are excellent, and her imagination is impressive, but there are so many very perplexing things about this book in particular and the series in general. Where I criticized Speak of the Devil for containing NOTHING of any consequence concerning the overall series arc of the Lugh/Dougal conflict, I'm still left feeling slightly agog that the pendulum swept so far in the other direction here. The Devil's Playground is almost EXCLUSIVELY about the Lugh/Dougal conflict. Heck, maybe that's why Morgan didn't annoy me as much, because with everything going on about the impending Lugh/Dougal showdown, there just wasn't time for Morgan to focus on Morgan to the degree she's done in the past. To put it bluntly, this book just wasn't about her (though the parts that were...especially the Morgan/Brian/Lugh troubles...I found to be a bit unsettling).
The published book description for The Devil's Playground is misleading. Yes, Lugh moans while Brian and Morgan are commencing an intimate moment - but not because he wants to share Morgan...in fact, it's because he's enjoying sharing Brian WITH Morgan. And in classic Lugh style, he's decided it's time Morgan tells Brian that. Lugh's sort of like a twisted Dr. Phil sometimes. Not surprisingly, Brian is a little disturbed by the knowledge that Lugh wants him, and he can't immediately reconcile that when he's with Morgan, he's also with Lugh, and that will always be the case. Relationship drama ensues due to that.
Also in the book description, it mentions that Shae, illegal demon and owner of the Seven Deadlies demon sex club, enlists Morgan's help heading off a crisis. No. Actually, Shae, annoyed at being ordered around by some big bad demon, goes to Morgan to sell some information about an unusual influx of demons in her club. Demons in bodies that look a little too hard-ridden and used up. Like perhaps demons were taking over the bodies of the fringe of society - junkies, prostitutes, and homeless. And if that's the case, Morgan knows Dougal has got to be somehow involved.
The majority of the book from that point on is about Lugh's council trying to find out what's going on. There's a lot of talking. A LOT of talking. The council talks (and argues) to each other, the council talks with suspects (but that's not all they do with THEM), the council talks with potential allies...
There's A LOT of talking. By the middle of the book all that talking had dragged down the flow of the story to such a degree I was quite painfully bored and almost completely apathetic about the whole thing. And there was still more talking. What little action that was peppered through the book didn't alleviate my boredom, though I will say, there WERE several scenes in there that I DID like (one in particular between Morgan and Lugh). And that's one of the things that is so frustrating about Jenna Black and this series. There are moments that just flat out work for me, that I think are valuable plot progression and interesting development...and a LOT of stuff that doesn't. That very inconsistency has been one of the few consistent aspects about the series as a whole.
Looking back on the last two books in the series, I would have preferred the plots have been more intertwined - giving a far more balanced story for each book that included Morgan's life going to hell AND the progression of the Lugh/Dougal arc. Also, Black's penchant for repetition is back in this book. In the last book it was Morgan saying over an over again just how bad a liar she was, in this one it was the 'hate/don't trust/don't believe Raphael' banner that got the most waves. All through the book that's mentioned over and over again. I know Raphael's been a bad boy in the past, but after awhile, I felt the pointed and repetitive smears to be pitiable.
Black's book isn't consistent and neither is the series. That's not to say some parts weren't awesome, because I admit, some were. The reason I didn't rate this book two stars, in fact, was the last twenty percent of the story. Not to give away any spoilers, but when the time came that all the talking was done, the story progressed rapidly and it was well written from that point through to the end (not including the epilogue). That final 20% or so is what prompted me to liking it just enough for the three stars.
Now, about that epilogue... I don't know if the series is over. Is this the final installment of the Morgan Kingsley, Exorcist series? When I finished The Devil's Playground I went to the author's website to see if I could find that answer, because it was very much written like it was, but I couldn't find anything. There are unresolved issues, but it appears that the overall arc between Lugh and his usurper brother Dougal is finally concluded. The anemic and slightly odd wrap up in the epilogue with those unresolved, not even truly addressed issues, though, made what closure there was feel more than hollow.
