City of Gods and Monsters Is Gritty and Sexy (read: Darien Cassel Is Gritty and Sexy)
September 7, 2023
Kayla Edwards brings gripping action and swoon-worthy angst with her first installment in the House of Devils series. City of Gods and Monsters is a gritty, NA urban fantasy romance about a human girl who finds herself at the center of a mythical conspiracy and a sexy bounty hunter’s attention.
What is City of Gods and Monsters about?
Angelthene is full of every monster you could imagine. Witches, warlocks, werewolves, vampires and hellsehers who can use a person’s aura to track them through the city. Among these immortal beings, humans struggle to find their place, often finding themself as prey to the more powerful citizens. And without magic or superhuman strengths, humans are even more vulnerable to the demons infesting the city’s underground and sewer systems.
Loren (“luh-ren”) is your typical girl next door - if she were a human struggling to survive in a city filled with monsters. She was abandoned at a temple when she was a child, and raised by Angelthene military commanders alongside her adoptive sister, Dallas. But unlike Loren, Dallas is a witch, and not in the derogatory sense; she’s a full-blood veneficae, able to channel her magic through a stave in an effort to prevent the Tricking, a magical disease befalling magic users throughout the city. When Loren and Dallas go out for a night on the town, they are attacked by Darkslayers, which are supernatural bounty hunters with the ability to track people through their aura. Their friend is taken, but strangely it seems it wasn’t the half-blood witch they were after. The Darkslayers wanted Loren. And it turn out they weren’t the only Darkslayers on the hunt for the human girl.
An underground, demon-slaying fighter and member of the deadly Darkslaying group, the Seven Devils, takes a job to locate the girl with nothing to go on besides the bone dust of an ancestor, and he finds Loren working at a plant shop in the town’s tourist district. He’s shocked to find she’s a human girl, but per his job description, he doesn’t ask any questions. Until a group of Darkslayers with unrecognizable tattoos tries to take her, and he makes a choice that they may both regret.
Loren and Darien must work together to solve the mystery of her best friend’s disappearance, all while evading rogue Darkslayers chasing the mysteriously high bounty on her head. Their search for answers takes them deep into the magical underground of Angelthene, where they discover buried secrets that put the entire city at risk. What could a city of vicious monsters want with a simple human girl? And why does it seem that Loren is the key to everything? You’ll have to read to find out.
My Review: I adored City of Gods and Monsters.
I originally picked this up at the recommendation of one of my favorite Booktokers, Sam | House of Fables Reviews. Check out her page if you like fantasy romance!
I went into this book hoping for angst, monsters, a sexy book boyfriend and found family. And I have to say, Kayla Edwards has delivered on almost all of that and then some. There are three reasons this story really stands out to me. While it can be hard to stand out in the fantasy romance genre so many great series out there, Edwards’s execution really creates a world that shines as something all its own.
1. Loren and Darien have an instant connection without insta-love.
Though this story would 1000% stand on it’s own without the romance aspect, the relationship between Loren and Darien weaves a rich and emotional thread through the mystery, creating a unique dynamic in their partnership and Loren’s role in mysterious abductions. City of Gods and Monsters strikes a unique balance between popular romance tropes, breaking the mold of standard slow burn romances with immediate, outright attraction and continuously angsty banter.
I’ve never been a fan of insta-love stories because they never feel believable. And like I always say, fiction does not always need to be believable, but the relationship should feel that way. Loren and Darien almost immediately form a connection, between their heated banter and obvious attraction, and neither of them hide it. But regardless of the instant attraction, the romance builds at a very slow burn, especially when you consider the length of the novel, sitting around 760 pages for the ebook. Edwards gives her characters time to get to know each other and develop the necessary building blocks for a real relationship - communication, trust, respect, understanding. And this believability in the romance prevents those cringey moments where sudden declarations of love take you out of the plot, and create mistrust with the characters and their motivations.
I love that we get to watch them dance around their attraction instead of hiding their feelings. It feels mature and innocent all at the same time, and gives us the satisfaction of "what are we doing" instead of "I've actually loved you this whole time, how did you not know?" Pure masterpiece. I ate that shit up with my bare hands just to make sure I didn’t miss a crumb. It’s refreshing to finish a book and fully believe these characters will grow old together, if only the world around them weren’t literally crumbling at the seams. (We’ll come back to that in a bit.)
2. Fast-paced mystery with stunning imagery and well-placed side characters.
Though I’m a lover of all things fantasy and romance, I tend to be critical when an author tries to incorporate too much of both and ends up muddying the waters. Specifically in the fantasy romance genre, there is a tendency to focus on the romance while trying to build a dynamic plot in the background. This can leave readers feeling unsatisfied when too many loose ends are held together with convenient band-aids and rushed conclusions. I think this is why we are seeing an increasing number of titles labeled as romantasy, signaling that the romance will take the driver’s seat in the story, and you should expect less substance from the external world building and action-based plotlines.
Kayla Edwards takes a risk with this story, building a dynamic fantasy city with complex political and societal dynamics, and incorporating a fast-paced mystery that entangles nearly every immortal and human race with different motivations and goals; but the mystery is not overshadowed or muddied by the romance. Throughout the novel, we meet new characters all over the city, each of them playing an important role and consistently pushing the mystery forward, while simultaneously unlocking new pieces of Angelthene lore that make the city feel real. And as the mystery unfolds, and the suspense thickens, we see our main characters grow and learn to work together. Both the external plot and the romance are intrinsically interconnected and beautifully executed.
Darien alone is reason enough to pick up this book. He is quite possibly my favorite book boyfriend ever. I love that he is possessive and protective without being demanding or rude. He teases and pokes, but he’s always conscious of Loren's feelings and wishes. He’s not forceful, but he’s consistent and sure. And most of all, he’s not shy with his feelings about Loren, something that feels very refreshing coming off the enemies-to-lovers spiral.
And when he wipes blood off his rings with a rag, or sits at the dining room table displaying some of his more…sensual powers? Feral. Absolutely feral. And if you’re a fan of the throne scene from A Court of Mist and Fury - this book took that trope, doubled it, and gave it back to us with this masterpiece. I mean … at a club? Sitting at a booth? Chatting casually with your friends as they sit right next to you??? No shame, I’m here for it.
I gave this 4.5/5 stars because I loved the main characters, and I was so invested in the mystery that I had a Google Doc constantly pulled up to jot down my predictions and freak-out moments. The ending scenes had me gasping, sobbing, and smiling almost simultaneously. It was one of the best climactic sequences I've read in recent years, with action and emotion and plot twists all wrapped together in a satisfying finish. And the fact that I finished a 760 page book and still wanted more tells me that Edwards did something right with this one. I’m only 27 books into my reading list this year, but this is sitting firmly at the top.
My only issues with the book have more to do with how some reviewers are marketing it. If you’re looking for enemies-to-lovers, this is not for you. The connection and attraction between Loren and Darien is pretty instant; if anything, I would say it is more reluctant allies to lovers. And though there are some aspects of found family, it nowhere near rivals others like A Court of Thorns and Roses, Six of Crows, or Mistborn. That was one of the main reasons I couldn’t give it a full five stars, because at the end of the novel, I wished we’d spent more time with the other Devils, Dallas, Sabrine and Logan. And with 760 pages to play with, they really should have had more of the spotlight.
If you are looking for an angsty, slow burning, gritty urban fantasy with a mystery to solve and two star-crossed lovers looking for the answers, then this is the book for you.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments!