Review: The Demon in Business Class, by Anthony Dobranski
*This review is for the eARC version of the book*
Full disclosure: I know the author through an extended group of writers we both belong to. When he approached me to ask for an ARC review, he pitched his book as "a modern day hybrid fantasy set around the world -- a demon-possessed spy trying to start the next global war falls in love with the psychic trying to stop it." I was instantly intrigued, of course.
The Demon is Business Class is not an easy book to categorize, but I mean that in a good way. Anthony Dobranski's debut is written in an assured hand, full of achingly vivid description that never bogs down thanks to clipped, stylized prose that reminded me a little of Elmore Leonard updated for the 21st Century. Genre-wise, the book combines a war between angels and demons as played out across a tale of globe-hopping corporate espionage and nation-state manipulation. But in truth this book is a character piece, telling a Romeo and Juliet story of star-crossed lovers set against the backdrop of a decaying world, each on one side of the growing conflict.
Zarabeth and Gabriel (no points for guessing which is on the side of the angels) are spectacularly broken characters. For those who like a little paranormal in their romance, she is, as promised, possessed by a language demon, and he is a psychic by way of smell (and I just want to pause and point out that I've never read a book with better smell descriptions). Theirs is a thoroughly modern take on the classic love story. The book is unafraid to let the characters and their ever-crossing paths breathe, though this sometimes comes at the expense of the book's pacing. But I was impressed by the confidence the author showed in allowing such a honest-feeling relationship, as full of warts as the characters, to dominate the story. Fair warning to readers that the book contains numerous explicit love scenes.
A pair of major secondary characters provide occasional POV interludes and, along with Gabriel's and Zarabeth's sometimes-antagonist bosses, add a great deal of seasoning to the multicultural stew the book cooks. This is all the better given that I felt the book's tertiary characters were a bit too numerous and underdeveloped, which made them difficult to keep track of at times.
For those who love to travel, this book is for you. The story covers approximately a dozen widely varying settings all around the world, and the author has either traveled extensively himself or done acres of research to get the details and the feel of the place right, or at the very least believable! No two settings feel alike, and the travel aspect of the story was something that kept drawing me in deeper. If you are in the mood for a cookie-cutter story set squarely in the realm of familiar genre, steer clear. But if you're looking for something a bit different than what you've read before, a read you can savor, give this one a try.