Book Review: Mike Carey’s The Devil You Know.
I’ve been a little off of my mostly-weekly schedule, and for that I apologize. Things have been pretty busy with the Holiday season, as one would expect. I was going to write up something cynical and holiday themed, but I actually found myself in a good mood once the actual holidays rolled around, so looks like you may have to wait ’til next year. It’s a Crimmus Miracle!
Oh, and as a side note, I’m still flipping out juuuust a little bit over The Legend of Korra series finale, which aired a week ago. Seriously, that cartoon hit me with a HOLY SHIT ending that I legitimately did not expect. A lot has been said about it already, and any Korra-watchers out there already know why flipping out would be done- still, I suppose I could hammer something out, if someone asked nicely enough.
Still, amidst it all, I’ve still found some time to read another book- this one being Mike Carey’s The Devil You Know.
A lot of books in the Urban Fantasy genre can be pithily described as “Noir, only with magic,” and The Devil You Know is no exception. The story’s structured as one would expect from a twisty, hard-boiled tale; there’s a detective (sorry, exorcist), a murder, an investigation, a crime boss (and his goons), a femme fatale, a waif…you know the tropes. It’s just that here, there’s little touches to magic everything up. The world’s a bit lower key than the Dresden Files, however- Felix Castor has magic, but it’s not particularly blasty, and I doubt he ever rides on a zombie dinosaur at any point during the series.
It’s interesting to note, however, that Mike Carey has also done a lot of work for Vertigo comics, on books like Lucifer …and Hellblazer. That last one is particularly noteworthy, as Felix Castor (the exorcist/investigator star of the book) is a snarky, devious, trenchcoat-wearing Englishman. So, y’know, pretty much John Constantine with the serial numbers filed off. I’m sure this is the point where Hellblazer and/or Felix Castor fans will come out of the woodwork in the comments to note the key differences between the two (“Felix has a flute!” they will say), but the comparison’s worth making.
One thing that Carey does well is to instill a sense of history and Englishness to the novel. The best Urban Fantasy really draws on whatever city it’s set in- and London is a ripe source to draw from. The only drawback to this (for me, at least) is the fact I’ve never actually been to London, so I don’t quite have the same appreciation Carey does of the various neighborhoods or pubs or other locales that the action takes place in. I mostly imagined everything as dark and wet and foggy, like the sound stage on a Dr. Who episode. It’s also worth noting that Carey populates his London with a varied cast of not-white characters, reflecting London’s status as a very international city. It’s a nice touch.
As the first book in a series, The Devil You Know does a fairly good job of establishing the world of the novel and the character of Felix Castor. The plot is tightly written, and it doesn’t meander like the plots of other first novels tend to do. This said, while this was an entertaining book, and certainly a quick read, it didn’t really strike me as doing anything new with the standard Noir and/or Urban Fantasy quotes.
Still, there’s a reason people keep going back to certain tropes and cliches- they work. So if you’re looking for something a bit English and ghost-y, you’ll probably enjoy this book. It’s probably better than any ‘official’ Hellblazer novels they’ve released anyway.