Wednesday, 18 June 2008
‘Pandemonium’ – Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)
One of the big kicks that I get out of doing this blog is the chance I get to try out books that I wouldn’t normally look twice at, books that I wouldn’t normally even see on the bookshelves over here in the UK. Sometimes this backfires on me and I end up reading some complete and utter rubbish, not naming any names… (I don’t need to; it’s all in here if you want to have a look!) Sometimes though, I’ll end up finding a book that’s a real gem and a read that I’ll quite happily get lost in for hours at a time. Daryl Gregory’s debut novel is one of those finds, I loved it and if you’re a fan of urban fantasy that’s a little bit different then I think you’ll like it too.
‘Pandemonium’ is set in our world but with one crucial difference. Ever since the nineteen fifties, people have been randomly possessed by entities that some call demons (but psycho-analytic theory says have sprung from the collective unconscious). A kiss from the Little Angel brings death; the self sacrificing Captain appears when all hope is lost while The Truth has his own lethal methods of punishing falsehood. There are many others but the entity that possessed Del Pierce (while he was a child) was The Hellion, a mischief maker who’s full of tricks and has a devastating aim with a slingshot. With the help of Del’s family (and a psychiatrist) The Hellion was eventually exorcised. Or was it? Following a car crash, an adult Del realises that the Hellion never left his head at all, it was only asleep but now it’s awake and wants to pick up where it left off… Del’s quest for help will lead him into contact with a number of people including an entity possessing the writer formerly known as Philip K. Dick and the leader of a secret society pledged to the extermination of all demons. A cure is out there but Del will find out that it is worse than the disease…
‘Pandemonium’ is one of those books where, once I’ve finished it, I’m left thinking, ‘wow, did all of that really just happen?’ There is a lot going on and it’s a real credit to Daryl Gregory that he distinguishes between what needs to be tied up and what can be left vague. The result is a book where a complete story sits comfortably in a wider world that offers the reader tantalising glimpses of the bigger picture. I mentioned in another review that I really like to see the contrast between the normality of everyday life and the strange events that intrude upon it (makes the strange stuff appear even stranger). ‘Pandemonium’ doesn’t disappoint in this regard and the journey that Del takes (to various parts of America) reminded me, in a way, of the road trip plot device in ‘American Gods’. Not only does the reader get a picture of how people’s lives are affected by the possession phenomenon but they also get a compelling picture of how America might look as a result. This device creates a really eerie atmosphere that complements the story perfectly.
The characters, even (especially) the ‘demons’, are very accessible and easy to get to grips with. I felt a lot of sympathy for Del as he searches for a way to get rid of The Hellion only to find himself being knocked back at each step. While you don’t get much of a feel for the motives behind the demon’s behaviour (Gregory uses this gap to explore Jungian theory, something I know hardly anything about but laid out in fairly simple terms in the book) the ‘Demonology’ chapters show how random acts of possession have affected history. The OJ Simpson trial has a radically different ending while Eisenhower’s assassination sets the tone for early American policy towards the possessed. I have to admit to being left wondering whether Gregory’s opinion, on the outcome of the OJ Simpson case, was a little too prevalent in the outcome of the ‘book version’. It felt like a judgement was being made on real life events but, just as likely, it served to show very well what this particular ‘demon’ was all about… These chapters also offer an interesting contrast between the relative ‘honesty’ of the ‘demons’ (who are only doing what they’ve been ‘created’ to do) and the duplicity of humanity (the machinations of the ‘Human League’ in particular).
While the areas of the book concerning Jungian theory, and Del’s therapy, are relevant to the plot I sometimes felt as if maybe too much attention was being paid to this at the expense of moving the story forward. There were times when I wanted various characters to get off their feet and actually do something! On the whole though Gregory handles his plot extremely well, throwing some interesting twists into the mix and giving us a poignant ending that offers the prospect of more stories to come (although it would work just as well if this wasn’t the case).
I reckon ‘Pandemonium’ could well be my ‘surprise find’ of the year’; as well as being a thoroughly entertaining read it got me inside the heads of all the characters and really made me think about what I was reading. Like I said right at the start, fans of urban fantasy (that’s a little bit different) would do well to give this a go.
Nine out of Ten