Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
We were delightfully and pleasantly surprised by Grave Secrets, a paranormal romance novel by Cassandra Aston!
What's fascinating is that, on paper, the premise of Grave Secrets is rather cliché and generic: a tough yet naive teenage girl falls in love with a much-older and experienced humanoid cryptid (usually a werewolf or vampire). However, this book is so much more than some shallow Twilight knockoff. This book also reminded us a lot of two previous books we read: Sacred Vengeance by Evangaline Pierce (which also featured a main heroine name Allie and a major guardian-angel character named Gabriel) and Blood Relations by Glenn Stevens (which features an immortal vampire character whom every girl in town is attracted to due to an ability that he possesses similar to Simon in this book).
With all that in mind, this book still manages to be unique, different, and exciting. We're not exaggerating when we say that this book really raised our excitement level and enthusiasm, especially compared to other books we read this week.
What makes this book so good is the chemistry between Allie Graves and Simon. There's just something about that dynamic—that pairing—that's so tantalizing and intriguing. You just can't help but be charmed whenever the two of them are on the page or in a scene together. Even when they're just screwing around and having banter during tea time, you will likely find yourself engaged due to weight and luggage that the characters carry.
Allie is a demon slayer/monster hunter, often referred to as a reash, obligated to a six-year term of slaying ungodly abominations. She is essentially a female version of Blade. She even wields a mystical sword that is also closely associated with her like Excalibur with King Arthur. The thing is though, despite being a badass with some butt-kicking abilities, she's also still a teenager and also still human. She's also a bit of a blue collar troublemaker for some reason, having to shoplift for food. This means that she's also a target of law enforcement due to developing a reputation of stealing. This is admittedly quite strange because her supervisor is the angel Gabriel and she is supposedly working for God. So, isn't there something in The Bible about not coveting another person's property? In other words, aren't there a few verses about not stealing stuff?
Isn't it also a little weird or ironic that she can fight and slay all these demons/monsters yet can hardly handle the police or mortal humans? That might be the point.
Allie is cool, capable, yet vulnerable. You kinda need that in a protagonist.
Another thing to note is that Allie is a relative loner. She acts and behaves like a foster kid turned semi-homeless person.
Complimenting her character so well is Simon, a sort of mythical creature we chose to interpret as a “night walker.” In other words, Simon is a humanoid creature whose consciousness is only active at night. In the day time, his body does its own thing, usually just sleeping. Simon is about a hundred years old, being alive in the 1920s. Being such, he knows quite a bit including about Allie's parents and grandparents.
Simon is simultaneously a father/big-brother figure to Allie as well as a love interest for her. He is the only one who seems to genuinely care about her, want to spend any serious amount of time with her, and wants to protect her.
Gabriel, on the other hand, seems to view Allie more like an employee or even a pawn, or at least that's how Allie feels. Gabriel comes and goes, giving her instructions and vanishing for months at a time. This book really does a good job at subverting our expectations and our typical understandings about angels, demons, and the relationship between good and evil. In this book, Gabriel the angel is the darker character who conceals information while Simon, the abominable creature, is seen as the good guy who is honest and open about everything.
There are a few nice twists in this book that we don't want to spoil, but we will say that there is a really unique view of afterlife portrayed in this. Many people believe in a heaven and hell. However, this book takes the stance that there may be a place in between; no, not purgatory, but a place called Primoria—where some souls are transformed into abominations that can find themselves in the mortal plane.
Another thing that this book gets right is the sexual energy. This book reads like a soft erotica at times, constantly fixating on the characters' curves, underpants, etc. However, it kinda fits. You get the idea that these character really lacked a sense of belonging and intimacy that a sexual relationship brings. So, instead of being weirded out by these descriptions, you'll likely find yourself happy and relieved for these characters.
Check it out on Amazon!