Review: Hotline to Hell by Emily Cyr

NB- I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review.


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Kayel Cleary is a phone sex operator. All she wants to do is get through law school, and if that means late-night phone calls with men who think she’s something she’s not, then so be it.

That is, until one of her long-time clients is murdered – and she hears it all.

Lathan only wants one thing: a seat on the vampire council. He’s worked his entire unnatural life for this moment, only to have it fall apart when his biggest supporter ends up dead. Now, Lathan has to find and work with the only witness. And she happens to be a phone sex operator.

Thrust into a world she never knew existed, Kayel must help Lathan find the murderer and stop the impending war, all while fighting her attraction for the undead man she loves to hate. If she can’t learn their ways and figure out who killed Marco, then she may lose more than just her life … She may spark a war that would spell disaster for vampires and humans alike.


When I chose to review this book, I had thought it was more urban fantasy than paranormal romance. I was wrong. This book centres around the relationship that forms between the two POV characters. My chief complaint stems directly from this, because the relationship is not believable. Nothing at all draws the two characters together other than lust and crisis, which makes the power imbalance between the two even more uncomfortable to read. It doesn’t seem like two people fall in love, it seems like an abusive person gradually convinces someone who knows better to stay in an unsafe and undesirable situation. If you read and enjoyed the romance dynamics in Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey then you’ll probably enjoy this book too, but if either of those rubbed you the wrong way then I doubt you’ll enjoy Hotline to Hell either.

That’s not to say the book entirely lacked merit. I enjoyed the premise and the beginning stages of the book very much. The idea of a strong female character studying law and working as a phone sex operator to make ends meet being swept into a supernatural world is a great one, and I really wish Kayel had continued to be as strong and interesting a character as she was in the beginning.

Alas! Love makes her not just helpless, but frustratingly so. Possible spoiler here, but at one point near the finale she can’t think of a way to save her boyfriend and herself, so she just stands still and waits to be murdered. Fortunately Kayel’s mother and Karis are included and provide comedic relief that is not always included at narratively appropriate times, but at least prevents the melodrama and angst of Kayel and Lathan’s relationship from entirely taking over the book.

There were actually several characters that seemed intriguing that I wish had been more prominently featured—Karis and Kayel’s mother of course, but also several council members and Francis. Unfortunately, the two main/POV characters don’t make this list. Perhaps in an attempt to make them easier for the reader to identify with, Kayel and Lathan seemed bland and awkward—more hampered by their traits (prudishness/hatred of swearing and controlling tendencies/volatile temper1) than enriched by them.

Kayel’s aversion to swearing is clearly supposed to be an endearing character trait, but it reads as childish and makes the sexual/romantic subplot really creepy, especially considering the age and power disparity that already exists between her and Lathan. The sex scenes were written a bit awkwardly, but this might be because Lathan never seemed appealing—no matter how many times his voice lowered or his eyes flashed. Honestly, the speed at which the man’s emotions changed made him seem more in need of therapy than a lover.

Dialogue tags were also a bit overused throughout this book, perhaps increasing the impression of Lathan’s moods changing from line to line. Lathan’s character development and backstory are included in the novel in much the same way his emotions are—all at once and seemingly as an afterthought. His motivations and personality seem somewhat two-dimensional as a result.

The general dynamic between Lathan and Kayel was very off-putting, especially the way the reader is supposed to think Lathan is a great guy because he doesn’t rape or murder Kayel. The reader is clearly supposed to forgive Lathan his violent actions and immoral behaviour because he never rapes or murders Kayel (even though he could, as is not so subtly pointed out a few times). It was very reminiscent of Twilight in that a man wanting to violently murder his love interest and then not doing it is presented as some form of ultimate romantic sacrifice, a sentiment which may appeal to some readers, but definitely fails to make me swoon. The threat of punishment is used to excuse Lathan’s domineering actions, which makes it all the more ridiculous when he ignores even more serious rules the second he and Kayel get turned on.

Lathan’s POV was honestly unnecessary and is never used to explain more about the vampire world which Kayel is thrown into, reading the thin excuse for motivation for his behaviour did nothing but make me like him less and find the romance less believable/acceptable. Lathan’s knowledge of the negative ways his actions will effect Kayel and the members of his fellowship2 make him seem less sympathetic, if not outright abusive. Kayel’s point of view solely being used would have at least presented the storyline in a cohesive way, perhaps improving the pacing and emotional effect of the novel.

Possibly due to the (sometimes rapid) cycling between POV characters, Hotline to Hell overall felt a little clunky, with the beginning section reading far smoother and cohesively than the latter sections, when the developing ‘romance’ takes centre stage. Monty’s storyline likewise seems to end abruptly and be rather shakily motivated, and it was difficult to really believe he’d act the way he did for the reasons presented. This theme carries over to the antagonist of the book, the identity and motivations of whom was intended as a big reveal. The heavy hints as to the antagonist’s identity early on unfortunately ruined this tension, and the motivations of this person, when they are explained, seem almost arbitrary, lessening narrative tension and effect further.

The worldbuilding in this novel seemed shallow, with details thrown out in a manner that never quite succeeded in building a cohesive image. Vampire strengths and weaknesses were the usual fare found in paranormal romance or urban fantasy, though the weakening effect of lamb’s blood is an intriguing one. I wish this had been explored further in the book, but maybe this will happen in a future sequel.

Hotline to Hell ended almost anti-climactically, and seemed almost as though the key development that occurs after the main showdown was meant to be left for a future novel, but was included to avoid a cliff hanger ending, something I’m sure some readers appreciate.

This review seems harsh, and the book was not to my taste, but I’m sure some readers will enjoy it. I was reminded at times of Molly Harper’s Jane Jameson series (with a less effective heroine and far less snark) and even a little bit of Laila and Vlad’s relationship early on in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series. However, it has to be said that the plotline in Hotline to Hell hinges rather more heavily on the relationship between the two main characters, with the plot and worldbuilding being noticeably less detailed and effective. Those who are fans of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight or EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, on the other hand, would do well to consider reading Hotline to Hell.

 

1By the way—gender roles abound! If you couldn’t guess from the defining traits above, of course Kayel is the delicate virgin who’s ears bleed if she ever hears the word ‘ass’ and Lathan is the brooding mysterious badass (he even says something to that effect in internal dialogue at one point)

2Also known as enslaved! Yep, no attempt is made to make Lathan seem like anything other than an abusive person drawing an innocent person into a situation she doesn’t understand, and using this to gain absolute control over her. Romance!

 

 

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