Before we begin, I should let it be known I wrote the Foreword for this book because I helped “discover” M.K. Gibson and directed him to Amber Cove Publishing. I read To Beat the Devil in its manuscript form and was asked to give a fellow writer an honest critique. Clearly, I liked it because I passed it along to Amber Cove Publishing and thought I should take the time to say why I liked it.
There’s areas I don’t much care for, like the fact I think the cover is garish and cartoonish for the fact it’s a fairly serious cyberpunk fantasy novel. Well, serious in the same way the Dresden Files or Esoterrorism (plug-plug) is. Likewise, I think the story would benefit from going a little darker and sexier but, otherwise, I heartily recommend it.
The premise is the apocalypse has come and gone. Only, in this universe, God decided to bug out before the promised Armageddon and let the demons have Earth. After a lengthy stalemate, demons realized destroying humanity would leave them nothing to rule and made a treaty with the surviving humans to convert the world into a sleazy cyberpunk paradise. For demons, at least.
The protagonist, Salem, is another in a long line of deliciously sarcastic first person narrators which dominate the urban fantasy genre. I think it started with John Constantine in Hellblazer and it shows no sign of slowing down. Possessed of advanced nanotechnology and what’s best described as superpowers, he could have been a hero during the Demon Wars but chose, instead, to work for himself.
Salem starts the book as nothing more than a professional criminal and mercenary working on the edges of demon society, making money by doing odd jobs for them before getting wasted at his local watering hole. Salem’s life changes forever when he meets an immortal human client who proceeds to make him an offer he tries to refuse but fails miserably in doing so. From there, our hero goes through a series of misadventures which ultimately put him on a collision course with Earth’s demonic overlords. But will Salem fight against them or join them?
The setting is superficially similar to that of the popular tabletop roleplaying game Shadowrun. In both settings, supernatural beings come back after millennium of absence before setting themselves up as the rulers of the world. In both settings, the protagonists are cyber-enhanced criminals and antiheroes out for themselves. The big difference is Michael Gibson’s world is Judaeo-Christian rather than fantasy themed and his hero actually has a chance of significantly changing the world.
The supporting cast is where this books shines and I’ve got to say I love all of the garish and memorable characters Michael Gibson comes up with. I was especially fond of the twins for example and would have happily read an entire book about them. Interestingly, There’s quite a bit less sex, violence, and nihilism than expected in this book with the general setting running about PG-13 versus R. Despite being a career criminal in a hell-dominated world, Salem is more lovable rogue than villain and the demons are more selfish jerks than psychopathic monsters.
In conclusion, I recommend this book strongly if you like humor, monsters, cyberpunk, mythology, and wise-cracking heroes. It’s basically the Dresden Files combined with Shadow Run (with less oggling). High marks from me.