The Devil You Know: Fresh urban fantasy

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Mike Carey The Devil You Know Felix CastorThe Devil You Know by Mike Carey

In a genre that has become over-saturated in recent years with second and third-rate carbon copies looking to feed off the successes of more popular series such as Laurell K. Hamilton’s ANITA BLAKE novels, The Devil You Know is quite a breath of fresh air. At a glance there may seem to be a lot of similarities: the contemporary setting where the paranormal has become a part of everyday life, the down-on-your-luck main character who narrates in a first-person perspective, the blending of horror, crime noir and humor elements, and so on. Yet, these would only be superficial observations, because if you were to take a closer look at what The Devil You Know brings to the table, it becomes pretty apparent that Mike Carey has imbued the material with his own unique stamp.

For starters, Mike Carey is an experienced writer, especially at setting the ambiance, fleshing out complex characters/plots and delivering snappy dialogue. Just read any of the writer’s comic works, specifically Lucifer or Hellblazer, for an excellent example. Obviously, writing a novel is much different from writing a comic book, but Mike Carey makes it look easy in The Devil You Know, an impressive debut that really showcases the author’s better qualities.

The city of London is brought keenly to life in all of its gloomy splendor. Felix Castor, reminiscent somewhat of John Constantine from the Hellblazer books, is a wonderfully flawed protagonist who is easy to root for and will endear a lot of readers with his biting commentary and amusing metaphors. Side characters, apart from a few stereotypes and a couple of underdeveloped ones, are nearly as fascinating, particularly the conspiracy-theorist zombie Nicky and the flippant Cheryl. The pacing, aside from some lulls towards the beginning and middle area of the book, is gripping. The story, which Mike Carey does a good job of executing, is quite entertaining, particularly the scene-stealing black humor that permeates the book courtesy of Mr. Castor, though there’s plenty of supernatural action, gritty violence/sexuality, coarse language, a noirish mystery, and even some profoundly tender moments that add textured flavor to The Devil You Know.

Since The Devil You Know is the first in a series, don’t expect to know everything by the time you finish the novel. The main plot of the book is largely wrapped up and the payoff is not disappointing, but more than anything, The Devil You Know is an introductory piece to Felix Castor’s world. For instance, readers will get to learn about the different manifestations of the dead, which includes ghosts, zombies and loup-garou (spirits that possess an animal host; more commonly known as were-wolves), as well as meet up with a demon and a succubus. As to what allows the souls of the dead to return as they do, in the forms that they do, and what happens to them when they are exorcised, is one of the great mysteries of the series, which will no doubt be explored in future volumes. Additionally, I believe the Breath of Life movement — a grassroots pressure group campaigning for changes in the law governing the risen dead — will play a larger role in the books to come. I also hope to see more of Rafi (Felix’s friend who is possessed by the demon Asmodeus), get further insights into Felix’s friend/landlord Pen and his preacher brother Matty (both of whom were barely developed in the book), revisit with Nicky and Cheryl (a possible love interest?), and learn even more about Mr. Castor’s dark past.

There is at least one unexpected character who is definitely returning in Vicious Circle that will present some major complications in Felix’s life, not to mention provide some pretty interesting developments, but to reveal more would ruin the surprise. So, let me just conclude by saying that if you’re a fan of supernatural thrillers, urban fantasy or whatever the genre may be called, but you’re in the mood for something a little edgier, fresher and more cathartic, then I would highly recommend The Devil You Know, the start of a promising new series that is going to turn a lot of heads by the time Mike Carey is through with it.


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) 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.

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