A Note on My Plan for Reading The Descentverse Series:
Late 2019 I read Drawing Dead, one book in S.M. Reine’s giant “Descentverse” (that is, the descent universe). Much like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar, there are series within the universe, and it seems you can jump in anywhere. For as much as I enjoyed both Drawing Dead, I’m stoked there are so many more novels available. My plan is to read and review the first book in each of the series in the Descentverse and then do a series review. This way, readers can get their own copies if the first book appeals to them, or they can wait until the series review to see if things decline.
My Review of Death’s Hand:
*Death’s Hand is book #1 in The Descentverse series #1, The Descent Series.
Paranormal urban fantasy author S.M. Reine sets up the novel Death’s Hand with a weird scene. James, a powerful witch, is searching for his friend’s seventeen-year-old daughter in Russia. He finds Elise’s dead body (among many others) covered in ice and snow. But unbelievably, and suspiciously, she is comes back to life.
Cut back ten years ago. Elise’s father bestows upon her two powerful, magical blades when she is only seven.
Jump ahead. Elise is now a twenty-three year-old demon slayer (the world’s best) and exorcist. She’s partners with James, who is a powerful witch who can write his own spells. In an effort to save the world, both almost die but are able to kill the death goddess and stop an apocalypse.
Go forward five more years. Elise, now twenty-eight, and James are both retired from saving the world and keeping a low profile. She’s an accountant for demons on Earth who behave. James is the leader of a coven and owns a dance studio. But when one of the witches in the coven tells James that her daughter may be possessed, James and Elise have a heated debate about the morals of hiding for own safety when they’re needed. Should Elise and James expose themselves, they open the door for the not-so-well-behaved demons to find them . . .
Death’s Hand is cinematic. In fact, as soon as I finished it, I raced home to watch Constantine, the 2005 film starring Keeanu Reeves, as they have a similar vibe. I got so immersed in the visuals of Death’s Hand that I would forget my own physical location. The action, setting, and dialogue sometimes feel like you’re reading a movie script in the best way possible. So, if you’re looking for a deep exploration of human feelings, this isn’t the book for that. If you enjoyed the kick-ass Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron, you’ll love Death’s Hand.
That’s not to say the characters are shallow. Elise was seventeen when James found her body, and he’s about eleven years older than she. They do not have a romantic relationship, but both feel uncomfortable if the other starts dating. It’s less about jealousy and more the bond they share. Dubbed “kopis” and “aspis” (sword and shield) in this paranormal world, Elise and James are reliant on each other as defenders of Earth. And like many other fantasy novels, should one of them die, the other would become an unrecognizable shell of a human. Being so co-dependent but not in love made for some complex negotiations about what’s right and necessary.
Reine even challenges our preconceived notions through her characters, giving readers pause and adding layers to the story:
[Anthony] had a hard time imagining James, who was a witch (of all the stupid things) and a dancer (even stupider) managing to injure Elise.
And I laughed, because I had wondered why James was the witch/shield and Elise was the muscle/sword, and I also pondered the choice to have him be a dancer when we often think of women as ballerinas. Reine caught me sitting in my own sexist stew, and I had to rethink my expectations; Reine doesn’t lean on stereotypes of paranormal novels.
Readers may have complaints about unresolved details. Why did Elise die and come back to life in Russia? Why did her father give her magic swords when she was a child? Why does she wear gloves constantly? How did she become the world’s best kopis (sword)? Are demons on the streets a normal part of this world? The pleasing part is Reine trusts readers to go along for the ride, and the result is that immersion I was describing. You’re not getting info dumps; you have to keep reading to get answers — and answers are a great motivator to jump into the next book, The Darkest Gate.
If you wish, you can read just Death’s Hand and stop. But think of those Marvel movies in which everything is done, yet after the credits you get a teaser for a future film — that’s how Reine’s book ends. My only complaints were a couple of typos and the use of the word “pain” too frequently. If your heroes are going to get banged up a lot, you need different ways of describing that.
Overall, I’m totally stoked to jump right into book #2 and see what happens to Elise and James now that they’re picking up their old roles of sword and shield again.