Review: Fantasy · Review: Mythology · Review: Thriller

Book Review: The Devil’s Lieutenant by Shervin Jamali

This review will be relatively spoiler free, only revealing the basic plot elements of the novella in question.

Summary

Michael has tragically lost his family. Learning that the souls of his dead wife and son might be trapped in hell, he enters into a deal with the Devil to save them: a deal that may cost Michael his own salvation.

General Thoughts

This novella takes on not only a selling-a-soul-to-the-Devil storyline, but also an alinear narrative, with a deeply flawed protagonist whose intentions are good, but reality doesn’t necessarily run parallel to those intentions. In other words, this story could well have been written for me.

It was fast-paced and engaging. I read it through in one sitting—it’s not very long, of course, but I’d already read one book on the day that I started this, and still I sat there until I’d finished this one, too.

It built up my expectations and answered them in kind—most of them, anyway.

The alinear storyline is well-suited for this story, where Michael must relive and relearn facts about his own life as we readers are learning it for the first time. It’s elegant and simple from both Michael’s perspective as the narrator, and our perspectives as the reader. This structure also serves to enhance our investment in not only what Michael is doing in the present, but how he is motivated by the past.

In the days since I’ve read it, it has stuck with me—mainly in an intellectual curiosity sort of way. For instance, Michael tells us some of what the Devil says about God’s version of the story of Adam and Eve, but then recoils from thinking about another of the Devil’s versions of that story. I find myself wondering, why does he recoil from one story but not another? Oh, I can imagine, of course—but I would like to know what the Devil said that so impacts Michael.

But this comes down to the one tiny detail that made this book feel incomplete, for me: how dishonest is the Devil, truly, and how much have the objectively horrifying events of this book truly changed Michael?

Likely because of the length of the book, it was difficult to get a sense of any deep change in Michael’s character—but perhaps there isn’t supposed to be any. Certainly, he’s happier in the scenes set before the tragic death of his family, and goes through various stages of grief after. But at the end of the day, I didn’t get any sense that he was deeply changed or traumatized by what he went through, in the end. Which may well be intentional.

Similarly, the Devil seemed, for the most part, to keep his word. Oh, certainly, he misleads and connives—but not nearly as much as I expected. At the end of the story, Michael and we readers all have a clear sense of which things were true and which things were false—which I did not expect. Michael tells us that his mind is getting fucked, but he keeps a remarkable grip on reality and sanity all the while.

So, in the end, I enjoyed it. I have questions, but perhaps they will be answered in the sequel.

Disclaimer: On the Subject of Adaptations of Christian Mythologies

There are many Christian mythologies beyond what is in the Bible itself. Saints, archangels, Lucifer, the Book of Mormon—all unmentioned in the Bible, but no less important and true to certain groups of Christians.

I grew up attending a union church and learned none of these. I’ve absorbed a basic understanding of these things through cultural osmosis, but they’ve never been a part of a belief system that I was a part of. So by definition, my understanding of these aspects will be less than many readers’.

This is not a book that necessarily requires that background knowledge, but as a reviewer, I felt that this should be made clear.

Perhaps this is why the story felt a little lacking to me in the end—the final twist and a few of the earlier ones are a little less compelling to me, because I could not bring to the scene the same gravity as someone who knows these things well.

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