Review: The Devil’s Only Friend
When it comes to author Dan Wells, people seem to point to his Dystopian YA Partials series. Those are good novels, no doubt about it. But the novels that won me over were those in his John Cleaver series. It’s no secret how much I love Horror, and Wells’ first novel, I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (EBR review), hit all the right notes for me. After three novels in that series, I wondered if I would ever again read a new John Cleaver story. I feared the worst…
…until Wells said he was writing a new John Cleaver trilogy.
THE DEVIL’S ONLY FRIEND is the fourth John Cleaver novel, the first in a new trilogy, and I’m pleased to say it is a fantastic novel. Not only does it retain the spirit of the original three John Cleaver novels, but it shows a welcome and logical progression in the series.
John Wayne Cleaver (named after the actor, not the serial killer) works for the Feds. John will tell you he’s better now (and indeed he does at the very beginning of the novel), but he isn’t. Just like the rules he made for himself to keep from turning into a complete serial killer, John continues to fool himself into thinking he’s better than he used to be. He now has a team of Federal agents he consults for to hunt down the Withered (or Gifted, as they call themselves). Brooke is under professional, medical supervision having been irrevocably damaged from the events in I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU (EBR review).
On the surface, it’s all good.
This is where Dan Wells excels. He peels back layers of comfort one-by-one until all that is left is the bloody and visceral truth. This doesn’t happen all at once, but gradually all the way until the last pages of this stellar novel.
What truly pleases me is how Wells chose to go bigger. He could have easily stayed small-town, and we would have read it and enjoyed it. Instead he went bigger. This is a giant, federally funded, sting operation as they track down a Withered known as the Hunter. John Cleaver is the star of the show, the one person who is able to understand how these god-like beings think. The dynamic this evokes when interacting with the Feds, and with a broken Brooke showcases how much Wells has grown as a writer.
If there is any minor quibble, it is in the portrayal of local law enforcement in this novel. Their actions and attitudes are so completely unbelievable as to become a caricature. But thankfully these moments are extremely brief.
The John Cleaver novels have always featured two things: 1) A shock value moment, and 2) the idea that John is grasping at staying in control. I couldn’t be more pleased with, in my opinion, the most violent and creep scene that Wells has ever written being in this novel. And I absolutely loved how Wells shows the reader John’s fragile hold on control.
Dan Wells is back writing Horror, and he is doing it in style with THE DEVIL’S ONLY FRIEND. To me, this is Wells’ finest novel to date.
Recommended Age: 16+
Profanity: Not really.
Violence: Oh my goodness. The violence here is crafted with such skill…
Note: Before you click and buy this novel—which you totally should—be sure to also add Dan’s novella, NEXT OF KIN to the cart as well. It takes place during THE DEVIL’S ONLY FRIEND, but from the PoV of one of the Withered. It is an incredible piece of short fiction, and well worth your time and money (read the review here). Here are your links: