The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The tone of this novel is bleak, saturnine, and wry. Shades of horror and dark urban fantasy blended into a noir mystery that kept me guessing until the end. I love when a writer is able to pull all the elements together that he introduces to me, from beginning to end. And that's what Mike Carey does here. Tight plotting and subtle characterization. Even the characters that would seem stereotypical have depth and intensity.
Felix Castor gets added to my roster of male lead urban fantasy go-to characters. He is a cynical, flawed, morally unpredictable man who somehow shows a deep sense of right and wrong, even if his means don't exactly scream "Boy Scout." When he could have just walked away several times, or taken the easy road, saving his own skin and putting money in his pockets, he digs deeper, compelled to do the right, although not easy thing. That's what I like in a protagonist. Flawed, questionable, but in the end, someone I can root for.
The world-building and esoterical aspects of this story are distinctive and not at all easy to pin down. Here we have an self-declared atheist, who sees and exorcises ghosts and has had some very uneasy experiences with demons. I don't really see Castor so much as an atheist, but more of a hard-hearted agnostic. How could he not credit the existence of God and the devil if he sees it right in front of him? It's not a matter of belief when it's staring you in the face. Instead, he merely chooses not to look deeply into those aspects of the world he is confronted with, much like a stubborn person who refuses to look at the person who is in authority over him. Just my take, really.
Ghosts fascinate me. This book delves into the whys and wherefore of hauntings, asking the reader to ponder, even if Castor refuses to do so. He merely deals with them, sending them wherever they are supposed to go from this plane of existence in which they linger as melancholy shadows. Carey doesn't force the reader to draw conclusions, but leaves it up to those who care enough to come to their own understanding. This book fits into my view of hauntings at any rate, although I have my own opinions about what comes next, even as I question what forces keep a spirit here on this plane.
Zombies and werebeasts also have a presence in Castor's world of London. I never thought of weres the way that Carey explains them, and I appreciate the novel elements here. Zombies are merely reanimated bodies inhibited by spirits. In fact, Nick, one of Castor's contacts is a reanimated corpse who has a serious case of conspiracy theoriaisis. Which makes him good, very good at finding out information. Clearly zombies (although not called by that name) exist, but they are just another aspect that Carey doesn't explain to death. He merely puts this oddness out there in a real world context, and lets the reader do what they like with the information.
This is a dark read. Surprisingly the supernatural elements aren't what lends the darkest flavor. It's the glimpse at very human evil at the depths that made me shudder as I read. And I think Castor and I are in the same boat on that.
I really want to give this fire stars. I can't say that there was anything lacking in the execution. Carey is a very good writer. For a 500 page novel, my attention didn't wander, and I was drawn fully into this world. His characterization is very good, he sets atmosphere with a deft, expert hand, and he imparts a sophisticated flavor to this noir urban fantasy that I found very seductive. There were more than a few words that I didn't know, and wanted to look up, but I was too busy reading to be bothered, and I was able to figure out through context. He clearly appreciates London in all his flavors, and I appreciated the opportunity to pay this ancient city a visit, even though there was a dark, gritty cast to this venerable metropolis, which is altogether real, I have no doubt.
I was very impressed with this novel. It captures what I like very well in my urban fantasy. The dark and gritty, the wry humor, the intriguing supernatural elements, and in a way that doesn't make me cry same old same. Definitely one for this reader's keeper shelf, and a series that I will happily follow.
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