God’s Demon: Extraordinary fantasy set in the bowels of Hell

fantasy book reviews God's Demon Wayne BarloweGod’s DemonWayne Barlowe God's Demon fantasy book reviews by Wayne Barlowe

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…

[Box]God’s Demon — (2007) Publisher: Lucifer’s War, which damned legions of angels to Hell, is an ancient and bitter memory shrouded in the smoke and ash of the Inferno. The Fallen, those banished demons who escaped the full wrath of Heaven, have established a limitless and oppressive kingdom within the fiery confines of Hell. Lucifer has not been seen since the Fall and the mantle of rulership has been passed to the horrific Prince Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. The Demons Major, Heaven’s former warriors, have become the ruling class. They are the equivalent to landed lords, each owing allegiance to the de facto ruler of Hell. They reign over their fiefdoms, tormenting the damned souls and adding to their wealth. One Demon Major, however, who has not forgotten his former life in Heaven. The powerful Lord Sargatanas is restless. For millennia Sargatanas has ruled dutifully but unenthusiastically, building his city, Adamantinarx, into the model of an Infernal metropolis. But he has never forgotten what he lost in the Fall — proximity to God. He is sickened by what he has become. Now, with a small event — a confrontation with one of the damned souls — he makes a decision that will reverberate through every being in Hell. Sargatanas decides to attempt the impossible, to rebel, to endeavor to go Home and bring with him anyone who chooses to follow… be they demon or soul. He will stake everything on this chance for redemption.[/box]


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ROBERT THOMPSON is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

View all posts by Robert Thompson (retired)

One comment

  1. I really loved that book.
    This is a good review.

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