Review: Speak to the Devil

Posted: February 18, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Dave Duncan, Alternate Historical Fiction, Fantasy

Dave Duncan is one of those guys that has been improving his trade for years. From this experienced writer comes SPEAK TO THE DEVIL (Amazon). Duncan’s offering here is set in an alternate historical version of 15th-century Europe. It has all that you would expect from that time period; knights, feudalism, oppression and religion, all with the addition of magic and a fake country.

The biggest selling point to us for this novel was it’s handling of magic. There was nothing revolutionary about it. Magic is real, magic is awesome, magic is frowned upon…OK it’s looked at virtually as Satanism, so maybe a little worse than frowned upon. It is also used heavily by the same aristocrats that condemn it and oppress those who would use it. Sound familiar? It should. That’s OK though because Duncan manages it magnificently. It never feels hamfisted, hackneyed, or like the drama and irony were thrust upon us. It played beautifully into the narrative.

The magic also has a very cool religious bent to it. In fact the system uses prayers to Saints as a means for accomplishing the arcane feat. Of course the Church says they are demons or devils, not really Saints. It’s also never made completely clear which is actually true. Love it.

The story revolves around a bunch of brothers, a few of whom can “speak to the devil”, and their quest for recognition, redemption, power, etc, etc. The main character, Anton Magnus, is just a regular ol’ ambitious knight-type wanker, and has a brother who is hostage, a couple brothers who can speak to Devils/Saints and do nifty things. While the main character is just an average joe, he completely shines in the role. He is very fun, though a bit cliched. Each of the 5 brothers are portrayed and developed well, and each are unique and interesting additions to the story.

SPEAK TO THE DEVIL is light, and active. It moves extremely quick, yet manages to squeeze some really rad and accurate description into it.

Anton basically draws the attention of some “higher-ups” and gets sent to the bumblef*** north to fight off all sorts of nasties, make a name for himself, and help his family out of their numerous problems. The ensuing action gives us warm fuzzies. There is also the obvious foreshadowing that there is much, much more going on.

The book is light, and active. It moves extremely quick, yet manages to squeeze some really rad and accurate description into it. Duncan perfectly portrays the impeding death of knighthood and the fast-changing nature of combat in that era. The book will be over before you know it, and you’ll be looking for the sequel.

The ending leaves quite a bit to be desired, and doesn’t really resolve much of anything–it’s the first novel in a series after all. But yeah, this isn’t a self-contained novel in the slightest. It’s very obvious that this novel is a small first step towards something bigger for the Magnus brothers. What that something is, who can say. We imagine–and look forward to–the sequel being released shortly, WHEN THE SAINTS. Can’t freaking wait.

  • Recommended Age: 12+
  • Language: Nothing of note
  • Violence: Great action scenes. Nothing gratuitous.
  • Sex: Nothing of note

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