Indie Book Review: Hell’s Belle by Karen Greco

Hell's Belle (Hell's Belle, #1)

Half-vampire Nina Martinez is a member of an elite secret team of government agents tasked with policing the secret underworld of magical creatures – vampires, banshees, demons, witches – and keeping their existence quiet. On the side, she helps her aunt with her bar and finds herself flirting with Max, bar regular and FBI agent.

But witches are being murdered in her town, and an old enemy has resurfaced. Nina has to navigate all her double lives – Max’s human investigation into the murders, Nina’s job as a government agent, the age-old mystery surrounding the death of Nina’s parents, and the threat of an assassin who is still hunting Nina after 30 years.

But here’s the thing, canaries. This isn’t really an urban fantasy detective story with a military edge, and it doesn’t really deal with a government agency trying to protect the world from evil. In fact, it’s more a kind of coming-of-age story for half-vampire Nina as she realizes almost everything she’d known about herself and her parent’s deaths was a lie and has to navigate the clumsy attentions of two hunky dudes as Mr. Baddie tries to kill her.

If I had known that going in, I’d have spared myself a lot of angsting as I kept looking for detective work, for the procedural, and for the badge-flashing.

The good: One canary out of five stays firmly perched on the rating for the fast pacing, punctuated by Nina’s sarcastic interjections, and the light chick-flick tone. The story covers a lot of ground and introduces a full set of intriguing characters. Unfortunately, the rest of the rating canaries didn’t fare as well.

The first fell off its perch as I realized that the characters really weren’t going to share vital bits of information with each other. No believable reason was given. On the one hand, there was our Nina, deciding she didn’t want to let her worried comrades-in-arms know that her inexplicable collapses were directly related to the murders. Her worried team and family, on the other hand, decided not to tell her the details of her mysterious past when it would have done the most good. Of course, all of these conversations do occur about 100 pages later, after a lot of avoidable plot things happen.

It doesn’t help that a few of these plot points seem to be driven by plain convenient stupidity – a veteran spellcaster just plain forgets to ward himself when he goes after a nest of baddies. I read that right…right?

And I think that really brings me around to the core of the issue I had with the story. Nina Martinez grew up at a military compound, trained to be an elite secret agent. The result of 30 years of military living seems to have left her with flashy fighting skills and nothing else. She and her team of highly trained operatives act like the local vampire hunting club shoved into the big leagues and handed an arsenal. I had no sense of who these characters were from the way they acted. Second and third canary plucked.

My general complaints about the deus ex machina solutions and a larger than life heroine also branch off into specifics. Protagonist Nina discovers she instinctively knows magic incantations when angry, effortlessly throws vampires into walls without realizing she’s how she’s doing it, and scares the villains with powers she didn’t even know she had. By the way, can we go back and talk about Nina’s response to being targeted by assassins?

Here are some of the things that Nina does to pass the time after she realizes there is an assassin after her.

  • Reads a book
  • Works out –  weight-lifting, jump roping, the works
  • Goes on a date by the beach with a Joe Oblivious Human
  • Takes a bubble bath with some wine
  • Does Yoga

Fourth canary down.

My read truly suffered from these mismanaged expectations. If you’re a reader that needs everything to come together and hold together, that’s all you’ll be able to think about. If you’re going to pick up Hell’s Belle, take it as a paranormal romance and don’t think about it too much.

Book provided by Netgalley and Karen Greco.

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