Review by D.A Lascelles
If the author could get away with it, I imagine that he would call this book ‘Interview with a Demon’. It certainly summons up plenty of memories of Ann Rice’s classic Vampire tale with its central premise of ‘supernatural creature talks to a human about his life story’. At least, that is how it appears at first. However, all is not what it seems but to tell you more would mean spoilers…
I, Demon sees our nameless, demonic protagonist summoned into a circle by a woman named Valerie. Valerie has an issue with her boyfriend and has, apparently, used a computer program on a laptop to create a spell to summon a demon. Encouraged by her questions, he proceeds to tell stories of his long life – in particular the tale of how he came to be betrayed by the succubus he loved and lost his name and rank and power to become an exile on earth. Occasionally, we step out of this historic narrative back to the present for hints of Valerie’s story or for Valerie to ask a question or for clarification of something. Mostly, however, this is a story set in the past – in particular the middle ages of the time of the Crusades.
It is difficult to write a demon and make them sympathetic. Indeed, many of the demonic characters in this story are unsympathetic in the extreme with their intrigues and debaucheries and cruelties all so typically presented. However, the nameless exile is different to all of these (at least the way he tells the story). Though loyal to the cause of hell and a servant of one of the Archdukes (Mephistopholes, one for the readers of classics there…), Nameless is never seen as ‘evil’. He always seeks a diplomatic solution to any problem, using cunning where necessary while others might use brute force and even rescues and protects some humans (a woman and a young boy one of whom becomes an important character). These actions endear the character to the readers even if, as with Rice’s Lestat and Louis, you are aware that he is a classic case of an unreliable narrator – he tells us what he wants to tell us not necessarily what actually happened.
The prose is well written, if a little overly rich in parts (again, something Crown has in common with Ann Rice) and the first few paragraphs drew me straight into the story – just as a well written hook should. There are a few places where I think a better edit may have served, tightening up some of the prose and streamlining the story, but overall there is nothing to complain about in the writing. The portrayal of history is also well done, with the period features well described and some aspects supported by a modern day commentary such as some of the differences between contemporary and medieval attitudes and concepts. A lot of care has been taken with the research. In fact, I am pretty sure I remember at least one question asked on Little Details (http://little-details.livejournal.com/) which relates to a situation in this book (travelling from England to the Holy Land) and the way it is handled in here is familiar to me from the answers to that question. Having said that, while I am all for the extensive details, I did notice a few bits which might make a historian or a history geek wince – a couple of misconceptions which are out there on the internet and believed to be true by many of the general public but which are considered controversial by many historians. The old ‘people were shorter in those days’ chestnut being the main one I noticed and for which there is no convincing evidence.
Those, however, are minor issues and they do not detract from overall enjoyment of the story. There is excitement and twists and turns aplenty as our exiled hero describes his tale. Definitely worth a look if you like exciting medieval tales with epic battles and the machinations of Angels and Demons.