Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review: The Damned Busters by Matthew Hughes


The Damned Busters: To Hell & Back Book 1 by Matthew Hughes
ISBN: 9780857661036 | Cover Price $7.99 | 416 pp.

Overall Rating: 7.5 out of 10 | Well worth the price.

Overview: Chesney Anstruther accidentally summons a demon one night while building a poker table.  The demon shows up with a contract for his soul but Chesney refuses to sell... causing a cascade of problems which result in Hell going on strike.  

With Hell on strike, the temptation to sin is on hold, and that turns out to be a bad thing.  Without passion, without pride, without greed, without drive, the world becomes a gray and forlorn place where virtually nothing gets done.

When Satan himself shows up to negotiate with Chesney in order to restore order, there's only one thing for it - to make a deal.

Review: The Damned Busters is a multi-layered novel.  On the surface, it is a light-hearted contemporary fantasy romp that pays homage to the superhero genre of comic books.  Witty, situationally comical, and precisely executed.  Hughes' characters shine, mixing genre tropes with individual quirks and style.

On that level alone, The Damed Busters is a great read.  Not overly long or excessively intricate, this is a fast-paced, enjoyable read.

Below the surface, The Damned Busters is a satire of both contemporary angel/demon fantasy and the superhero genres and pokes gentle fun at some of the tropes of the genres.  Chesney, through his eventual deal with the Devil, winds up with super-powers but, in contrast to the norms portrayed in the comic genre, Chesney has considerable difficulty controlling those powers - and expected hilarity ensues.  His heroic persona encounters two women who lure him with their very different attractions - and again, in homage to the form, both are named with double initials.  Poppy Paxton, the beautiful and sophisticated daughter of his boss, insurance magnate W. T. Paxton, and Melda McCann, a streetwise young woman with a history of poor judgement in boyfriends.

The demons and angels, far from being the seductive, misunderstood heroes of the paranormal romance tale, are packing an agenda.  Hell's minions are conniving, manipulative, and strongly reminiscent of union bosses.  Heaven's angels are utterly unable to think for themselves, entirely lacking in free will.

The Damned Busters also challenges our ideas about sin.  Though perhaps not intentionally, the novel raises some valid theological arguments.  What, if not sin, makes the world go round?  Without greed, would businesses stop innovating, stop developing, stop performing?  Without pride, would we do our best work?  Without envy, would we try as hard?  Without gluttony, would we enjoy our food, would restaurants exist?  Without lust, would love wither, would the fashion industry crash?

Conclusion: If you feel like a light, enjoyable read, grab The Damned Busters for its fun, its comedy, its adventure and its action.  If you want something deeper, ponder the points it raises and notice the homage it pays to the various genres it satirizes. I'm looking forward to Book 2 - Hughes is a top-notch author who has crafted a satisfying first novel for this new series.

A note about the publisher: Angry Robot is a relatively new publisher.  Originally created by HarperCollins in 2008, Angry Robot was sold to UK publisher Osprey Publishing in Sept. 2010.  Headed by former Black Library/Solaris editor Marc Gascoigne, Angry Robot is publishing an impressive amount of top-notch Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror novels each month - and doing it on both sides of the ocean.  Their standard format in the US is mass market paperbacks priced at the more-than-reasonable $7.99 price-point.  In addition to a great selection of novels, I commend Angry Robot for their approach to the business - marketing their books worldwide and multi-formatted (ebook, paperback) everywhere.  Additionally, they even manage to poke subtle fun at their own industry - stating on their website that they publish SF, F & WTF - and noting on that back of each title - where publisher's typically note a single genre wherein the book should be filed - a series of possible subject headings for each novel.  The Damned Busters back cover indicates that it should be filed under Fantasy with a bullet list of other possibilities: [Expletives, Deleted], [Up, Up and Away], [Endless Loveliness], and [Life's Great Author].  It's these little touches, combined with excellent novels, great cover design, excellent prices, and a dedication to the genre that put Angry Robot on our preferred list.  As a science fiction/fantasy bookstore, Kayleighbug Books will be stocking ALL Angry Robot titles from here on out.  As a reader and reviewer, you can count on my reviewing at least one Angry Robot book each month.

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