Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Devil's Intern - a hot read for a cold day

The Devil's Intern: With traces of the with and straight-faced alternative reality found in Good Omens and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, this is one of the funniest new books I have read in a very long time.

The title is not accurate, of course - the Devil doesn't have an intern.  His Chief Accountant, however, does. Hell is big business - almost everyone goes there when they die and after several thousand years that's a lot of souls who need to have food to eat, dorms in which to sleep, clothes to wear, and cell phones to keep in touch with each other across the myriad of caverns, tunnels and byways of Hell.

And all that costs money.

Bills from every department in the massive bureaucracy that is a modern Hell come pouring in to the office of Septimus - Hell's Chief Accountant and number two Devil.  Mitchell Johnson, a seventeen year-old musical prodigy (dead only four years and not suited to manual labour) wins the position of Devil's Intern and is tasked with juggling the invoices, demands and credit notes that threaten to overwhelm the office.  Having an intern to help process all the bills while the Chief Accountant calms Sir down in his latest rage won't do much to stop the bigger problems, though - overcrowding and lack of funds.

There's still an economy in Hell - all Devils work, all Devils earn a paycheck and all Devils consume.  But while the population of Hell is ever-growing, Hell itself, isn't: overcrowding and shortages have become distinct threats to the balance of operations in Hell and something has to be done about it -
- Sir wants to unleash Operation H, which may or may not be the kind of devastating plague that makes ebola look like a bad rash
- Septimus wants to lead an unholy war of Devils to bring Heaven to their knees

but neither plan is ready to launch - and Septimus has a last ditch effort that is risky, requires a team of trustworthy Devils and will, if successful, stop the dead from coming to Hell.

Septimus is the guardian of Hell's only impervious safe - in addition to reports of security breaches, glistening black credit cards backed by the strength of Wall Street, and stacks of emergency currency from all major countries, he is the keeper of the fabled Viceiseometer - a device that allows the possessor to travel through space and time.

With the Viceiseometer a team of focused Devils can travel to world events and limit the kinds of carnage that fills Hell with new dead - plagues, environmental disasters, terrorist attacks could all suddenly lose their bluster - and thanks to the paradox of not know what could have (but then didn't) happen, no one on earth would realize their temporal strand was tampered with.

Of course, that plan is shot to hell when Mitchell Johnson (four syllables, nothing more) realizes he has the chance to keep one very important devil from coming to hell - himself.

It wouldn't be much of a story if Mitchell just stole the Viceiseometer, went back to his death, stopped himself from getting hit by a bus and went on to be the next genre-subverting alterna-rock star. No, the story includes Medusa - known throughout Hell for her strawberry cheesecake, Eleanor - who has desperately waited hundreds of years for the chance to find the friends who would save her from an excruciating death she couldn't avoid, and Alfarin - a Viking who died in battle and is famous in Hell for appearing to his family after his death.

So, they steal the Viceiseometer and everything goes according to plan.  Until it doesn't - which happens the moment they land in Central Park and realize they have all acclimated to Hell and are at very real risk of freezing to another death on a cold November day.

Mitchell is desperate to save his friends from death and has trouble processing the fact that they might want to see their deaths from the other side, but don't want to live again.  From the reeking, muddy village where Alfarin is slaughtered to the raging inferno as London burns where Eleanor saves her brothers, but not in time to save herself, to Medusa's - well, actually that's the biggest thing that doesn't go according to plan: Medusa runs off on her own to a different time and place with no forwarding address.  Team DEViL loses her, finds her again and accidentally save her life.

It takes forty years for her to come back to them - which she accidentally does when she interviews to be the Devil's other Intern.  It will take another four months for me to find out what happened - book two is due out June 2015, and by all accounts Septimus, who exists beyond the paradox, has engineered her return to the group, but before she can find out how these devils appeared to her before her death, she'll be on an adventure with them to save the earth from the Devil's nightmares.

If you haven't read The Devil's Intern yet, I highly recommend it - the characters are rich, flawed, and real.  If you have, give it another read - the carefully plotted nuances - forty years dead, over forty years; strawberries; what was fate and what was a plan you didn't know you made yet, are all waiting to be rediscovered.

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