From acclaimed artist Wayne Barlowe, whose distinctive stamp can be found in literature (Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials, Expedition), film (Harry Potter 3 + 4, Blade II, Hellboy), television (Discovery Channel’s Alien Planet, Babylon 5) and videogames (Dead Rush, Prototype) as well as appearing in numerous museums, Time, Life, and Newsweek, comes the creator’s latest visionary piece God’s Demon, an extraordinary fantasy novel set in the bowels of Hell.
Influenced by John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Barlowe recently did pre-production artwork for the film adaptation) and his own artbooks Barlowe’s Inferno (1998) & Brushfire: Illuminations from the Inferno (2001) — none of which I’ve read unfortunately — God’s Demon introduces an underworld where Lucifer is missing, the land is divided into territories each governed by a Demons Major or Minor (former seraphim), and Beelzebub is the ruling Prince Regent. While most of the Fallen have accepted their lot as demons presiding over the damned, one Demon Major named Sargatanas has not forgotten where he came from, and it’s reflected in the architecture of his city Adamantinarx-Upon-the-Acheron and the way he rules. It’s because of the inadvertent machinations of Lilith though, Beelzebub’s unwilling consort, that Sargatanas becomes enlightened and decides to seek that which no other Fallen had ever thought to pursue — a return to Heaven. Aided by his Prime Minister Valefar, the Captain of the Flying Guard Eligor, and a soul who was once a great general in Life, Sargatanas sets in motion a war against Beelzebub that, succeed or fail, will leave Hell forever changed…
If you’re an epic fantasy lover like I am, then I definitely think Wayne Barlowe’s God’s Demon will appeal to you. Strip away the fact that the book takes place in Hell, the characters are either fallen angels or damned souls, and the plot is more or less about finding redemption, and what you have are some fairly recognizable fantasy components. There’s the all-too familiar hierarchy between lords & peasantry; war, always a favorite plot device, is prominently featured; there’s also a sprinkle of court politics & intrigue; a magic system; worldbuilding is a major aspect in the book; characters are decisively good or evil; and no fantasy is complete without such common themes as love, vengeance, hope and so forth. Of course, what makes God’s Demon unique in the first place are its biblical trappings, however skewed they may be. For instance, souls aren’t just another variation of slaves or peasants; they are literally used as building materials in the construction of cities, weapons or steeds. War itself is given a whole new dynamic since demons follow their own set of rules and employ much more creative strategies than men. Magic comes in the form of sigils, glyphs & emblems, and whenever a demon dies, they leave behind a disk that can be absorbed by another demon, thus gaining the defeated’s knowledge and power. And finally, Sargatanas’ journey for forgiveness, while simplistic, is a powerful one and is quite a welcome relief from the endless variations of prophecies, ancient evils, and chosen ones that is found in a lot of fantasy literature. In essence, God’s Demon is both like and unlike any fantasy that you’ve read.
Writing-wise, Mr. Barlowe’s novel is much like his artwork — creative and full of detail. In fact, the very strength of the book lies with the vividness & imagination in which Hell and its occupants are brought to life, especially the architectural splendor of its cities Adamantinarx and the capital Dis, and the unforgettable menace of such standout villains as General Moloch, Baron Faraii, the sorcerer Lord Agaliarept, and scene-stealer Beezlebub whose body is composed of thousands of flies. Another of Mr. Barlowe’s strengths is his ability to write great action scenes. Whether it’s a one-on-one confrontation or an epic-scale battle, the action in God’s Demon is just breathtaking. I was particularly floored by the book’s climactic moments which included the final memorable showdown between Sargatanas & Beezlebub the Fly.
Not quite on the same level however, was the characterization (lacked a bit of depth) and the story (pretty straightforward with little unpredictability), but really it’s hard to complain. If I’m not mistaken, God’s Demon is Mr. Barlowe’s first actual novel, so taken in that context, it’s impossible not to be impressed by the author’s overall performance, which comes across as amazingly confident and inspired.
In a novel that wonderfully marries the familiar with the imaginative, the biggest and most pleasant surprise about God’s Demon is just how accessible it is. Because of the subject material I thought the book was going to be a very dark and graphic read, but in reality, the novel is actually quite emotive and uplifting.
In closing, it looks like Tor has another winner on their hands. Not only is God’s Demon a tremendously compelling epic that will satisfy fantasy readers many times over, it is also a startling artistic accomplishment. From beginning to end, I was completely immersed in the dazzling vision of Hell conjured by Wayne Barlowe, and I strongly hope that he returns to the underworld in the very near future. For while God’s Demon effectively stands on its own, the Rebellion has only just begun and there is much of Hell left to be discovered…
Every so often you just get lucky and find a great book that you were not even looking for. For me that often seems to happen at the airport, and that was the case when I picked up God’s Demon, Wayne Barlowe‘s gritty, at times horrifying novel depicting the reality of the Angels who fell from Heaven with Lucifer.
Now, if you are not versed in Christian ideology, then this book requires a little explanation. Basically, the Angels lived with God, then a group of Angels became resentful and wanted to change things. There was a war in Heaven and the rebellious Angels were summarily deported to Hell. Hell in this case is a quasi-earth-like existence, where many of the elements are harsh and unforgiving and the Fallen Angels have been transformed into the opposite of their Heavenly forms. If you want to know more… well, for the purposes of the book, that should suffice.
Amidst those who Fell, there is as much variety as there is among humankind. This is one of the most amazing themes that I have seen addressed in literature. The fact is that some beings will be noble and honorable and try to improve things no matter what conditions they are placed in. Others will sink to the lowest, basest level of existence that they can. Barlowe is wonderful at showing the reader very real examples of both of these conditions. It can be really gross when you are reading about some of the violent forms of torture. The torture is germane to the story, though, so it adds to the experience even as it turns your stomach.
Barlowe spreads the point of view among several characters to show events from multiple perspectives. It’s a challenge because some of them are very base and vulgar while others are noble and great. Beginning with Eligor, who is a retainer to a Major Demon, Sargatanas (the real protagonist), we follow a major upheaval in Hell as Sargatanas takes a stand against what we perceives as a style of life that does not match with his ideals. Sargatanas is a hero’s hero: noble, intelligent, powerful and inspiring loyalty in others. Eligor and others who serve Sargatanas all work through various decision points as they come to support the need for change.
The other main characters include Lilith, a female Angel who is in Hell but was not cast down in the same sense that Sargatanas and his peers were. She is an object of beauty and her motivations and contribution to the story are profound. She is a voice of compassion in a world that is otherwise bereft of it.
Barlowe also includes a heavy hitter from the bad side of the war. The final point of view is that of a soul. Souls are the personality and some sort of physical form of all humans who have not lived life well enough to merit going to Heaven. The exact standards of who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell are in no way discussed. We are merely left to think that everyone who is in Hell deserves to be there and knows it. I found it really refreshing that Barlowe didn’t try to make excuses for anyone who was in Hell. There is misery, suffering and pain, and in the Soul whose point of view he portrays, there is also remorse for what he did in his life. It’s brilliant.
God’s Demon is about a Fallen Angel who can’t resign himself to being what he is, but who aspires to be what he was. It’s an amazing, heart-wrenching tale that gives you reasons to want to cheer, cry and rejoice while you witness heroism like we seldom see in fantasy literature these days. The imagery and the emotions that Barlowe uses to describe remorse, aspiration and hope are simply amazing. This is my favorite book that I have read this year, bar none!