Review: Hellgate by Morgon Newquist
Hellgate is a paranormal suburban fantasy with both classic horror and romance elements. This driving story throws a relatable female lead alongside two compelling romantic interests in a fight against a demon wolf, all with harrowing tension and an uplifting theme. A great start for the Neighborhood Watch series!
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed Hellgate. I encourage you to check it out!
This review contains minor spoilers.
Hellgate Publisher Description:
Emilia King has made an art of bad choices. Just ask her mother, she’ll tell you every single thing she’s done wrong for years.
When her latest bad choice changes the locks to their apartment and leaves all her stuff on the doorstep, Emilia can’t bear to hear “I told you so” one more time. So she moves in with her grandfather. Then she can have some space to figure out who…and what she wants to be, without her mother breathing down her neck.
What she finds there is anything but peace. Her grandfather battles invisible creatures in the dark. Neighbors torn apart by wild beasts.
Not to mention the moody, gorgeous man across the street with the motorcycle. The kind of man that’s her kryponite.
But when her grandfather falls ill, his position of head of the Neighborhood Watch falls to her. And in this neighborhood, it’s more than measuring grass height or catching petty thefts.
As she uncovers her grandfather’s double life, his mistakes are coming back to stalk the neighborhood in the form of a vicious, shapeshifting beast. Thrust into a world of magic and monsters, Emilia is out of her depth.
Can she save the neighborhood? And do it without falling for the fae across the street?
Morgon Newquist moves into Urban Fantasy with this fast paced, witty urban fantasy series about an unusual Neighborhood Watch. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Bella Forrest will love Hellgate’s female hero, handsome fae, and magical battles.
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Sympathetic Female Lead
Emilia makes for an extremely relatable main character. She doesn’t feel contrived or pandering, which is easy to fall into in this genre, when she is placed alongside men and against monsters during action scenes.
There are some elements of a supernatural strength she possesses, certainly to be developed later in the series, but the bulk of her success stems from diligence. Emilia has made a point of running daily, building strength and stamina. It is this consistency that pays off for her most, not any latent powers she may possess. This alone sets her apart as an admirable hero.
Emilia has some flaws, but the story’s inciting incident is made possible because she is actively attempting to grow and leave her “old” life behind. She becomes particularly sympathetic to me in her healthy thought life; she reigns in negativity, even when frustrated, and turns her focus to doing the right thing.
Strong Supporting Characters
The other characters were diversely written. Of course, the two male romantic interests are both attractive in different ways—one hot bad boy and one hot quiet type—giving rise to the typical question of “who will she choose.”
However, the other characters of the story are beautifully varied in their individuality. Lydia, whose character is only really present by reputation, serves as a foil for her daughter. The neighbor lady contrasts Lydia. Emilia’s grandfather is complemented by his best friend, who has his own interests and traits. The result is a believable community.
The setting came across as very tight: a suburban neighborhood and the woods nearby. It felt very manageable and easily visualized. A place protected by a neighborhood watch, in the traditional sense of the word (as opposed to certain friendly “neighborhood” superheroes who recently protected the multiverse).
Important elements, such as the abandoned church in the woods, were introduced before they became plot points. The nice small setting with reusable, versatile locations allows the reader to feel familiar there, too.
This is why I shy away from terming the story as “urban” fantasy. Urban settings tend to suggest an unwieldy size, by necessity filled with never explored areas and unaware non-characters. The events take place in locations connected only by taxi, breaking the plot into scenes as on a stage. Hellgate’s more focused setting allows the plot to continuously pick up speed, without these awkward breaks.
This story isn’t a paranormal romance. There is plenty of paranormal and the romance is present, but it is a subplot and does not direct the main beats of the story. The primary genre is more along the lines of a classic horror story.
The basic premise is a monster tale, with the story beats related to discovering the monster’s origin, weaknesses, and setting up traps and defenses. And there are good classic defenses, too, which combine some religious lore (such as holy ground) with fae lore (such as herbs and mushroom circles).
Newquist raises the stakes consistently with good “yes, but—no, and” tactics. The traps and defenses set up by the heroes work, but a new problem arises; or they don’t work, and now they are in even greater danger! The tension pushes the reader through the story at a breakneck speed.
The romantic subplot keeps the tension high, even when the monster is not present. The male leads are attractive and compelling, providing plenty of juicy interactions, especially as the two are friendly to begin with. The conflict is light, serving as a welcome diversion from the driving force of the main plot, yet insistent, keeping the story from settling between the confrontations. As with any good love triangle, the pull between the two men is believable, unpredictable, and poignant.
The subplot is largely defined by the female gaze. For those less familiar with this term, it is more than the opposite of the more commonly discussed “male gaze.” It certainly includes the objectification of the male body, as seen through the eyes of a sexually interested female. However, it also encompasses an awareness of the woman’s own body and the effect she has on men.
For Emilia, this results in a boldness to reciprocate the attention she receives from the two male love interests. I wasn’t always completely comfortable with the level of lust she displayed, and she often chose to put herself in improper situations. I could explain them to my satisfaction by pointing to her old life, which she was clearly trying to grow beyond. Her references to her old boyfriend and her “weakness” for bad boys on motorcycles seem to support this theory.
It will be interesting to see where the romantic arch goes in subsequent books. The story’s conclusion, with Emilia’s answer to the “who will she choose” question, casts her relationships with the two young men going forward in even more uncertainty.
Emilia serves as a vehicle for at least two inspiring themes. The first arises from her general situation. She has chosen to place herself with her grandfather instead of her mother. At face value this decision was motivated by a desire to avoid her mother’s judgement, however, throughout the story we see the importance of placing yourself in a situation where you can heal and grow.
Emilia’s new community, from her grandfather to her new neighbors, gives her love and encouragement. They remember her from her childhood or know her through the enthusiasm of her grandfather’s recommendation. Rather than her mother’s familiarity with her failings, there is space for Emilia to begin rebuilding her identity beyond them.
The community does not stop at providing a safe place for healing, however. Nearly everyone has healthy expectations for her, too. Things that she has the capability to accomplish, where her mother’s expectation has become (perhaps unintentionally) for her to fail.
Sometimes, we don’t have control over our situation, but Emilia serves as an example of taking proactive steps to change what we can control and choosing to spend time with others who encourage us to become better people.
The second theme is tied to diligence, which I mentioned earlier. The constant raising of the stakes in the plot means that Emilia has to be determined and work through difficulties instead of giving up.
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Hellgate is a compelling and satisfying story! I look forward to reading more about the actual Hellgate and Emilia’s adventures in the rest of the Neighborhood Watch series!
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