My reviews this month span the whole publishing spectrum. I've reviewed a novel by a local author that was published by one of the biggest publishing houses around, along with others written by authors as far flung as the UK and Australia. I've reviewed a novel from a small press on the other side of the country. Now I get to review a novel that was self-published by its author, Mark Rude, who's also another local here in Arizona.
Hilariously, while it isn't the best of this batch, it's by far the most fun and I'd recommend it highly to anyone with a sense of humour, not only those who will understand the local jibes. I'm completely sold on the revelations about Scottsdale that Mr Rude unfurls midway through the book and I bet they won't be a surprise to anyone else living here in the Valley of the Sun.
It didn't take that to sell me on the book though. I was sold merely by reading the back cover blurb, with its quotes from reviewers at the 'Afterlife Times.' Just so you don't miss out on the experience, here they are:
'Villainous!' - William Shakespeare
'Blasphemous!' - Pope John Paul II
'Senseless!' - Jane Austen
'Duck!' - John F Kennedy
Oh yeah, if you're not bent over double and creased up with laughter after that little gem, this may not be the book for you. If you are, as I've found most people I ask to read the back cover aloud tend to be, it certainly is.
We begin in northern Arizona, in the town of Bueller (anyone, anyone?) which doesn't exist outside of the pages of this book. That's a good thing because Bueller is the sort of place where university students like to conduct rituals to raise demons in the tunnels under the school, rituals that involve live animal sacrifices. What brings them down is that the particular ritual they're using has been tampered with, so the demons they raise inhabit clones of the sacrifices, without the cultists having much of a clue what's happened. After all, they don't speak duck.
Devon, as the title suggests, is a demon raised through the sacrifice of a duck and so that's the form which he gets to inhabit on our plane and he's really not too chuffed about that. As you can imagine, nobody else speaks duck either.
Well, except Annie Puckett.
Annie is a Goth chick, meaning that she's already out of place in Bueller, and she doesn't exactly win friends and influence people at her job in a local video rental store, but she also happens to have a particularly useful tattoo on the back of her neck, as Devon discovers by accident when she sees him waddling along outside her store. By the glorious powers of coincidence, the tattoo turns out to be the sigil of Babel, the Demon of Many Tongues, which her tattoo artist had found in a bunch of clipart on the net.
That means that Annie becomes Devon's way home. Or, as he puts it, 'I require your assistance to exact my revenge and return to Hell.' He's pushy like that. It also means, along with some more revelations that I won't spoil, that there's a conspiracy going on that involves very important people, the world wide web and those pesky end user license agreements that none of us ever bother to read. Well, if Devon is a trustworthy duck, we should all start reading them right now but it's too late for our mortal souls. Hell, people believe in a lot wackier books than this one, so who's to say that Rude doesn't have it right. It makes logical sense to me.
There's a lot to enjoy here, but most of it revolves around the dark and surreal humour. After all, it starts out with a demon-possessed duck and gets more progressively fantastic from there, so grounding in reality is not high on Mark Rude's priority list. Top ought to be having fun with pop culture references, to be followed in no particular order by a neat sense of irony, ever increasing surreality and the ability to poke fun at Arizona stereotypes by raising cynical truths. Puns are certainly up there too and the willingness to name characters entirely to generate quality chapter names out of them. On every one of those fronts, Rude rocks royally.
There is a downside, but it's hardly important. The left hand pages have mangled margins, meaning that the text is too near the spine, but it's readable and probably annoys me more than most because of my proofreader's OCD. Each chapter is heralded by an amateur charcoal drawing and I didn't like them from moment one, though they did grow on me before I ran out of pages.
More notably, there are more than a few plot conveniences to put up with, but I've read many books with more and in a book called 'Devon, the Demon Duck from Hell,' they really don't stop us whizzing along eagerly from page 1 to page 304. The bigger problem is that there isn't a page 305 - because this is so much fun that I didn't want it to end.
Fortunately, Mark Rude has published at least three other novels for us to track down, namely a young adult fantasy trilogy called 'The Cindra Corrina Chronicles.' It began before this book with 'The Gold Cat's Daughter' and 'The Gallant Riders,' then continued or completed after it with 'The Way of the Hart.' I guess I'll find out at the next convention at which we're both working. I'll certainly ask about a sequel to this book, but I'm not totally set on that requirement. I merely wish that I had a time machine handy so I could travel forward to 2050, pick up all forty of his novels and fly back to devour the lot of them in one blissfully deranged month. Hilariously, that could be the book he's writing right now. What could go wrong? ~~ Hal C F Astell