‘Death’s Hand’ – The Descent Series #1 by S M Reine

Elise Kavanagh doesn’t want to hunt demons anymore. It’s been five years since she killed her last enemy, and life has been quiet since then. She went to college. Got a job, and then lost it. Made a friend or two. Lived a normal life. Now her former partner, a powerful witch named James Faulkner, wants Elise to fight one more time. The daughter of a coven member has been possessed, and Elise is the only exorcist nearby.

Becoming a hero again would mean risking discovery by old enemies. But digging into the case reveals that it might already be too late–bodies are disappearing, demons slither through the night, and the cogs of apocalypse are beginning to turn once more. Some enemies aren’t willing to let the secrets of the past stay dead…

In 2006, years before Kate Daniels greeted the Beast Lord with the immortal words, ‘Here, kitty kitty’ or Jane Yellowrock – have stakes will travel – rode into New Orleans on Bitsa and in the same year that Mercy Thompson was ‘Moon Called’, Elise Kavanagh was busy saving the world from demons. Sixteen books later (split evenly between The Descent Series and The Ascension Series), she’s still at it.

A while back, I bought the omnibus version of the Ascension Series. I didn’t realise I’d missed the first eight books until I opened ‘Sacrificed In Shadow’. I liked the opening scene but the publisher’s summary spoke about Elise Kavanagh as if I should know who she was, so I checked S M Reine’s site, got myself this roadmap and understood what I was stepping into.

Suddenly, an image of a bookish version of Disney’s ‘Thumper’ appeared in my head, tapping a big foot at me and telling me to do it right and start with ‘Death’s Hand’, the first book of the Descent Series

‘Death’s Hand’ is a hardcore, take-no-prisoners, struggle against a Death Demon plotting to escape from Hell and take over the world. It has witches and various kinds of supernatural beings, so It sort of fits under Urban Fantasy but it’s Urban Fantasy that’s rubbing shoulders with Splatterpunk Horror. There’s no romance and no deep existential angst, just a bloody and brutal battle against evil.

From the dramatic first scene, almost to the end, this is a book of extreme, violent action. The fight scenes are graphic, brutal, detailed and frequent. The torture scenes are worse although, thankfully, less detailed and less frequent. It’s a story soaked in blood, illuminated by pain and populated with Fiends, Demons, Necromancers and reanimated corpses.

The thing that makes this more than a gorefest, is how Elise Kavanagh looks at the world. We learn her history through a series of flashbacks (with some obvious omissions – truth-bombs to be dropped in later books it feels like) starting in 1998 when the witch James Faulkner found her the seventeen-year-old Elise, laying naked in a Siberian forest in February, surrounded by the twisted and broken bodies of her dozen kidnappers, through the years that she spent working with him as a demon hunter. What I liked most was that, five years earlier, after being tortured and left for dead while trying to save the world, Elise had decided that she’d had enough of the demon hunting business. She retired to Reno and became a CPA. OK, her customers are mostly supernatural entities, but still, our sword-wielding, fiend-slaying, demon-smiting killing machine became a CPA. I found it refreshing to see a hero confronting her own mortality and the mounting cost of living a life on the run from fight to fight and deciding to step back.

For my taste, ‘Death’s Hand’ could have done with a little more character development. It reminded me of some of the Marvel Universe movies that feel short on dialogue and heavy on CGI. Even so, I keep going back to those movies and, when I’m in the mood for something fast and hard-hitting, I’ll be coming back to The Descent Series.

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