29 February, 2012

Review - The Damned Busters (To Hell and Back #1) by Matthew Hughes

An actuary, and one well suited to his job in every way, inadvertently summons a demon while erecting a poker table and hammering his finger. While less than amenable to the idea of selling his soul, especially with incontrovertible proof that there actually is such a thing as eternal damnation, he sets into motion a set of events that has extremely humorous consequences.

To say that the author, Matthew Hughes, can write is like saying...well... I was going to go for some sports analogy, but that just doesn't quite work, this is a fantasy book for crying out loud. Let's say it's like saying an Ogier can build a house or since he's the Jack Vance guy - it's like saying Cudgel is quick on the uptake.

He's a genius and the first third of The Damned Busters [US] [UK] [Kindle - only $2.99] definitely proves it. It's witty, clever, funny, and just plain amazingly well-written. Chesney Arnstruther, the heroic actuary, is not only an oddball, but extremely relatable. The world he's created with heaven and hell and their relationship to our world is not only understandable, but believable and simply hilarious - I would almost say along the line of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

I don't want to give away too much about the world and what makes it comical as it spoils some priceless moments, but essentially Heaven and Hell are sitting on each and every mortal's shoulder. The demons tempt, but stick to what they're told while the angels just say the opposite. Literally, all they do is say the opposite.

With the heights that the opening third of The Damned Busters reached, the final two-thirds in comparison were quite dismal. In reality, I really enjoyed the last two-thirds, they were just not nearly as good as the opening. The superhero part was really entertaining and I really wanted to see how that worked (and you'll see, it's pretty cool), but it just didn't compare and I feel bad that I couldn't get past that.

In an afterword by the author, he explains that this was originally intended as a short story for a magazine, but was instead turned into a full-length novel with a sequel on the way. This is very apparent and even though there was quite the separation between the two parts, the short story/novella and the rest of the book, it's still interesting enough to keep you enjoying it.

The best way to explain this book may be with ratings stars. The first third was easily 5 stars. The mid-third was more around 3 stars and the final third about 3.5 stars. Thus, you may see my conundrum when giving an actual rating to the entire book and so I settled on 4. Highly recommended if only for the first part and at the same time I'm really looking forward to the sequel, Costume Not Included available March 27, 2012.

4 out of 5 Stars