This was a fun read, bold and inventive, with immensely likeable characters. I haven't read the other books, so came into this one cold. I have to say it works really well as a standalone novel, although reading the other books can only enrich the world the author has created.
Elena is a great character; highly intelligent, keeps from forming romantic relationships because of a curse bestowed on her as a child by her mother. It seems every man she meets is destined to meet an unfortunate end, so she remains a virgin (hence the title.)
This isn't, however, a "Virginity is Bad! She must have sex ASAP to become a Whole Woman!" novel. Elena wants to meet the right person and just have a normal life, without them dropping down dead as soon as she kisses them. She is also an academic; being offered the Professorship for Archeology is a real step away from the usual fashion/advertising/marketing career paths chosen by a lot of other romantic heroines.
Cas is a mystery, a handsome man with an ancient secret. When they have to work together, his secrets start to unfold. I'm not offering any spoilers. Suffice to stay, he has an old head on middle-aged shoulders. Again, a professorial type (catnip to me, to be honest) and perfectly suited to Elena as they beetle around in his turquoise Volkswagon, trying to solve one mystery after the next. Adorable. Their chemistry is as cute as it gets but not in a sickly way at all. This is grown-up love - solid and enduring.
And that's the other thing I liked. These people aren't pert twenty- or thirty somethings. They are in their middle years; life-experienced, worldly-wise. The kind of people who are usually glossed over in popular fiction, unless they are side characters offering support to the pert twenty-somethings. In this book they are centre-stage, given time to tell their stories.
Which brings me to the plot. Complex - some could argue confusing at times - and with an extensive cast of characters, it is an audacious reimagining of known entities and religions. Jesus becomes Jay. Zeus and Hera are father and mother figures who anyone would be delighted to have as grandparents (albeit ones who could shove a lightning bolt up your arse.) There are angels and Greek mythology as well as familiar Christian characters, all mixed up in a gleeful melting pot of religion and folklore. And, for good measure, a healthy dollop of fantasy a la Dean Koontz, one of my favourite sci-fi/fantasy writers.
In fact, Koontz's influence runs through the whole book. The author even includes my favourite quote from my absolute favourite Koontz novel, which was a wonderful surprise. There are ludicrous scenarios which made me laugh ("I couldn’t give in to primal needs while my mother was still shackled to a chair,") and truly touching ones, as well as soaring adventure and intricate puzzle-solving. There really is something for everyone unless they are expecting smut. There isn't any of that but there's hardly time for it, to be honest. The romantic scenes are fade to black but that works really well in a novel all about the quest to lift Elena's curse. There are monks and angels and hitmen and, oh my goodness, so much it made my head spin, but in a good way.
I love it when stories push the boundaries, throw seemingly random plot devices in, story it around and make it work. Like I said before, The Virgin's Curse is an inventive story, well-written, descriptive, with a real sense of magic and mischief. I loved it.
Virgin's Curse, the new standalone novel in J.C. Seal's Angels and Demons Universe!
Cursed in her teens, Elena Cadaval has led a secluded, lonely life, dedicated to finding a cure to her aliment. She studied History and Archaeology, always hoping she might discover the source of the curse one day. When she gets offered the Professorship for Archaeology at the University in Athens, she meets her assistant, the mysterious Cas Timaeus. While he tries to help her unravel the curse, she gets drawn into a world beyond her imagination … Will his support help her unravel the mystery surrounding the curse, or will Cas’s own, shocking secrets shatter her beliefs and send her to her doom?