Paperback, 384 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
Faith and theology often come into play in horror fiction. The Exorcist is perhaps the most famous novel of terror to treat the conflict between good and evil in a highly literal fashion. In Highborn, author Yvonne Navarro takes a path that fallen angels don’t fear to tread: Hell hath no greater fury than towards a woman who scorns it. Navarro’s narrative concerns a female rogue demon seeking celestial redemption. This is an in vogue subgenre; hotter than Hades, as a quick scan of book stores’ new releases will verify. What elevates Highborn to a winged victory is its writer’s prose. She makes the conflicted romance burn with intensity; the action scenes sizzle; and the characters are illuminated with an inner fire.
For Astarte, the underworld is underwhelming. Tired of consorting with Satan, and filled with boredom concerning the realm’s regimen of incessant torment, she escapes. Her flight is not without ramifications. The devil demands his due; he doesn’t take kindly to rejection. In earthly guise, Astarte becomes Brynna; a cynical savior bent on comprehending the frailties of mankind, while trying to regain a foothold in heaven. Brynna’s ties to a serial killer connect her with Eran, a cop on the trail of the murderer. Their relationship results in seriously steamy sex. This isn’t a surprise, but what makes the rapaciously carnal interlude rather endearing is the post coitum rhapsodic remembrances; from the guy’s side: “It was fantastic and tortuous at the same time, a ride of sensuality that did not so much rise and fall as skyrocket and plummet, a roller coaster of the body that always seemed to teeter on the edge of simply stopping his heartbeat.” Touched by an angel, indeed.
Brynna, as angel and demon, is a supernatural variation on the Madonna and whore societal schism. She fits well within such complexities of cultural perception. In this case, the warring personality aspects must align for the sake of humanity’s future. The responsibility is rife with metaphysical and philosophical questions, but also requires Brynna’s kick butt action heroine skills. During a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, she initially ventures into vengeance with verve, but finds she must restrain those natural impulses: The venue makes too many people vulnerable to harm. Tension mounts as unholy adversaries mingle with the masses assembled at the stadium. The tautness of this sequence is expertly rendered; very visual, and vigorous in pace.
Having an intriguing protagonist, such as Brynna, is essential to a successful story. The supporting cast is also important. In Highborn, the author has peppered the tale with memorable peripheral personages. There is ample description to flesh out an ally or adversary. A horrific hunter, determined to bring Brynna back to the depths of the damned is depicted thus: “Bony spikes rose from the center of its skull and wavered in an uneven line that looked like something from a mutated aquarium. Its heavy bottom jaw stretched into a wide smile lined with so many stocky teeth that its upper lip – if that’s what it could be called – was completely hidden.”
Highborn is another book which delves into deities; demonic and divine. Satanic spawn and spirituality synthesize, because “It stands to reason that if you have demons, you have angels as well.” Author Yvonne Navarro leaps onto a popular theme, and rides it like a seasoned jockey on a thoroughbred. Her novel will appeal to readers with catholic tastes; it works on many levels.