July 13, 2014

Paved with Intentions: Jillian Keep's Magic Academy

By Alexa Day

Since the days of Adam and Eve (or Adam and Lilith, depending on who’s asking), the demon has, perhaps in spite of itself, served an important sexual purpose. He has made desire safe.

He has a fearsome reputation, the demon. He knows all about us mortals and reaches into our thoughts to ferret out The Monkall the nooks and crannies where we hide the lustful little secrets we’re not really supposed to have. Then using his unearthly powers, he lowers our inhibitions and our moral resistance until we engage in sexual congress with him or on his behalf. If necessary, he’ll wait until we’re asleep and incapable of arguing with him. Or with ourselves. Or with the people and institutions who tell us that “good girls don’t.”

You know the tune. The Devil made us do it.

It’s not a perfect excuse, but it’s timeless. Desire was not part of the plan until the demon made it the whole plan. Lust was, after all, his plan to begin with.

In Matthew Lewis’s THE MONK, lustful thoughts only become illicit deeds with the assistance of demonic forces. Once demons are involved, the action picks right up, though. The titular monk quickly finds himself on a slippery slope, and his life rushes out of control down toward the inevitable. The moral is a familiar one. Commerce with the demonic only works out in the short term. At the end of these older stories, protagonist and demon both get sucked downward into oblivion, but only the demon likes it.

The demon is a relatively recent addition to the realm of romance fiction, but he seems to fit in pretty well. Like so many paranormal figures, he speaks to something otherworldly, extraordinary or superhuman that has always lay within human characters. The nature of romance generally encourages the development of some human virtue within the demon. He need not ascend toward the light, necessarily, but the genre is as a whole more comfortable if he can at least be decent with the heroine. For her part, there’s no reason the heroine can’t try to enjoy the carnal wonderland that is demonic dating. We all know it’ll end well, romance being what it is, and in the meantime, the devil is making her do it — over and over again.

MAGIC ACADEMY by Jillian Keep doesn’t really fit neatly into either category, which is a good thing. In many ways, it’s got everything a demon romance needs. One hypersexual, supernaturally endowed demon, Varuj. One young, Magic Academyinnocent girl, Firia, with a goal, admission to the Magic Academy, just outside her reach. One alliance between the two. And at first everything works. Life gets crazy for Firia — fast — but Varuj, with a massive phallus and a sex drive to match, makes the whole thing easier to bear.

But extravagant rewards often come with extravagant costs. And the people in Firia’s world will pay for her demonic transaction. Dearly.

In the meantime, Varuj puts the demonic wood to the wide-eyed Firia lots and lots of times. To paraphrase a fellow artist, Firia might have 99 problems, but chastity is not among them. That might be a good thing. She’s got her hands full with the sort of moral questions, including the classic indecision brought forth by a love triangle, that might keep a girl up at night if she weren’t otherwise occupied.

I really don’t want to spoil the book for you all, so I don’t even want to hint at the sort of trouble Firia gets into once all the skids are greased by the demon who is supposed to be her subordinate. I’ll just say that everyone in the story kept me guessing, which is no mean feat.

And while preserving the plot’s many unexpected developments, I think we as readers must ask ourselves some fairly important questions.

Do we need to agree with the romance heroine’s decisions? Do we need to like her, and if so, how badly do we need it and how much do we need to like her? Do we need to be able to embrace the hero? Do we need to accept the both of them, together, or is it enough to root for just one of them?

I can’t answer any of those questions for any of us, but I’m glad Jillian Keep raises them. MAGIC ACADEMY is neither morality play nor a standard romance, and so it enjoys a certain measure of thematic freedom. I’m not sure romance is comfortable leaving so many foundational questions up to us, and that I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

So what do you all think? Is congress with the demonic making a comeback? Do you prefer an eternal alliance or something more right now? Sound off in the comments.

And be sure to follow Lady Smut. You won’t need to learn any arcane languages, and we don’t come with that many consequences.

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