Dale Highland has deadly secret, one she’s been running from since the age of seventeen. Ten years as a fugitive has made her highly skilled in disappearing, but she’s also lived her life alone and detached from people. Unbeknownst to Dale a supernatural hunter is on her trail and meeting him will bring her face to face with her past and the truth of her origins.
A paranormal fantasy, The Demon Within is a richly crafted story of angels and demons with tons of high-octane action and unexpected twists. Dale’s story starts soon after she wakes up from a blackout and finds a dead body nearby. While she attempts to contain her panic, we soon discover that this has happened to her before. In fact, her first murder was the reason why she ran away from home as a teenager. Dale didn’t understand why this kept happening, only that she didn’t know how to stop it.
Her journey to discover has past wasn’t something she was looking for initially. Throughout most of the story Dale is in survival mode until she meets John Goodwin, a half angel hunter who has been looking for her for a very long time. She is inexplicably drawn to him and through some unforeseen circumstances learns that he is more than human while she is part demon. I’m a big fan of The Mortal Instruments, The Infernal Devices, and The Dark Artifices series by Cassandra Clare and so I was immediately intrigued by author Beth Woodward’s take on the angels versus demons narrative.
John is a part of an angelic paramilitary group called the Thrones. In Christianity, the Thrones are the third highest class within the angelic hierarchy with only the Cherubim and Seraphim ahead of them. In Woodward’s world, the angels had fallen from Heaven eons ago and a great civil war occurred causing the group to fracture and factions to develop. Through John, Dale finds out not only does she have demonic blood, but her mother is one of the most powerful demons in existence. On the run from the Thrones who seek to kill her, she must find a way to control the gifts she’s inherited while trying to stay alive and determine whom she can and can’t trust.
I genuinely enjoyed reading The Demon Within and was rooting for Dale to figure out how to manage her powers and learn more about her origins. She is a well-rounded character with both strengths and weaknesses, but she genuinely wanted to help people despite the circumstances she finds herself in. Her relationship to John is interesting as well because at first it seemed fairly predictable with the mysterious handsome stranger who suddenly pops into the heroine’s life. Without spoiling too much however there is an unexpected change that occurs and it completely took me by surprise in the best way possible. I love complicated storylines where you don’t clearly know who the villains or the heroes are and the world is painted in shades of gray.
Woodward does a terrific job in bringing her readers into the story. From Dale’s life in New York, to a temporary stop at an amusement park, and eventually returning to her childhood home in Pennsylvania, audiences are treated to the sights and sounds of each location. Apart from scene setting, there were also lots of interesting details that contributed to Woodward’s supernatural world. One of my favorites were the introduction of fractal bullets, which are a nasty work of weaponry. One of the characters gets hit with this ammunition and the results are incredibly unpleasant.
The author also has a way with drama and action. Dale’s life up to this point has been trying to survive with bouts of unexplainable violence when she is thrust into a chaotic world that she doesn’t understand. Eventually though things begin to make sense and she has to cope with who and what she is. Woodward’s pacing was well done and while there are lots of adrenaline pumping scenes, Dale also had moments of calm in order to process her new environment as she meets varied characters along the way.
The Demon Within is the first of the Dale Highland series with Embracing the Demon as the sequel. For lovers of paranormal fiction this book will surely be riveting.
We had a chance to sit down with the author and all things demons and angels.
The Workprint: I am a big fan of angel and demon storylines and was instantly drawn into this narrative, what inspired you to focus on these two supernatural creatures?
Woodward: I really like playing with the ideas of what’s “bad” and what’s “good.” In most stories, demons are the bad guys. But who decides that? What makes them “bad” exactly? What makes angels “good?” I tend to be skeptical of conventional wisdom, so I really liked the idea of a story that challenged these norms.
The Workprint: What was your process in world building for this story?
Woodward: As I started getting into the project, I knew I wanted my angels and demons to be disconnected from whatever happens after this world. Is there a god? Is there a heaven and hell? They don’t know any more than we do. They’ve been at war for millennia, but very few people remember exactly why. So I had to think about the toll that would take on the older angels and demons—and about how that would affect the worldview of the younger ones who were born into this conflict.
I have to give Robert Peterson, my editor, a lot of credit with helping to push me to expand this world beyond what I had originally imagined, both in its mythology and in its scenes. He was constantly pushing me to invent new places and gadgets and scenes, and to make them as interesting as possible.
The Workprint: Dale’s journey to understand and accept her past was a key aspect in the character’s development. It seemed that a lot of characters were dealing with their pasts in one way or another (Isaac, John, Amara) – what do you hope that readers will takeaway relating to this theme after reading The Demon Within?
Woodward: Everyone is shaped by their pasts. It’s inevitable. But you have a choice in how you let that influence you, and what kinds of choices you make because of it. A lot of my characters make really bad choices because of their pasts. They are terrible role models 😉
The Workprint: Towards the end of the story we discover a very important detail about John’s past that is total a game changer. Was that something you had always planned while you were writing his character?
Woodward: Oh man…how much can I say here without getting spoilery? The gist of it is, yes, it was planned. Some of the details got changed during my writing process, but I knew the general direction very early on.
The Workprint: Amara was also another fascinating character and I would love to know more about her! Are there any interesting details you could share that weren’t in the book?
Woodward: Amara is thousands of years old. Angels and demons arrived on Earth very early in humanity’s existence, and she’s been kicking around since then. I think, once upon a time, Amara would have been a lot more impetuous than she is in The Demon Within, and probably a lot more hedonistic and fun. But she’s shaped by tragedy, and was driven by anger and vengeance for a lot of years. By the time you meet her in The Demon Within, the years have taken their toll. She’s had a lot of time to think about the things she’s done, and she has a lot of regrets.
The Workprint: What were the most difficult and the most fun scenes to write?
Woodward: The most difficult were the middle scenes in the book with Isaac at Funland Amusement Park. I pretty much gutted and rewrote the middle of the book twice, and I just could not figure out how to keep the amusement part scenes from being draggy. I thought about killing the sequence altogether. But I think it worked out well in the end, and Isaac ended up being one of my favorite characters in the story. (The character wasn’t even in the first draft, but I love him so much. The evolution of that character was really one of my favorite parts of writing the story.)
The most fun scene to write, easily, was the scene down in the abandoned City Hall Subway Station. First of all, I really love abandoned places, and some of those old New York subway stations are beautiful, so I loved doing the digging to find pictures of what it looks like now. I even rode the 6 train around the loop at the downtown end of the line to see it through the window when I was visiting the city. (Do this, if you have a chance, because it’s awesome.) Plus, I got to write about cool things like jumping off of subway cars and being flayed by mechanical spiders. It was awesome!
The Workprint: Lastly I read that you are a fellow Doctor Who fan! Who would you say is your Doctor?
Woodward: The 10th Doctor or the 12th Doctor. David Tennant is definitely cuter, and he’d be the one more likely to inspire me to run through time and space in a phone box, but Capaldi broke my heart so many times with his performance. He really grew into that character and made it his own.
Thank you for the chat Beth! I am now itching to read Embracing the Demon.
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