White Hot Kiss
by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre: YA Paranormal
Series: The Dark Elements #1
Source: Won an ARC from Two Chicks on Books. Thank you!
One kiss could be the last
Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she’s anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses.
Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she’s crushed on since forever.
Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she’s not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn’t an issue, considering Roth has no soul.
But when Layla discovers she’s the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.
So yes, the cover and title are pretty bad. I actually had zero interest in this one when I first heard about it, because from the title and cover I assumed it was New Adult Contemporary Romance, which is definitely not my thing. But then I won an ARC from the awesome and generous Two Chicks on Books. It was in a mystery box, so I picked it up and read the description. With that cover, I was still worried it might be mostly
sleaze romance, and not so much paranormal, but since it was written by the highly regarded Jennifer L. Armentrout, I tried the first page.
And was of course hooked. The main character’s voice reminded me a bit of Rose from Vampire Academy (another series whose covers and titles don’t remotely live up to the story). Now don’t get me wrong, I love romance. I find it much easier to become invested in a story that has it. I can’t get invested in is a story that is basically all sexual tension and zero emotion. Likewise I’ve never been very interested in Contemporary Romance, because the emotional stakes always seem so much higher when I get to watch the two lovers overcome the supernatural crazy. And this book definitely had supernatural crazy to overcome. Because of her half-demon blood, Layla can’t kiss anyone with a soul, for fear that she would suck it right out. She grapples constantly with a gnawing hunger she can only keep at bay with heavy sugar intake. She’s been taught to hate her demon blood, and to know that because of it she can never be more than half-warden (gargoyle) Most painfully, she can’t marry and give birth to more wardens, because of her tainted blood.
When she meets Roth, a “soulless” demon who she can (and wants to) kiss, she’s tempted. But she’s grown up believing all demons are evil, even the demon part of herself. But what she thinks is just a physical attraction to the kind of relationship she never thought she could have, eventually grows deeper and more complex as the two are forced to work together and trust each other. There was a bit of a love triangle, involving Layla’s best friend/adoptive warden brother Zayne, but it was a sensible one, and I can guess where it’s going (or at least where it better be going).
I worried that the Christian mythology would be too black and white, but the issues of good and evil, innocence and darkness, family and belonging were quite complex and well-explored. Having a soul, even a “pure” one, did not necessarily make you better than a “soulless” demon, much to Layla’s surprise.
There was just enough high school interaction to ground the story, but thankfully it was free of the typical silly drama that sometimes serves as filler. Layla’s two human friends were entertaining and it actually felt like they added to the story, and even progressed the plot at times. And the plot certainly kept me guessing, just the way I like. Some mysteries were left unresolved, but since this is the first in a series (yay!), I’m not worried. 🙂