Fifteen year old Billi isn’t like other London schoolgirls. Born into The Order of the Templar Knights, she’s always been expected to put her own priorities aside and focus on protecting humanity from the Unholy. Ghuls, werewolves, fallen angels - they’re all out there, and Billie’s expected to face them in combat. She’s never been given a choice. Her mother is dead, and her father Arthur SanGreal is the leader of the Templars. He’s not worried about her grades or her happiness. In his eyes, she can never be ruthless enough. Unlike her friend Kay, who has returned from a year of Oracle training to a hero’s welcome.
Enter Michael: handsome, sensitive, and actually interested in Billi. She’s not sure what she wants anymore. But when the children of London begin to suffer from a dark sickness that can only be Unholy in origin, Billi finds it’s not that easy to walk away...
Sarwat Chadda likes his monsters old-school. No over-protective werewolves, no football-playing zombies, and definitely no sparkling vampires. His monsters are of the terrifying variety; bloodthirsty, dangerous, and evil as hell. Add to that a fifteen-year-old heroine who really does act like a regular schoolgirl - when she’s not kicking Unholy butt, that is - and Mr Chadda has got himself a winner.
We join Billi SanGreal as she undertakes The Ordeal - an initiation into the Templar Knights that has her killing an Unholy being. The catch? He just happens to look like an angelic six-year-old child. In a sense, this is our induction as well as Billi’s. It’s gory and it’s disturbing, but it’s an act that represents the inner conflict that Billi will face as a templar, and that we will follow. It’s little wonder that sometimes, Billi just wants to be normal - to get her homework in on time, to have a father who gives her the occasional hug, and for the nightmares to go away. Factor in a best friend who is suddenly infuriatingly handsome but can literally read Billi’s mind, and it’s hard not to feel for her.
There are definitely aspects of Devil’s Kiss that some readers may have trouble with. Arthur SanGreal’s treatment of Billi has always been incredibly single-minded, and there are scenes where his tough-love training methods are downright disturbing. Is anyone comfortable with a father headbutting his fifteen-year-old daughter in the face, even if it is to make her a better fighter? I doubt it. But then, if he knows his daughter could be killed by demons at any time if her fighting skills aren’t up to scratch… what should he do? Tough call, isn’t it? Chadda’s depiction of the life of a young templar knight is unflinching, and conveys the brutality of living in a world where all the scary monsters you don’t want to believe in are undeniably real. It's not an easy life, so don't expect an easy read.
Most readers will have heard of the Templar Knights, but Devil’s Kiss gives the history and the myth an original spin that suits modern-day London down to the ground. Born to a Pakistani mother and an English father, Billi was raised as a Muslim until her mother’s death. As a member by birth of The Order, she’s subsequently been immersed in a single-mindedly Christian world. But Sarwat Chadda’s templars aren’t about a specifically Christian agenda: as master, Arthur’s firm belief is that the ‘old religious war’ no longer concerns the templars, and all that matters is the battle to save mankind’s soul. To win this battle, the templars need the combined wisdom of various religions. It’s a message that the world can really use right now, and Chadda communicates it with a lightness of touch that never seems heavy-handed or preachy.
I’d recommend Devil’s Kiss to anyone who likes their fantasy dark and uncompromising.