Please note that this review discusses themes of sexual assault. I will clearly mark these sections so that you can skip them.
Wow. Just wow. This book was a wild ride! I’m just going to let you know now that I absolutely loved, loved, loved this book! 5 stars from me. Duvall has a really lovely style and voice making it extremely easy to become immersed in her world.
Also, can we just take a moment to appreciate the cover! It's so stunning.
My publisher brain didn’t switch off though and nothing is perfect so I will go into a few critiques later in the review. And yes, I am giving it 5 stars even though it wasn’t perfect because I enjoyed it so much. It was one of the few books that I’ve read in a while that has just completely enthralled me and made me read on and on until suddenly it was finished and the sun was beginning to rise.
Like it says in the title, this is a spoiler review. I really need to talk about certain events in the book so be warned.
What I adored about Caught in the Devil’s Hand:
The main character:
Shumei, although not without fault, is a very realistic protagonist. A young woman who’s spent her life being ostracized by the villagers and relentlessly objectified by the people who do acknowledge her existence. Because of this, she is shy and timid at first, always expecting a harsh critique or physical blow. She comes out of her shell as the book progresses and it was really lovely to see.
The love interest:
Vallen is just wow. I was really hesitant about reading a book with sex demons in it because I usually don’t like sex demons. I’m not sure why, I think the premise feels a bit heavy-handed and sometimes a bit nonconsensual. E.g., the character is attracted to them because they’re being altered by magic as opposed to a genuine attraction. To be honest, I didn’t actually realise that this was a sex demon book but I enjoyed it regardless.
Vallen is a knight in shining armour to Shumei and is actually very much wanting her active and enthusiastic participation. He promises to fulfill all of her fantasies, bring her up from poverty, and never hurt her. In exchange, she has to never kiss another man (what a chore), and… feed him once a week. Of course, as a demon, he’s relatively morally grey at the start, but we see a more vulnerable Vallen pretty quickly as his feelings grow for Shumei.
There’s nothing I hate more than a damsel in distress. It’s one of the major issues I have with ACOTAR, Feyre was waiting for everyone to save her (in the Spring Court). But when she hit her stride in book 2, I loved it! Shumei’s and Vallen’s relationship is very equal. They save each other. Physically and emotionally.
As soon they discover that Shumei has emerging magic, Vallen isn’t jealous or possessive, he helps her nurture it.
When his friend, who is also a sex demon, turns up at their door, starving and about to die, he doesn’t guilt trip Shumei into saving Rosuke. Vallen is well aware that Rosuke wouldn’t last the night without Shumei’s ‘help’, but he barely says a word, letting her make the decision. Bare minimum I know to not coerce your partner into sexual acts, but it was a nice moment where he respects her autonomy and genuinely wouldn’t resent her for not saving his friend.
Holy cow, when I tell you this smut is on another level, please believe me. SmashBear published The Promise of Lightning, early this year which features a lot of slow burn romance and flirtation which culminates in a 3 chapter long, polyamorous and bisexual sex scene. It’s glorious and smutty, so believe me when I say that this smut is on another level.
It’s full on from the first few chapters and as a result of their bargain, it continues almost every chapter. However, it’s really nice to read. I know that’s a potentially weird thing to say about smut, but it was really well written! Shumei is discovering her body and new sensations in a very genuine way. She’s curious and shy, but her world get rocked with each new encounter.
Each encounter brings a new level of intimacy between Vallen and Shumei and it really helps their relationship grow.
Now addressing the scene which I’ve already touched on, Shumei sleeping with Rosuke. It ends up being kind of a 3 way, Vallen feels Shumei’s pleasure so he has a good time but the main act is between Shumei and Rosuke as he needs to feed.
You can tell that this was written by a woman. For one, in order for the demons to feed, the woman has to orgasm, and the way in which the demons coax her and play with her is basically what every woman would want. Vallen quite literally holds Shumeis legs open for Rosuke and let me tell you, I was shook. It was one of the dirtiest things I’ve ever read, but it was so romantic and intimate. I am still at odds with how something so full of sex can also be one of the most romantic things.
I was not expecting much from the story. While I was unaware of the specifics, like many of us, I didn’t exactly go into this thinking it was going to be the next best read. However, the story actually really held up really well!
It was predictable, but that added to the enjoyment for me. Sometimes it’s nice knowing what’s going to happen so you can just enjoy it for what it is.
But the plot was actually really engaging and kept you along for the ride. The pacing between plot and smut was really well done, never going too long without the other which kept me really enthralled.
The supporting cast:
The supporting cast were also really fun to read. Oka, Shumei’s little brother, was mostly used as comedic relief which was appreciated when things got intense. The leader of the village was detestable as he was meant to be and served his purpose to show the audience how objectified Shumei was.
The different pov’s:
I usually detest multiple pov’s in a book. They always end on cliffhangers and there’s usually always one person I just don’t care about. But this was a very unique take on it. Instead of whole chapters dedicated to one pov, characters pov’s seem to interrupt each other.
