I was a huge fan of Gabriel's Inferno, the first book in this series by Slyvain Reynard. I mean a HUGE fan. In fact, that book made it onto my list of favorite books of all time and books that I could read over and over again. I loved it so much. But, weirdly I think, I was not really looking forward to this sequel. In my mind the story ended absolutely perfectly, and I wasn't in any hurry to see that the practically happily ever after ending of that story didn't end up being so happily ever after. But the day of the release of this book came, and I found that I couldn't stay away. I wanted more Gabriel and Julia, so I took the plunge and purchased this book.
How did I like it? Well, I was disappointed, but I will admit that I was a lot more disappointed after reading the first half of the book than I ended up being at the conclusion of the book. In short, after a rocky beginning I thought that the book redeemed itself by the ending. Why the disappointment? Three reasons primarily. First of all, one of the things that I absolutely loved about the first book was that Julia and Gabriel were both significantly flawed. They had some real issues that they needed to work through, and these issues were preventing them from really giving themselves to each other. However, through their love for one another they were able to overcome those problems and find true love. Gabriel's Inferno was a story of redemption. I loved that. However, in this story it turns out that Gabriel wasn't entirely open about all that he was doing in his life. He hadn't told the whole truth, and for that reason there are still some significant things for the two of them to work out. In addition Julia is still really working through issues of her own insecurity. Despite all that Gabriel did to assure her of his love and devotion, she she questions whether he truly loves her unconditionally. Some of this is his own fault, but a lot can be pinned to her own issues. By itself this wouldn't have been a big problem, but after making such a big deal in the last book about how love conquers our past difficulties, it felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me when I discovered that the ending of the last book hadn't been as genuine as I believed it to be. Having said that, however, I do recognize that this is a realistic portrayal of relationships in this regard. Our lives don't automatically just become a bowl of cherries after significant trauma. It takes lots of time and work to overcome our difficulties. So ultimately this wasn't enough of an issue to ruin the book for me.
The second problem that I had with this book was the way that it was paced. The entire first 40% of the book contained scene after scene after scene of Gabriel's and Julia's lovemaking. Over and over and over. Different location, different intensity, but sex, all the same. I will say that the lovemaking scene at the end of Gabriel's Inferno had to be one of the best sex scenes in all of literature. His concern and love for her as he loved her was absolutely beautiful. So I'm not totally opposed to these sorts of scenes showing up in literature, but it was excessive in this book. If you are the type of reader who is totally into this sort of thing, you will probably not feel the same as I do, but for me I don't want to read a sex book with a story crunched into it. No. I want a story that moves me first. In the first half of this book there was not a story. I get it. Gabriel is an attentive lover. It doesn't take dozens of scenes to drive that point home. Let's move on. I shouldn't have to wait for half of the book before a real story emerges.
Third, the language of the book got into eye rolling territory for me. In Gabriel's Inferno I loved the way that Gabriel and Julia talked to one another. I loved that they were so academic. I loved the way that the story of Dante was interwoven throughout the story along with the beautiful Italian language. Loved it! In this book it didn't work so much for me. It just came across as so pretentious. At sex scene #5825 of the book when they were calling each other Professor and Miss Mitchell or Beatrice or whatever I started getting annoyed with it. I don't know why exactly, but I think that it was because of the nature of the problem that arises within this story. At one point in the story Gabriel and Julia are separated. These two people were so in love, but Gabriel couldn't figure out a single way to explain what was going on in normal everyday language. Why in the world did he decide to leave these literary references to explain himself? Who does that in real life? Even when he finally has the chance to explain himself I found his reasoning to be off. Terribly annoying.
One more small complaint -- Christa was a major pain in the rear in this book. A major pain. She caused so much trouble, but in the end her story is just dropped. What happens to her? Does she get away with her mischief making? I didn't really care for her as a character. She seems a bit too one-dimensional, but I still feel as if she deserved an end to her story so that she wasn't just hanging around in the background of the story without any resolution. But this was just a small complaint.
So it seems as if I have just been dogging this book for this entire review, but it isn't all bad. There are some great parts to the book. If I had written this review at the end of the first half of the book it would have been a two star review. But the last half of the book was much better and it reminded me of the things that I loved about the first book, so I felt much better having finished the book.
What I liked:
Paul. What a great friend he was to Julia! I loved this character. I wish that there was more of him in the book. Unfortunately he chose to share all of his goodness with the wrong girl. Julia could never be happy with him because Gabriel was too dominant of a love for her. Unfortunate, but ultimately it was for the best for Paul.
Some of the descriptions of the Italian country. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the beginning of the book, I did enjoy the scenery and the description of the art, literature, and food.
I'm not sure if I totally like the way that this played out, but I was glad to see that there was some resolution about the fraternization that took place between Gabriel and Julia in the previous book. I always thought that they were really skirting around the rules with their professor/student relationship. Although technically they didn't break any rules, they still were not faithful to the spirit of that law. In this book they faced the consequences for that. Like I say, I wasn't a big fan of the way it was handled by the faculty and administration, but I was glad that it was handled so that the two of them could find a good way forward.
The message of the last half of the book. Gabriel is a mess. He has some work to do to correct the mistakes of his past. His beginning of true redemption comes as he revisits Italy and comes to recognize a higher being, a higher purpose, and a better way of living. The change in him as a character was wonderful to read. In the end Julia is told by Gabriel's adoptive father that "sometimes relationships can be conduits of grace, and I know you've been one for my son." I think that that sums up the lesson of this story. Julia and Gabriel are both conduits of grace, helping each other find the redemption that they need. That was beautiful to read, and an amazing message for the end of these two books about these soul mates.
Although I was not as big a fan of this book as I was of Gabriel's Inferno, I think that there will be many who will enjoy this book. Just read through my problems and my likes and see if you are willing to take a chance on this one. Syvain Reynard is still obviously a gifted author, and I expect more great work from him in the future. But from me for this one ... three stars.