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The book publishing industry has been shaky for the last few years, with most segments recording slow sales. One exception is YA, or Young Adult, a category that barely existed 20 years ago. YA titles topped all the bestseller lists for most of this decade, led by the phenomenal success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series. Both have spun off dozens of imitators in the subgenres of paranormal romance and dystopian sci-fi, respectively.
“Paranormal romance” usually depicts a world like our own, in which the general population is seeded with figures who look human but claim supernatural origins and powers. Anne Rice created the genre with her vampire novels, but Twilight, with its numerous sequels and movie versions, shot it into the mainstream. Quickly wearing out the vampire theme, paranormal authors have mined the lore of the ages for other supernatural beings, such as werewolves, shapeshifters, angels, even mermaids. Demons are an especially durable brand that’s grown in popularity: I searched my public library’s list of YA novels under the heading demonology, and saw that of the 130-plus titles listed, almost all were published after 2007.
Cassandra Clare leads the pack with her Mortal Instruments series, a never-ending saga of Shadowhunters: half-angel creatures (Nephilim) whose mission is to seek out and destroy the demons among us. The first Mortal Instruments novel, City of Bones, is scheduled for a big movie opening in August, but Clare is not sitting on her laurels. A new series that tracks the Shadowhunters through their Victorian phase has scored again with Clockwork Princess (Margaret McElderry Books). Another winner in the demonology field is Laini Taylor, whose Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Little, Brown) follows the fraught love affair between Karou, a reincarnated chimera, and Akiva, a Seraph. Though a better writer, Taylor equals Clare in edgy, profanity-laden dialogue and sex. Somewhat tamer, but almost as popular, are Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Chronicles of Nick (latest installment: Inferno, St. Martins), whose protagonist discovers at the age of 14 that he’s a demon-slaying immortal with a zombie-stalking girlfriend.
The library list reveals another interesting trend: The titles are weighted heavily toward biblical terms, such as Highway to Hell, Last of the Nephilim, Soul Thief, Original Sin, The Temptation. Some of these versions are satirical, reflecting Karl Marx’s maxim that history repeats itself first as tragedy and then as farce. What began with sublime Dante and earnest Anne Rice descends to the ridiculous with Prom Dates from Hell. Many of these novels plunder pagan mythologies as well, but the biblical palette, with its complex moral colors and apocalyptic shades, seems to be one that neither authors nor readers can resist.
Biblical themes are mangled when the Protagonist is left out, as God always is. I suspect these authors are subconsciously trying to capture the Bible’s drama without its truth, but that very fact says something: perhaps that the essential story of fall and redemption is written on every heart.