Jun 30, 2015

[Books] The Damned Busters (To Hell and Back Book 1)

Most of the Angry Robot Books titles that I end up reviewing on this blog are largely because of their NetGalley review program. They're a fun little genre-centric publisher and it's quite the pleasure to support them in this manner. But it seems that even outside the books that they offer up for review, I still end up reading their titles regardless.

Enter The Damned Busters, which I got on sale via the Amazon Kindle Store. I had picked up the full trilogy of books on a bit of a whim since I like supporting superhero fiction, which is a little rare outside the comic book world. So I was genuinely surprised that now that I've finally started to read the books after they've been in my virtual collection for months, I find out that they're Angry Robot Books titles.

And while this is a superhero story, I didn't quite expect this to be a religious book as well. That's what I get for blindly getting a book just because it was part of a trilogy - it's a weird habit that I learned from my mom and it has resulted in some weird book purchases. And I don't regret buying these books - I was just genuinely surprised that it had quite the religious angle to things. Admittedly I probably would have noticed this had I just looked at the coer image more closely or had I even just read the synopsis.

Synopsis: The Damned Busters is the first book in Matthew Hughes's To Hell and Back trilogy of novels. It was published by Angry Robot Books back in 2011.

The book begins with a most unusual scene - with mild-mannered actuarial analyst Chesney Anstruther accidentally having summoned a demon from Hell. The odd combination of his despite to build a custom five-sided poker table for the first game night to be held at his apartment to his strict upbringing to never use swear words resulted in an accidental hammer blow that resulted in Chesney saying precisely the right gibberish to summon a demon. And when the demon asks him what he wants, he refuses to make a decision since technically speaking, he did not intend to summon a demon.

One thing leads to another and suddenly all the demons of Hell are on strike just because of Chesney's refusal to make a deal after following the acceptable forms of demon summoning. And when Lucifer Himself comes to see Chesney, he ends up working out a rather unique deal just to get the cycle of sin back in order. So now Chesney has his greatest dream fulfilled - to be a superhero if only for two hours a day through the aid of his personal demon, Xaphan. But this is all just the tip of the iceberg for the strangeness that is going to come into Chesney's life.

First up, it's not immediately apparent that Chesney is potentially autistic, but it's something that does become clearer over time. And I do appreciate how this was depicted in the story in a manner that wasn't grossly stereotypical despite the somewhat lighter comedic tone that defines this narrative. This isn't exactly a comedic title mind you - but it's definitely rather light-hearted despite the religious subject-matter.

Going back to the story, the quirky nature of our protagonist does also result in a rather roundabout manner of the story unfolding. After all, we have to walk within his little "pools of light" as we go from scene to scene in this story in order for him to be able to still make sense of things.

There's a lot of elements involved in his story including the city being controlled by an enigmatic group known as The Twelve, a cop trying to do his job and a weird plan to clean up the city. And in the middle of it all we have Chesney as The Actionary, which is probably one of the stranger names for a superhero that anyone has ever come up with. It again touches on the light comedic nature the book since Actionary clearly sounds like actuary, and that's the sort of logic one has to embrace in this book.

And this tone does help keep the heavy religious bits from becoming too overwhelming. After all, the book presents a rather unusual premise for why God created the world and all that and how one can accept this whole thing as real can be quite the brain tickler. And don't worry, they won't exactly try to resolve things right away - this is a trilogy after all.

The Damned Busters is a book that I bought on a whim but now I can admit that I'm rather enjoying. The narrative still feels a little rough around the edges, but it still makes for interesting reading. Thus the book gets a decent 3.5 Al Capone-inspired behaviors by the demon Xaphan out of a possible 5.


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