When they’re being intimate or something big happens, you can see it from each of their pov. I really like this and it really added more tension to the smut as you could see it from everyone's pov.
What I wasn’t a huge fan of:
I’d just like to preface this by saying that my notes are constructive and meant to be used as advice for writers. This is mainly why people come to these reviews, to see what a publisher would want to improve.
Yes, I loved the story and how the plot balanced with the smut. However, if we take the smut out of it, we’re left with a pretty mediocre story of a young adult makes a deal with the devil - devil falls in love with her - turns out she’s the long lost empress, and god’s chosen one - she must defeat evil.
I was hoping for something a tad more unique, but I enjoyed the predictably.
This also happens when Vallen ‘died’. You just know he wasn’t going to stay dead and I think that takes away from a lot of the impact. If you’re going to kill a character, kill them. If you’re going to bring them back, do it in the next book. Give the character and the audience the chance to mourn and then surprise them. Or just keep them dead.
I think this is something that comes from experience, but I can always tell when an author hits their flow. This is usually a few pages in, when they’ve been writing for a few minutes and just relax into it. I usually cut the first page or so from a manuscript when editing, or ask the writer to expand on the introduction a bit so we have some more words to work with.
The first page or so was a bit stiff, the language was a lot more formal than what proceeds with a lot of the ‘for’ explanations coming out, e.g. she was called a crow for she had black hair (not an actual quote from the book).
I also think it was very wordy for an opening. The language was quite dense and I ‘tripped’ over a few words a couple of times which ruined the flow.
Majo, the villain, seemed kind of like an afterthought. There was so much care and attention given to the main cast that Majo fell a bit flat in comparison. We find her motivation toward the end of the book, but it still leaves a lot of unanswered questions.
I did like that her motivation was ‘if the good god won’t choose me, then fuck him, I’ll go to the bad one’. I relate to that a bit too much, it’s often why I think I would never be picked to have superpowers!
But she’s explained to be having lots of wealth despite being part of the lower class. This is never expanded on and never questioned by the other villagers.
She also manipulates Shumei into kissing her and letting her touch Shumei’s breasts for information which gave me the ick.
But this brings me to one of my biggest gripes. THE WITCH USED A POTION TO MAKE SHUMEI’S BOOBS BIGGER AND SHUMEI JUST SHRUGGED IT OFF. Like, oh well, guess my body’s been changed forever, no sweat.
Again, Majo’s motivations aren’t really explained but I think it was part of her messing around with spells and part of her objectification of Shumei. Majo had such little regard for Shumei’s autonomy that changing Shumei’s body to suit her will wasn’t even a second thought. But Shumei’s reaction was just ‘ohhh nooo, please don’t give me bigger boobs.’ Likewise, Vallen, who gives ‘touch her and I’ll kill you vibes’ just shrugs it off cause boobs.
Sexual Assault: click here to skip
Anyone who’s worked with me by now knows of my distaste for putting sa in books. I often feel that it’s so unnecessary and Caught in the Devil’s Hand is definitely an offender.
Thankfully, the scene was less than a page and only consisted of some over-the-clothes groping, but it was truly unnecessary. I don’t even understand why it was put in other than to make the audience cringe. Like Shumei, I am deathly afraid of spiders, so to read about a spider demon assaulting Shumei was truly something I could have done without.
I get that it’s meant to be a full circle moment as she was assaulted as a child by the same spider demon, but she doesn’t save herself or overcome her fear, Vallen saves her both times.
This also lends to the predictability point. As soon as toddler Shumei mentions that her saviour has a spicy scent, you just know it’s Vallen (this is treated as a flashback scene later in the book after we’ve met him).
But back to the main point, it was just unnecessary. To provide a bit more context, they’re mid-battle, they need to kill Shumei. But instead, spider boi decides to pin her down and grope her breasts and allude to more stuff.
Scenes like this really leave a bad taste in my mouth, and I know I’m not alone in this.
I don’t want to read the second book:
I feel like this could have been a standalone. The story at the end was rather rushed and feels like it was just put there to extend it into a series.
If I was publishing it as is, I would cut the ending to the battle with Majo and the demons. It would finish with Major being killed and the dark one being banished back to oblivion. They seem to have their happily ever after. Then in book 2 it’s revealed that things are on a much greater scale than they originally thought.
I’m unsure of what the second book’s story is besides what was left off from book 1, but I think it follows a different couple. I usually enjoy this, but if the story is still focused on carrying on from book 1, I’m kind of meh of reading Shumei’s story from a different perspective.
I probably will buy it and love it. But something in my brain is throwing a tantrum. I’ll update when I find out what about.
Overall I loved Caught in the Devil’s Hand. It was a great read and really, really fun! My comments are only meant to be constructive, and I have even rated it 5 stars on goodreads and amazon. Let me know if there’s something you think I should read in the comments and what you thought of Caught in the Devil’s Hand.