Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: The Infernals

Spoiler alert: this is a review to a sequel to the novel The Gates.  By its very nature, it will reveal much of what happens in the first novel.  

If you don't want to know what happens in the first novel, stop reading now.

If you continue, don't get mad at me: it's your own fault. I warned you.

Read on, McDuff.

Samuel Johnson and Boswell are back — and so is Hell — in The Infernals, John Connolly's follow-up to The Gates.

When we last left Biddlecombe, Nurd had foiled the Great Malevolence's takeover of Earth, sucking Mrs. Abernathy back into Hell.  The super collider was shut off, Samuel and Boswell survived, Samuel's father's beloved Astin Martin didn't and all was right (enough) with the world.

Alas, if only it could continue like that — only adolescence and scientists really mess things up.

When we meet the crew again, Samuel is a teen with a crush on the prettiest girl in town. The only thing more unsettling than his teen hormones is that local puddles and mirrors are showing Samuel something that should be impossible: the face of Mrs. Abernathy staring back at him with a seething hatred.

She is really, really angry — and she has eternity to seethe. The Great Malevolence is displeased, others are rising up to take her spot as the favorite in Hell, and she wants another chance at proving her worth.  Even if the seam in her legs (not stockings) isn't straight, and her face literally is on crooked, she won't be foiled.  The scientists at the super collider will make sure of that (as only scientists can).

Throw in some unpleasant dwarves, a couple of conscientious constables, Dan Dan the Ice Cream man and the wide vista of Hell, and you have a suitable sequel to one of the funniest and most touching young adult horror novels on the shelves.

Connolly out-does himself. His footnotes are as funny as the rest of the book, like softly spoken asides of someone offering the wittiest and most astute commentary on — well, everything.  The characters are weird, sensible, surprising and delightful: c'mon, a demon who continues to wear the human form of Mrs. Abernathy, no matter how disheveled it/she gets? How fun is that?

Even more pleasurable, however, is Connolly's depiction of Nurd, a friend lost without his best buddy. I've had friends like that, and Connolly made me love and honor them even more as I recognized their qualities in Nurd, a demon forever changed by the love of a friend.  The author's description of true friendship and what it costs us is worth the price of admission alone, and Nurd deserves a place alongside other hero-friends such as Ron Weasley and Samwise Gamgee.

The landscape of Hell presented through the eyes of Connolly and his characters is frightening and intriguing. Now I want to read a little Dante, a little Milton, a little Revelations. Very little: I know I'd prefer Connolly's Hell to any other.  After all, only Connolly could put ice cream and chocolate sprinkles in Hell and make it make sense.

I recommend this book, a delight that is as funny as it is thought-provoking — and it doesn't disappoint.  You might want to read them in order, if only to remember and enjoy The Gates all over again.

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