Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Damned Busters

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Damned Busters (Angry Robot, 2011).

Here's a book that's just downright odd. I certainly enjoyed it, but it surprised me at every turn with its playfulness, and its inventiveness. As the cute illustration on the front cover reveals, it's about a fellow who gains super powers through a deal with the devil, and sets off to save his city with the help of a cigar-chomping demon. But getting to that point is a really fun ride.

It turns out that our hero - a not very-social actuary named Chesney Ansruther - had no intention of summoning nether forces, and no intention of entering into a contract with any of them. His intransigence causes a growing labor movement in the bowels of Hell to flex its muscles, and Hell goes on strike. Soon, Satan himself is sitting down at the bargaining table with a TV preacher to negotiate terms for wickedness to thrive once again.

Honestly, while the whole book was entertaining, it was the first quarter - the first hundred pages - that tickled me the most. All the business of Hell's labor problems really is funny, and while writer Matthew Hughes finds a good angle for the superhero stuff - a battle against the rules of a very generous contract with the underworld - it's not quite as imaginative or silly as the long setup. Eventually, the story is revealed to be much more about good and evil and angels and devils than costumed shenanigans - the whole book is a setup for two more in a trilogy - and it closes satisfying, if not completely thrilling. A mild recommendation.

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