The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Brother To Brother (Review: The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan)

The Demon's Covenant
Sarah Rees Brennan
Simon Pulse 2010

Mae Crawford always thought she was in control. Now she's learned that her little brother Jamie is a magician and Nick, the boy she'd set her heart on, has an even darker secret. Mae's whole world has spun out of control, and it's only going to get worse. When she realises that Jamie has been meeting secretly with the new leader of the Obsidian Circle and that Gerald wants him to join the magicians, she's not sure how to stop Jamie doing just that. Calling in Nick and Alan as reinforcements only leads to a more desperate conflict because Gerald has a plan to bring Nick down - by using Alan to spring a deadly trap. With those around her torn between divided loyalties and Mae herself torn between her feelings for two very different boys, she sees a chance to save them all - but it means approaching the mysterious and dangerous Goblin Market alone...
(Blurb courtesy of Amazon)

I recently reviewed The Demon's Lexicon here. I really liked it and made some predictions for The Demon's Covenant, book number two in Sarah Rees Brennan's series. I am just going to take a moment to gloat because I was totally right. The Demon's Covenant is exciting and fun, but majorly and heartbreakingly sad in places, not necessarily what one would expect from a novel that also contains huge amounts of humour, action and fun. The protagonist in this installment has changed from Nick to Mae. Mae works well as a narrator – she is smart and savvy while also being flawed and driven greatly by her emotions. As a contrast to Nick, the author could have chosen none better. Nick's somewhat dispassionate view of those around him strongly coloured the way in which we understood the characters in the previous installment. Nick, being fast, strong and overly-objective painted his companions as essentially ok, but weak, slow and in need of protection. This time, Mae and particularly Alan start to come into their own as three-dimensional figures with their own plans and motivations.

Character-wise, while Mae drives the novel, it's heart belongs to Alan. I suspected that there was more to Alan than met Nick's loyalty-skewed eyes and I was right. Alan is still good and kind and gracious in The Demon's Covenant, but he is so to the point of no return. Tortured by his recent decisions, Alan is driven towards a course that he feels is for the greater good. You quickly realise that once Alan makes his decision, as long as he believes that he is right, then God forbid anyone gets in his way. Lies seems to role of his tongue like water and of all the characters (good and bad) he was the one that I felt was least trustworthy and sometimes least likable. However, this darker side to his character is not unwelcome – in fact I think that his development as a character is fascinating. Seeing him through Mae's eyes has the added bonus of allowing us to see that he is actually pretty hot (Nick obviously saw him as slightly weedy and overly concerned with feelings and never got much further than that) and totally has the moves to go with that hotness. Go Alan!

It was also great to read Nick through Mae's eyes. We already knew that he was hot, because he was so aware of his Exceptional Good Looks in book one and Mae is not unaware of them either. The frisson between them is tangible and extremely well realised. What is really interesting is learning how Nick appears to others. Mae, Alan and Jamie are so busy trying to help him to be more like them that they don't actually consider that his problem may be more an inability to understand and express himself than the complete lack of emotion that they assume is the problem. It's quite frustrating in parts watching him struggle to do the right thing yet not really getting the credit for his efforts, particularly where Alan is concerned. In an effort to help Nick, Mae reads to him from the diary of Daniel Ryves – the man who was, to all intents and purposes his and Alan's father. These sections are terribly, terribly sad both in relation to Nick and his mother and also to Alan. They add dimensions to both brothers and clearly show how the events of the past motivate both of them in the present day.

The story moves on apace through all of the character development. We are introduced further to the Goblin Market with Sin and Merris becoming more central figures and Jamie and Mae's homelife is highlighted by the welcome introduction of their mother (who plays an integral role in a way that I certainly never saw coming). The big show down at the end is truly thrilling and the the final pages dangle many interesting threads drawing us towards book number three, which cannot come out soon enough. The Demon's Lexicon was good but it is The Demon's Covenant that has firmly cemented Sarah Rees Brennan as one of my top ten YA authors and I look forward to reading many more of her funny/sad, exciting/tender stories in the years to come.


Nomes said…
I kind of only half read your review b/c I started getting worried about spoilers for the first one - which I havent read yet...

But I love the cover and congrats on getting predictions right! Always a good feeling :)
Angiegirl said…
Bravo! What an excellent review. And I'm so glad she's cemented in your top authors list. I was wild over this one and for all the reasons you said. Mostly Alan. But all the reasons. *grin* I am on pins and needles for the third and final book.
Anonymous said…
I love this review! I agree with you about nearly everything you said here, but to me it's the Crawfords, Mae and Jamie and their bond as siblings, and later their bond with their mother, that really own the heart of this story. CRAWFORDS FOREVER.
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