I choose Hell’s Pawn based on the author and the incredible cover art. The story lives up to both as a somewhat epic jaunt through afterlife complete with visitations from just about every major religion. This is perhaps the one hiccup to the story in that the philosophy of religion, belief, faith, and the afterlife is thoroughly discussed. The story doesn’t try to advocate one faith or belief system over any others but it does examine the concept of faith from many different angles and may not be what every reader is looking for. It’s important to read with an open mind and trust that the story is not trying to preach or condemn, but instead almost enlighten.
Hell’s Pawn begins with the hero, John Grey, waking up in Purgatory. He doesn’t exactly realize where he is at first but after remembering some startling details of the previous night, he’s pretty sure he’s dead. John is different though and seems to slip through the rules of Purgatory with distressing ease. When he encounters Dante, an Irishman content to drink his way through afterlife, the two decide to escape from Purgatory. Their escape lands them in Hell, which is just the beginning of their journey. Traveling through different realms and times, John, Dante, and Rimmon must try to recruit an army for Hell’s war. Yet John’s powers and intelligence mean he’ll only play by his rules.
The story is pretty intricate with a lot of detail and layers. The narrating duties are exclusively through John’s third person perspective. This works very well and I never really missed the PoV of the other characters. Instead John is a vibrant and attention getting character. The setting is equally as intriguing as the characters move from Purgatory to Hell to various other realms and times. This is where the story definitely picks up and takes off but also conversely gets into areas that may not be to each reader’s tastes. This is where the in depth examination of various religions and belief systems starts but to the writing’s credit it does try to highlight the various Gods without overwhelming the reader or turning the story into a philosophical debate.
This fast paced continues to the end, which is especially nice since the writing starts off pretty slow and choppy. The first few pages are alternatively confusing and rough as the reader is plunged into this new world with no information or clues and numerous distracting but unimportant details. I eventually understood what the author and story was trying to convey but the execution feels raw and unpolished in this part. The writing and story in general gets better as the various rules and limitations become more obvious in the new setting. The concepts of Purgatory, Heaven, Hell, and various afterlifes are all very fascinating, especially the spin the story puts on them all. It feels interesting and unique, something totally different than I’d read before.
I especially appreciated the level of detail and intellectual discussion about the various religions, although this is a technique used heavily in the story so if you’re not one for any kind of philosophy or debate in your fiction, this story may not satisfy. The writing tries to keep these debates light and more superficial to keep the story and characters moving but it does create a much slower pace while reading. There is a lot of information to absorb and numerous important details that are hidden so it’s clear you need to read thoroughly. I didn’t necessarily mind but I did re-read several sections and found this offering much slower to get through than similar novels of the same size.
That said the ingenuity and characterization are truly wonderful. The various characters from Gods to minions have a purpose in the story. There are very few, if any, superfluous characters and the main men are well crafted with a lot of subtly and nuance. The writing picks up speed and polish as it goes on with only a few obvious editing missteps. This is easily a fiction story I could recommend although the density makes it one I probably wouldn’t read again. However it’s a concept and idea I’ll remember and think about for a long time to come. One warning to readers – this story is fiction, maybe even gay fiction considering the lead narrator is gay, however, this isn’t a romance. There are romantic elements but these are very minor and could easily have been omitted without any detriment to the story. Instead pick this up if you’re looking for something absorbing, fascinating, and totally different. It’s well worth the investment.