Hellfighters: The Devil’s Engine by Alexander Gordon Smith Review

I read the first book in Alexander Gordon Smith’s newest trilogy, which was called Hellraisers, about two and a half years ago. I then decided to get the sequel as an e-book, which was a bad choice. I really don’t like reading books online. I tend to read to get away from the screen. I got it pretty much only because the print copies weren’t around my bookstore and I was too lazy to try and order one. My distaste for e-books delayed me in reading this book for a long time, but I finally put my other reads on hold to tackle it and I’m reminded why Smith is one of my favourite authors, even more than I was reminded in the last book.

Here’s the gist: The Devil’s Engine is an engine that has cogs and gears like any other, but encompassed by it is a vat of absolute despair and promise of slow drowning. It’s a device connected with the devil. The Engine was split into three parts a long time ago, because apart, the world of the living and the bottom of the world of the dead remain apart too. There’s a psycho named Mammon out to recombine these Engines, and he’s managed to steal the part that was being guarded by the Hellraisers. These Hellraisers consist of a significant pair of mismatched outsiders; Marlow Green, a teen who was constantly kicked out of schools, hitting and running away whenever something got bad; a teen who’s had to live under the shadow of Danny, his older brother who died while fighting for the military, and his forever grieving, constantly disappointed mom. Pan, real name Amelia a long time ago, was one day led by a guy named Christoph to do something she didn’t want to, and wound up having a choice; either spend a huge chunk of her life, perhaps the whole pie, behind bars, or join the Hellraisers. There’s also Herc, a fit elder who first recruited Pan, Night, a Latina goth girl, and Truck (that really is what he goes by), a 300-pound underground boxer who loves all things munchy-munchy. These five misfits now have to go after the Engine to Paris, and Marlow also has to come to terms with his best friend Charlie Alvarez, the guy who prevented Marlow from going crazy and stood by him at his last school, may have simply been a spy for Mammon. Either that or he was persuaded to betray Marlow after Marlow got too nervous for Charlie’s well-being and knocked him out so he’d be safe. Either way, Marlow’s in complete stress. So at least he has some luxury right now, pricey or not. Something the Engine(s) can also do is grant you a wish; give you superpowers. In exchange, you have 666 hours (familiar number), or about 27 days before you give up your soul to the devil. And if you die before then, you give it up a little earlier. There are those alongside the Hellraisers who can sometimes manage to cancel an Engine contract before the time is up, but right now, all of the “Lawyers” on the Hellraisers’ side are dead. So hopefully Marlow’s powers of proper breathing, speed, and invisible strength, and the rest of the clan, are enough to somehow stop Mammon in time.

How the hell, pun intended, does Smith honestly come up with these descriptions? Is he a demon reborn from the depths of hell to creep us out with his explanos? Visualizing the details too much as you read is easily nauseating. He perfects our fear of the unknown, the non-understood, and the scarring jitters of the idea of accidentally stepping in a cut-open chest and slipping on the blood, ribs, stomach, and oh yeah, the splattered intestines. More importantly though, he puts us in a universe that straightforward admits when you make a deal with the devil, like our heroes already have, you’ll end up in hell for eternity. The idea of being sent to an afterlife of misery, torture and maybe even suffocation and the idea of the cause of your demise being anything around you is the terror that has guided judgments for centuries. Smith’s Escape from Furnace books were the same; the idea of never seeing sunshine or breathing fresh air in ever again.

I gotta say, both books have been abnormally fast. Some might call it exhausting if you’re not completely in on the fun. Smith’s standalone book, The Fury, was a nearly 700-paged horror fest just like this, and I had to not recommend it for how I could never catch my breath with it. But with these Devil’s Engine books having a much more suitable pace than that one, you almost wish it were a bit longer. Funny how life works sometimes. But seriously, this book’s first entire quarter takes place on a runaway train, reminiscent of some disaster film from the 1980’s I’ve never heard of. 

I like how these characters are unconventional. Marlow thinks about how he gets promised a kiss from Pan and he feels that that at least may be worth risking death for. That’s something you’d normally expect a girl to think, so it’s refreshing to hear a boy think something gallant like that. You also think about how he has an inhaler, and in the first book he went out to a scummy convenience store for some heavy drinking, and I think a few people described him as having greasy hair and horrible breath. Most protagonists tend to be more adjusted than Marlow, so it’s refreshing to have someone troubled like Alex from Furnace. Pan is uptight and defies any and all expectations that may come from being a main girl in a horror book series. To the point where you feel Marlow would always be the softie if they ever started dating. She takes no BS and wears her scars on her forehead. Truck is also hilarious, though some may feel the gross-out humour in this book is mostly directed towards him. 

Now, both books in this series sometimes have action to the point where you wish you could catch a breath. But the reason I liked this chapter more than the original are a few things; some very good twists, the storyline for Charlie was nail-biting because I cared if he was a traitor or not (not to mention there’s a scene with him in a stance you’d want to avert your eyes in), a scene where Marlow remembers too well what it feels to need an inhaler that’s very panicky, there are character deaths that supremely punch, and a cliffhanger ending that has me wanting to see what happens next the same way I did after Book 3 in Smith’s Furnace series.

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