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God's Demon

by Wayne Barlow

      I stepped out of my usual genre and read this book because the basic concept was quite intriguing, that of a regretful demon seeking redemption by rebelling against the forces of hell. The inspiration from Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno was quite apparent and I wanted to see if Mr. Barlowe could pull off a comparable novel. I was pleased to see that the intriguing concept was complemented well by Barlowe’s unique style.

Barlowe’s portrayal of hell was typical and fell in line with traditional literature. He depicted sorrow and suffering with vivid, grotesque descriptions and did this with such skill that the readers will find themselves occasionally squirming in discomfort. There is much torment and pain as the demons do what they do best, torture the souls of the damned. There is also somewhat of a social structure, with Beelzebub ruling over a kingdom of loosely affiliated lordships that are controlled by demon governors, one of whom is the main character Sargatanas. It’s this one particular demon who endures a personal struggle with the past and eventually seeks redemption for his evils to the point of leading a full-fledged rebellion against his co-conspirators in hell. And that’s where the intrigue begins.

Admittedly, the theologic discussion that this book can generate seems endless. Is it possible for the unforgivable to be forgiven? Is there such a thing as a completely unredeemable, unrepentable sin? After all, the demons were once creatures of stature in heaven prior to their ill-advised supernatural coup attempt. If one of these creatures were to truly repent of their behavior and seek reconciliation with God, would the all-loving Creator grant forgiveness? Could such hope even exist in a place where hope is extinct? One could devote countless hours to such a discussion and that’s what I feel is the main strength of the book.

It’s a difficult sell to convince the reader that a demon may be able to show some good qualities, and I’m not sure I bought it completely. However, it’s an interesting notion certainly worth exploring in the pages of fiction and Barlowe did it well. There is no doubt that fans of the fantasy genre will enjoy this one more than I, but I still appreciated Barlowe’s style and the philosophical discussion that his imagination generates. His descriptions are indeed vivid and his characters have great depth. Beelzebub makes for an easily disliked and disgusting villain, while Sargatanas invokes a strange sense of sympathy from the reader no matter how much he may resist. My only caution is that the depictions of violence and suffering would likely earn it an "R" rating and parents should keep that in mind. Aside from that, I would recommend this book to all fiction readers and anyone who has an interest in theology.

The Book

Tor Books
October 16, 2007
0765309858 / 978-0765309853
Dark fantasy
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The Reviewer

John Washburn
Reviewed 2008
NOTE: Reviewer John Washburn is the author of When Evil Prospers.
© 2008