Monday, March 22, 2010

Book Review: How to Make Friends with Demons by Graham Joyce

William Heaney is a man well acquainted with demons. These demons are not his broken family – his wife has left him for a celebrity chef, his snobbish teenaged son despises him, and his daughter’s new boyfriend resembles Nosferatu – nor his drinking problem, nor his unfulfilling government job, but real demons.

Demons are real, and William has identified one thousand five hundred and sixty-seven smoky figures, dwelling on the shadowy fringes of human life, influencing our decisions with their sweet and poisoned voices.

After a series of seemingly unconnected personal encounters, William Heaney’s life is thrown into a direction he does not fully comprehend. Past and present collide. Long-dormant choices and forgotten deceptions surface. Secrets threaten to become exposed. To weather these changes, William Heaney must learn one thing: how to make friends with demons.

Though not a straight-forward horror novel, How to Make Friends with Demons is an absorbing genre-bender from author Graham Joyce. The character of William Heaney is immediately likable. From his charitable work with GoPoint, a shelter for the homeless to his “everyman” problems, including his strained family relations – we can easily relate to Heaney’s thoughts and actions. Yet, we also learn that Heaney runs a forgery ring, copying rare literature and using charlatan’s methods to sell the forgeries. However, he always donates all his profit to GoPoint. We also learn about his more sinister side and how he came to recognize demons. It seems that back in his college days a dorm mate of his conjured a powerfully evil demon from an incantation Heaney himself had put together. Even since those fateful events and subsequent consequences Heaney has been able to recognize demons that plague humans, even his own. As you can see, William Heaney is a very complex character, and despite his flaws and poor choices, Joyce has written him in such an “Average Joe” way that the reader can identify with him.

Heaney isn’t the only well-developed character, though. Joyce has populated the book with some very memorable, very colorful characters. These include Heaney’s forgery partners-in-crime artist Stinx and model-celebrity Jaz, inspirational GoPoint founder Antonia Bowen, Heaney’s mysterious love interest Yasmin, a disturbed ex-soldier named Seamus, college dorm mate Fraser, and of course, Heaney’s estranged family.

The fascinating characters could have been enough to make an entertaining novel, but Joyce pushes it farther and places the characters in intriguing storylines. I was captivated by all the different events, past and present, surrounding Heaney’s life, and how in the end they all came together to form a cohesive and stimulating story. There isn’t that much “horror”, but the quick glimpses of shadowy demons and the occult circumstances surrounding some deaths during Heaney’s college days were decidedly creepy. Surprisingly, though, the novel ends on a more heartfelt and uplifting note. Throughout its pages it also hits on many different themes, such as alienation and redemption, which everyone can easily associate with.

How to Make Friends with Demons is a rare find in horror literature these days. It presents true horror in the form of human’s own cruel nature and also shows us how our demons can be overcome. It is an intelligent and interesting novel for anyone wanting a more low-key and realistic approach to horror that features unforgettable characters and many intriguing plot twists.

Check it out on Amazon!

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