Also by this author: Don't Look Back, The Problem with Forever
Published by Harlequin Teen on February 25, 2014
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
Pages: 392 •Format: Paperback •Source: ALA, Publisher
One kiss could be the last
Seventeen-year-old Layla just wants to be normal. But with a kiss that kills anything with a soul, she's anything but normal. Half demon, half gargoyle, Layla has abilities no one else possesses.
Raised among the Wardens—a race of gargoyles tasked with hunting demons and keeping humanity safe—Layla tries to fit in, but that means hiding her own dark side from those she loves the most. Especially Zayne, the swoon-worthy, incredibly gorgeous and completely off-limits Warden she's crushed on since forever.
Then she meets Roth—a tattooed, sinfully hot demon who claims to know all her secrets. Layla knows she should stay away, but she's not sure she wants to—especially when that whole no-kissing thing isn't an issue, considering Roth has no soul.
But when Layla discovers she's the reason for the violent demon uprising, trusting Roth could not only ruin her chances with Zayne…it could brand her a traitor to her family. Worse yet, it could become a one-way ticket to the end of the world.
White Hot Kiss is the first book I picked up for Lauren’s Rainbow Try a Chapter Unhaul Challenge for 2020, which has the basic premise of forcing you to chose 1-2 books per month of a certain color and reading the first chapter. If you are engaged, you have to keep reading it and finish it that month, and if you don’t you have to unhaul the book. January’s color was white and I actually don’t have that many white books on my physical TBR, but my copy of White Hot Kiss is the original white cover so I decided to give it a go. It was about what I’d expected- a paranormal romance with a love triangle, sassy dialogue, special snowflake protagonist and an alarming lack of consent at times.
Now, I’m not knocking this book exactly. It was published in 2014, which was around the tail end of the Twilight/YA Paranormal craze, and I can see how it was reflective of that time and why it would have been successful then (if this had been out when I was in high school I probably would have really enjoyed it!). The premise was actually rather unique in terms of the paranormal elements, with the “good side” being gargoyles called Wardens that are sort of the paranormal law enforcement against demons (sort of reminiscent of Shadowhunters actually). Protagonist Layla is a half-demon, half Warden orphan who lives with the Wardens and has special powers that assists them with their hunting of demons (she can see souls, which is actually pretty cool but didn’t get enough page time or explanation for me, and she can also “tag” demons so the Wardens can hunt them down easier).
As you may expect, Layla spends a good portion of the story struggling with her liminal identity, never truly feeling that she fits in with the “honorable” Wardens but always having to fight against her demon nature (and curbing her desire to eat souls with sugary snacks which was actually pretty clever). Her love triangle also reflects this dichotomy, with her original crush being on the son of the head of the Wardens, Zayne, who has been like a big brother to her while she’s lived with them, and a typical “bad boy” demon named Roth. Now I’m not inherently against love triangles if they’re well done, but this one did feel pretty standard YA angsty teen paranormal romance to me. It was fine but nothing that really had me rooting for one over the other. The thing that bugged me more was Roth’s alpha male attitude. I know Armentrout’s books always have that kind of love interest but it’s admittedly been years since I’ve read one and it just doesn’t sit well with me now that I’m older. I’m pretty sure at a point in the book Roth kisses Layla without asking her and she acts pissed (but is secretly thrilled, of course) and it just felt uncomfortable to me as a reader. I think there’s a lot less of that in YA books now and I think I’d probably find such instances in a lot of the YA paranormal romance I enjoyed as a teen if I went back and reread, but it just really caught my attention in this story.
As I mentioned earlier on in my review, I did find this paranormal story to have a lot of unique elements and it pulled from some mythological/psuedo-biblical references too, mentioning hell, Lilith (who is a bit overused right now in YA if you ask me), princes/kings of hell etc. I thought this was a darker and yet more interesting take for a YA story as much of the paranormal YA I remember reading as a teen didn’t really delve into the backstory/world building of the paranormal too much. At the time I was reading this I was actually also watching Season 3 of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix (my thoughts on that season are a whole different story) but I did notice some parallels and appreciated the uniqueness of Armentrout tapping into a less used paranormal area of YA for this series (vampires/werewolves/nephilim etc).
Overall: This book was fine. The 2.5 star rating isn’t because I disliked it, it’s just because it didn’t leave as much of an impact on me that a lot of 3 star books have. I have no doubt that past me would have been all about this book, but I acknowledge that my tastes have changed (I will probably feel somewhat similarly if I reread the Lux series by the author that used to be one of my absolute favorites). I don’t know if I cared enough about the story overall to take the initiative to go out and read the next two books in the sequel (plus the new spinoff series) but I’m also not opposed to it- I’m just pretty neutral overall and it’s a great reminder that your tastes are constantly growing and changing as a reader!