Hell Has Its Demons (The Sotil and Savage Adventures) by Mark Lord (book review).

With ‘Hell Has Its Demons’, Jake Savage finally gets a novel and it’s a good one. The town of St Brett’s is infested with demons. Jake and his employer, Roger Sotil, answer an invitation to investigate. On the way there, we learn St. Brett’s is home to Jake’s former lover, Isabel, and his father, John Haukwake. The animosity Jake feels toward his father is palpable and this undercurrent weaves through the plot.

Upon arrival, Roger – who travels with a ghostly companion Jake cannot see – immediately spies the demons and a bloody battle between good and evil plays out in the midst of an important mass. The congregation is horrified, of course, but also eager to see the demons exorcised. The townspeople are curiously unmoved by the gory mess on the church floor – which is one of the ways in which Mark Lord so accurately portrays the period. The village is upset by the loss of life, however, and just as eager as the charge to roust out the demon influence and banish it forever.

Hell Has Its Demons (The Sotil and Savage Adventures) by Mark Lord (book review).

Each party has a different suspect and village politics play an important role in the flushing of evil. The women of the St. Bretts are ready to accuse Isabel of witchcraft and their animosity toward her is not unfounded. She has a talent for beguiling men, which is the very reason for Jake’s hatred of his father. She was the lover of both father and son, and chose to wed the father as he was the man with more influence. In his current state – that of laggard and drunkard – Jake continues to prove himself unworthy of her affections, which only adds to his mood.

The men are divided. Some support John Haukwake and his, others move in favour of the church. But as always, when they come together they’re easy to rile up and violence soon follows.

Meanwhile, Roger, who is a controversial scholar, seeks to prove that not all that is unseen is evil. He wants to summon a demon in order to ‘fight fire with fire’.

Hell has its demons and so does Jake Savage. I had that line prepared about two pages into the book when it became obvious that the Jake Savage I met in Chivalry and Bring on the Night has left a part of his soul in France. Back in England, he is a haggard version of the soldier who embodied ideals knighted men spurned. He still values friendship, however, and he is still a man of his word—even after he has drunk himself into a stupor. Under the bulk of a common drunkard, Jake is still thoughtful and insightful, two traits valued by his employer, Roger Sotil.

He doesn’t fully shake off the ghosts of his past here, but he does take a significant step forward. At the conclusion of this mystery, he has found purpose and has laid many of his demons to rest.

What I enjoy most about Mark Lord’s writing is that he manages to convey a sense of period without knocking the reader over the head with detail. His settings feel authentic without being manufactured. The dialogue of his characters is perfectly readable and feels natural, as do their actions. Our history did not occur on another planet, after all. The inclusion of the supernatural elements is what separates these stories from the sheaf of other historical fiction out there, however, and it’s done so seamlessly that I always come away feeling as if these events actually happened – that vampires do roam the forests of France and that demons regularly terrorised English villages while hatching plots to overthrow the crown. Perhaps that is because there is always a touch of truth in these fictions – those settings and the coincidence with events.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next Jake Savage adventure. I’m eager to see more growth in the character of a man who has always been more than a simple soldier.

Kelly Jensen

April 2014

(pub: Alt Hist Press, June 2013. Ebook, 292 pages. $3.99 (US) £2.56  (UK) ASIN: B00DO30OGA)

check out website: http://marklord.info/

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