Book Review: Lilith Saintcrow’s To Hell and Back

Posted May 7, 2016 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Lilith Saintcrow’s To Hell and Back

To Hell and Back


Lilith Saintcrow

urban fantasy that was published by Orbit on January 1, 2008 and has 416 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Hunter’s Prayer, Redemption Alley, Flesh Circus, Heaven's Spite, The Demon's Librarian, Dead Man Rising, Steelflower, The Devil’s Right Hand, Saint City Sinners, To Hell and Back, Death's Excellent Vacation, Chicks Kick Butt, Dark and Stormy Knights, Angel Town, Storm Watcher, Fire Watcher, Cloud Watcher, Mindhealer, The Iron Wyrm Affair, The Red Plague Affair, Dark Watcher

Fifth and last, but for a short story, in the Dante Valentine urban fantasy (in an alternate world) series and revolving around a necromance and demon assassin.

My Take

Thank god this is the end, because I am so fed up with Dante’s wishy-washyness. To Hell and Back takes place mostly in Dante’s head and is an excellent example of why the author really needs to work in what happened in the past stories. Although I suspect most of the problem is that I let too much time elapse between Saint City Sinners, 4, and To Hell and Back.

Saintcrow does provide driblets of backstory, but not nearly enough to bring back memories of what occurred. I felt lost throughout most of this. It probably didn’t help that Dante kept whining. Over and over again. It’s a recurring theme throughout as she whines about the traitor she released, Japh betraying her, her own pain.

Nor does it help that Dante simply can’t make a move (in a dangerous situation) without lots of questions and too much thinking. The one recurring situation in which Dante doesn’t bother with questions is whenever she and Japh set out on an action. Wouldn’t that be the time to force some answers? Although, I do like this one bit of insight from Dante:

“There aren’t any geographical features that can stop you [no mountain so high as…] … the faults, fissures, and peaks inside your own skull that bring you up hard and short.”

She can’t exercise practical caution. She’s “trapped” in a fabulous, well-stocked apartment in Paris, dogged by a bounty set on her head by Lucifer, supposed to be staying low to avoid attention, and her only thought is to get out and walk the streets. Uh-huh.

It’s possible that all of this disjointed thinking and writing is meant to emulate Dante’s emotional state, but Dante has the advantage over us. She knows her past history.

Saintcrow has an interesting perspective on religion in this series viewing Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as Religions of Submission; I’d never consciously thought of them that way but it does make sense. The religion in Dante’s day is more personal with individuals speaking directly to their particular god. Other than that…*eye roll*…it’s an interesting world Saintcrow has created with its hovers and magicks.

The Story

Lucifer threw Dante out of Hell when he was done torturing her. Now Japh has plans for her. Plans that depend on Dante escaping the bounty hunters, mercenaries, and demons hunting her down.

Plans that include killing Lucifer.

The Characters

Dante “Danny” Valentine is a a demon hunting necromance, a psion, who was once Lucifer’s errand girl wearing his Gauntlet and is now half-demon. Before Saint City Sinners, she had served the god of Death, Anubis, unreservedly. But the most important role Dante plays is as Japh’s hedaira. Eve also calls her the Key to the throne of Hell. Fudoshin is the name of her katana.

Eve, a.k.a., Omega and Lucifer’s Consort, Aldamrimel, the Morning Star, is Doreen‘s daughter (Dante also thinks of Eve as her daughter), a demon, an Androgyne. Vardimal Santino created Eve using demon genes. Velokel the Hunter is a demon working with Eve.

Tierce Japhrimel “Japh“, a.k.a., Kinslayer and Eldest, is Lucifer’s assassin, Dante’s familiar, and a Greater Flight demon, who has fallen in love with Dante and yet betrays her over and over. He died and has come back with his full demon Power.

Japh’s team includes…
…the Hellesvront agents McKinley with his metal hand; Vann, the agent obsessed with throwing the bones; the gorgeous Tiens, a Nichtvren (vampire) and the primary pilot; and, Leander Beaudry, a Necromance sent to keep an eye on Dante.

Lucas “the Deathless” Villalobos is a powerful psion of whom other psions are terrified. He’s also under contract. Anton Kgembe, a Left Hand theorist, is a “dead” Magi and the most powerful one in the world. He formulated Kgembe’s Laws, four principles of dealing with Left Hand (blood) magick used by the Hegemony and Putchkin Alliance to deal with miscreants.

Lucifer is the Prince of Hell and was Japh’s Maker. Sephrimel was the third Fallen, and his beloved hedaira, Inhana, was assassinated by Japh. The Knife of Sorrow is a weapon, which can kill a demon with but a touch. Anhelikos are sexless pretty spies. An a’sharak is a worm Lucifer implants in a woman to control her. The now-destroyed White-Walled City is in Tibet and was the home of hedaira, women who were beloved of a Lord of Hell — and Lucifer wants them all killed. A Glaive can strip glamour from any demon. The Hedairae Occasus Demonae is an ancient demon-written book.

Demons of the Greater Flight rebelling against Lucifer include Zag and Semma.

Jason “Jace” Monroe had been her boyfriend, before he died. Lewis had been Dante’s social worker before he was killed by a Chill junkie. Doreen and Gabe Spocarelli (killed by a traitor) had been Dante’s friends while Eddie, Gabe’s husband, was betrayed by his sedayeen research partner. Jado was Dante’s sensei. Polyamour is a sexwitch transvestite in Saint City who is raising Gabe’s little girl. Selene is the consort of the Prime of Saint City.

Hegemony is a world superpower with the Putchkin Alliance the other. I think the Hellesvront might be a joint law enforcement agency of both and all are controlled by Lucifer. The Awakening is when people began to be able to speak directly to the gods they worshipped.

The Religions of Submission include…
…the Gilead Evangelical, led by Kochba bar Gilead, was the previous theocracy which ruled the the North Merican (North America) empire, the Republic. The Gilead was quite Nazi-like in its death camps and persecutions of anyone not them. Christer is the Catholic religion. Islum is Islam.

Hajia Sofya is the Hagia Sophia. Paradisse, Franje, is Paris, France, and had declared itself a sanctuary for psions during the Gilead reign; Notra Dama is a now-buried Notre Dame. Caracaz is Caracas. Sudro Merican is South America. The Vegas Waste was Las Vegas.

Psions collect the power generated by the beliefs of an individual god’s believers. A Magi is a psion who has undergone basic training. A Necromance is an accredited psion who can bring a soul back from the Death. A sedayeen is a healer psion incapable of aggression. Shaman is a catch-all term for a psion who doesn’t fall into a particular specialty. Clormen-13, a.k.a., Chill, is a drug. I think flits are ghosts.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a stark black-and-white of Dante’s head, her eyes looking off to our left with the title in a gruesome red against the black of Dante’s hair. The author’s name is also in white.

The title is literally and figuratively where Dante has been, To Hell and Back where “Only a demon can take down the Devil”.