I can't remember how long it's been since I discovered Sidney Reetz at Phoenix Comicon, because she didn't date my copy of 'The Devil's Codex' when she signed it, but it was a long time ago, during one of my annual walkabouts through Artist Alley before the vendor hall opens and I have to be back behind my table ready to pimp out my own books. I remember that she was hanging out with the Five Smiling Fish folk, as she often does (they're the first people listed in the thanks list), though she's technically Hell Bat Publications. I still have my plush hell bat and occasionally clip it to my kilt.
Let's just say that it was a long time ago and, like so many books by local authors I've found in similar circumstances, it's languished on my shelves ever since. Yet again, I have to kick myself for not taking it down earlier because it's another peach, a bundle of fun from the outset that only gets better and it's a hard task indeed to put it down to get some sleep at crazy o'clock in the morning.
The basic concept is pretty simple, but also rather thoughtful. What if Lucifer did what he did back in the Fall only because God asked him to do so? After all, it's hard to define good without evil to bounce it off. What if Lucifer has done his duty across the millennia, running Hell and commanding its hordes of demons, without ever losing faith in his father and creator? At what point will he be called home to Heaven, job well done? We often talk about the patience of saints, but what about angels, who might have only fallen in a literal sense?
What prompts action here is the fact that this take on Lucifer is a little worried about his wings. As an impressive early dip into angelology points out, he has six pairs of them and, while they used to be an impressive white, they've been gradually changing to black, to the degree that he only has a couple of feathers left with white on them. He fears that, when the last one turns completely black, he'll be lost forever like any other demon.
So, he leaves others in charge down there for a while and pops up to rent a room in the appropriately named Lost Port, California, the worst city in the entire United States from any metric you choose, to search for an opportunity to perform some kind of redemptive act. He simply aches to do something good for a change and, if it helps him avoid devolving into a lesser creature in the process, then all the better. Needless to say, he finds plenty of opportunity.
The first thing that springs to mind is that this is a great pitch for an urban fantasy TV show that could be called, I dunno, 'Lucifer' or some such. This isn't that 'Lucifer', but it could easily have been in some parallel universe eerily similar to our own in most other respects. The biggest reason why it won't be a TV show is that someone already made something similar enough to prohibit this one ever getting any traction, even if it didn't see airtime until 2016, just over a year after this book was released.
It's still hard not to read 'The Devil's Codex' as the first season of a different 'Lucifer' though, because of the way that Reetz structures it. She quickly grounds us in her basic idea, so that she can introduce us to the key characters and set all their story arcs into motion in episode one. Mostly, there's a family who provide him with a homesingle mother Ruby Moon, who has some skill with the tarot; her goth teenager Cindy, who goes by Syn; and her utterly endearing three-year-old, Aria, whom Lucifer, going by John Milton (ha), immediately recognises as a much older soulbut others show up over the next few episodes, especially Amanda Rodriguez, the six-and-a-half-foot-tall psychic police detective.
It shouldn't be too surprising to find that other angels join the team as the story runs on, though I'm not going to spoil who or how or when or why. What I will say is there's a serial killer in Lost Port who's taking down high school girls and Lucifer could do a lot worse than enlist the help of these gloriously varied angels as he aims to stop him.
And this leads to two really important points. One is that glorious variety, because it would have been so easy for Reetz to have conjured up an army of angels, even fallen ones, who all look alike and act in similar ways, because that's what angels do. She doesn't just successfully resist that urge, she treats the very idea with utter disdain and goes hog wild with her character development. I literally read the introductory chapters for two of these angels with a huge grin on my face. Sure, one of them counts as a form of heresy (no self-respecting Irish pub worth its salt would ever allow a karaoke machine) but it still plays out with such a deft pixielike touch that it's impossible to resist. Best Episode Ever. Well, if we ignore the other one.
Reetz even ends really well. There's a natural ending and there's a supernatural ending, both of which are exactly right and the last page is a great place to wrap with the sure knowledge of more to come. I believe that she's published the second book in the series, 'Fallen Saint', with a novella, 'Dealing with Demons', in between the two, but there will be more. Book three, 'Last Martyr', has been announced and I have no idea if it will mark the end of a trilogy or just another book in a series.
If this review suggests that I simply devoured this book, then you've read right. It runs not too far shy of four hundred pages, but they skipped on by in a mere couple of sessions and I wanted to carry on to the next book, which sadly I haven't bought yet. Maybe if Phoenix Fan Fusion happens in January as it hopes to, I'll get an opportunity then. I like buying my books from the authors; not only because they get signed on the spot.
There is a downside, though, even if it has nothing to do with the writing. It seems like Reetz and her team spellchecked this but didn't proof it properly, because there are a whole slew of words that are real words but the wrong ones for the occasion. There are at least eight instances of "too" instead of "to". Leviathan strums "cords" instead of "chords" and we find Nuriel "dawning" a body not "donning" it. It's hardly on every page, but it's often enough to be frustrating, all the way to the "Epilouge" and the back cover blurb that breaks words between lines without hyphens, so we wonder what "miscon" means. Maybe that's all been fixed with a later edition. I certainly made mistakes with my first books and I still cringe whenever I see the spine to 'Velvet Glove Cast in Iron'. Always order the proof copy in print form, folks, even if you miss a self-imposed deadline.
I will now eagerly seek out 'Fallen Saint' and watch out for that as one of my monthly Arizona reviews next year. Given how much fun this was, I'll also prioritise Five Smiling Fish authors, with whom Reetz collaborated on a ghost anthology, 'From the Darkest Corner', with cover art from one of my artists, the incomparable Keith Decesare. Did Kira Shay's 'Angel's Prophecy' come before Megan E. Vaughn's 'The Emerald Door'? I don't think they're related, outside their shared publisher, but I ought to work through in order.
PS: bonus points for the Within Temptation. ~~ Hal C F Astell