The Devil You Know: Edited By R.J. Carter
Reviewed By Ben Walker
Kylie Minogue once said it’s better the devil you know, but she also said je ne sais pas porquoi, which is how I felt after reading this Satan-themed anthology. Offering 20 stories, most of which are original to the book, and all of which involve a meeting with Old Nick, Mister Pointy Beard, Lucy Fur or whatever cute name you want to give the personification of evil. Whether you believe in the devil or not (I don’t), there’s no denying that it’s an enduring image, and I went into this expecting some playfully wicked stories but ended up feeling just as cheated as some of the characters.
The main issue here is pacing. Right from the start, you’re drip-fed tales that like to linger way too long in their respective universes, either through prolonged set-ups or dilly-dallying with flashbacks and internal monologues. The stories broadly fit into three categories – wish fulfilment gone awry, the devil being outsmarted, or the devil tricking someone successfully. As such, there’s a lot of deja vu in terms of imagery, themes, storylines, etc. This doesn’t always mean familiarity between the stories themselves – for the most part, each one carves its own unique path. It’s just that any seasoned horror fan will probably have encountered most of these scenarios before, so there’s very little in the way of uniqueness from a broader perspective and a dire lack of surprise.
Along the way, you encounter card games and drinking contests, business deals and stolen babies. One character wishes they could change how they look only – shock! – things don’t go as expected. Another unfortunate soul manages to mess their life up badly enough to attract the attention of a friendly stranger who “just wants to help” and whoops, they’re the devil. There’s even one about a down-on-their-luck writer which name-checks Skeleton Crew, as if there haven’t been enough of those in the last 20 years. Around the halfway mark, the book propels itself into a hellish vision of the future, but even that felt familiar, and if you’ve read Alessandro Manzetti’s visions of true sci-fi hell, then it’s hard for anything else to compare.
After this, there are a few moments where the monotony breaks; one story is essentially a 10-page setup for a cheeky joke, there’s a neat turnaround in one story where Satan ends up winning in an unexpected way, and another has a wry sense of humour surrounding a pickled body part, but even that drags on for a bit too long.
With such a high ratio of average stories to slightly above average, it’s not a bad book as such, but for something that boasts about the involvement of the devil, it could be a lot badder.*
*yes, I know that’s not a word.
The Devil You Know
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is a short-story anthology collection of encounters with various incarnations of The Devil. The genres range from fairy tale to folk tale, from urban fantasy to science fiction, from comedy to horror. For fans of stories like THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER and FAUST.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.