Honestly, I don't know if I would continue with Morgan and crew if there are more books in the works. I just haven't been satisfied with the world or the characters enough to enjoy hanging out with them any longer. I never DID feel like the demons were all that well conceived, as it's ALWAYS squigged me out that humans have willfully (sometimes against their will) subverted their lives to give a demon a body, and Black never quite gave her demons enough soul and heart to really make me okay with that. In that, I felt much like Morgan herself did. Demons take people's...lives - even if they're given voluntarily. And the demons of Lugh's council just aren't really all that nice, either. Lugh, perhaps, was the most honorable of them all and even HE wasn't someone I'd want to spend any significant time with. Adam and Raphael were just flat out scary individuals, and no matter how much I liked them, they were never NOT scary individuals. Ultimately, that's the core of why this series as a whole isn't a favorite of mine. If you don't necessarily like the good guys...and you surely loathe the bad guys...what's left?
A series full of sound and fury...signifying nothing.
The basis for my review is pure entertainment factor alone. At last the Morgan Kingsley's journey has come to an end. IMO this was the best of book in the series. Morgan had such a huge transformation in this installment. She's gone from pig headed and irritating to only marginally annoying. I'm really going to miss Lou, he was a class act unlike Brian who was just as annoying as Morgan. I've always loved the creativity and originality of this series and overall, I am very pleased that the series ended on a high-note, instead of going on forever. If Jenna black were to release more Morgan Kingsley books in the future, I would definitely read them.
I also recommend:
The Iron Hunt (Hunter Kiss, Book 1)
Witch Craft (Nocturne City, Book 4)
The Scent of Shadows (Sign of the Zodiac, Book 1)
Black Magic Sanction (Rachel Morgan, Book 8)
While I felt the last book was treading-water and not advancing the overall plot of dealing with Dugal's usurpation of the demon throne, this book advanced that plot in spades but without being compelling.
I guess the cover was my first indication. Normally a publisher likes to have similar covers for all the books in a series so that the readers will say "Oh yeah.." when they see one even if they have forgotten the author's name (which I do all the time..). That was the case for the first three books in this series, but this, the final book, goes in a completely different direction. The same goes for some of the series elements. It feels as though Black finally got feedback from the first book and was told: "Cut out all the gay S&M stuff! In fact, tone down all the kinky stuff!". This is done with finality early on in the book by killing off a certain ongoing character. There is also no trace of the mild kinkiness between Morgan & Brian which closed the last book. About all that is left of that is Lugh's desire to live in a ghostly menage-a-trois with Morgan and Brian.
So, after toning down the series atmospherics, how was the plot? Well, not good I'm afraid. It was as though Black wanted to close out this series and move on to something else, so she brought on a confrontation that seems very forced.
SPOILERS START HERE YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Furthermore, she made the unusual and very unsatisfying choice to have the whole climax of the series entirely pass Morgan by. This is the kind of thing that happens in real life -- events rarely unfold as planned, but in fiction, for it to be satisfying the hero really needs to be involved in the story. In this case Morgan/Lugh is/are fighting traffic as the fate of two worlds is being decided and arrive only in time to watch it unfold as spectators. This was a wholly unsatisfying conclusion and was arrived at after a lot of unsatisfying prelude.
The series is not really "action adventure", but up until that conclusion, this installment was a bit talk-fest with council-meeting after council-meeting, leading up to the clever plan of "well, hell, let's brawl it out!".
And what did Morgan do in all of this? Well, she made a lot of coffee. In fact every other page she was making coffee. If she was feeling really emotional, she might drop the coffee grounds on the counter. Aside from that? Well, she went into dangerous situations without having her taser ready, and she fretted a lot about being attracted to both Brian & Lugh. She also came to the conclusion that her life had been a tragic mess until she was possessed by Lugh and taught meaningful life lessons. And you know something? I believe that about *this book's* Morgan. I sure don't believe it about the kick-butt exorcist we were introduced to in book one.
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