As seen on Stumptown Books
.The Devil's Diadem
is a stand-alone novel by the late Sara Douglass, author of the Wayfarer Redemption trilogy. It takes us to an alternate medieval Europe, around the 12th century, but contrary to the history books, this Europe lies on the brink of demonic disaster.
I picked this up on a whim. I have not read any Sara Douglass, although her trilogies are on my to-read list, but I thought a stand-alone novel might be a good place to start. This was, I think, a bad choice to start with, but I'll get into that in a moment. This was also the last book she wrote, as she unfortunately passed away only a few months after its publication in 2011.
There is no doubt that this novel starts agonizingly slowly. We follow our heroine, Maeb Langtofte, around as she adjusts to becoming a lady's maid, and making unwitting enemies of just about everyone she meets. This almost could have been a diary format, rather than a confession, as there is A LOT of narration. It is all in first person, and she presents it to us as her last testimony before dying.
The supernatural pops up as a matter of course - Maeb takes no great pains to explain it, as in this world, demons are practically considered no big deal. At one point early on in the narration, she sees an imp crawling up a wall, and although frightened, she doesn't remark on it particularly. Obviously she doesn't want to attract its attention, but she's also not paralyzed by fear or anything.
The first part of The Devil's Diadem
revolves around a demon wrought plague that is sweeping across the land. This plague, it is HORRIFYING. Descriptions of dying from sickness don't usually get to me much, but in this case, the symptoms are so cruel and disgusting, I couldn't help but shiver a little.
It then devolves into a boring love story with Maeb constantly questioning herself, and I grew completely bored of the plot. I really wanted it to come out that she was an unreliable narrator, but apparently every word she tells us is as true as she knows it to be. I was disappointed in this, as I feel it was a huge missed opportunity.
So, after being a little bored for a majority of the novel, the words "devil's diadem" are FINALLY mentioned for the first time about 150 pages from the end. From there on out, it actually got really good. Like, really good. The pay off was amazing, and a few of the plot twists I completely did not see coming.
But was that enough?
The first 350-odd pages were shrug worthy at best, and that's a lot to read if your interest is waning.
Overall, I wanted to like it more than I did. I felt the title was misleading, and the narration had a lot of prospects that it never ventured into. After doing some research online, a number of people recommend this book if you are already a fan of Douglass' work - and I have to say I agree. Only pick this up if you loved her other books and want more of the same style. The ending made it ALMOST worth it, but it was too little, too late.