Review: What Hell May Come

What Hell May Come Cover

I was kindly sent a review copy of this book by Crystal Lake Publishing.

The concept of this tale alone was intriguing to me, before I even began. What if the ‘Satanic Panic’ during the 1980s in America was real? This was the moral scare about Dungeons & Dragons being an entryway for impressionable young minds to discover Satanism, in case you didn’t know. Not the UK panic, which was concerned with video Nasties (all of which are now widely available).

My initial thoughts about the D&D scare was based on articles I read years ago from American newspapers, while researching for my BA dissertation. Worried mothers believed that their children were somehow possessed by their player-characters, or becoming drawn into the occult. For anyone who’s seen the D&D books of that time (or seen the television cartoon), this seems far-fetched, but it did happen. Blame the books that fire children’s imaginations in a way that the Real World never could…

Well, that last part is present in this book, at least. But this is no comedy poking fun at Conservative Christian parents.

If this book reminded me of any roleplaying game, it was actually White Wolf’s World of Darkness. This is the ’80s through a lense of nihilism, suspicion and kids just trying to survive in a messed-up world that makes absolutely no sense. Reaganomics translates to ‘every person for themselves’. Sexism and racism are still present, fear of The Outsider, money being the ultimate goal of life… this is darkest satire, but for those of us who remember that decade (I was one of those kids), this is an alternative universe that with just a nudge, could be our Real World.

We follow a young protagonist, Jon St Fond, and his alter-ego Crixen Runeburner, as they battle past monsters of very different types, but equal threat. Jon and his friends come from messed-up and neglectful families (each in its own unique way), and D&D brings them together for those rare times when they can be heroes instead of losers.

So far, so typical of how D&D was often portrayed. But as we delve deeper into Jon’s life, we see that there’s more to the ‘mundane’ world that he may have thought. A new roleplaying game that seems more obviously influenced by the occult, acquired by a dodgy magician in a strange part of town. His parents are acting suspiciously, apparently encouraging his sisters to dive into the worst debaucheries. And why are there cameras all over their house?

I don’t want to give too much away. This is a slow burn of a novel, and occasionally difficult to read – but the ‘money and drugs’ image of the ’80s is shown here in filthy Trainspotting-style glory. Everything has a veneer of sleaze, everyone’s corrupt or on the take. The occasional innocent is food for the wolves.

I was hypnotised as Jon’s journey took him ever deeper into the abyss that lay behind the everyday normality of life. More than a few times, I caught myself thinking ‘this can’t be happening!’ – but it was. This book throws any rules or tropes of genre out of the window, and bloodily carves its own path, dragging you along with it.

My only disappointment was that after the slow click-click-click of the rollercoaster rising to the climax of the story, the ending seemed sudden, almost rushed. Everything was concluded, but somehow faster than it deserved. I wanted Jon to get more, after all he’d been through.

But hey – life is tough. By the end, our hero(es) set off into their lives very different people from that waaay back at the beginning.

And this is a story that won’t leave my mind anytime soon, either.

Recommended, but be wary. Here there be monsters – and you may know some of them already.

‘What Hell May Come’ is out now in paperback or ebook via Amazon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: