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on March 13, 2012 :
I've often wondered what will happen after I die, where my soul would travel, but the myriad of choices presented in Jay Bell's book 'Hell's Pawn' made me rethink the whole idea. John Grey takes an amazing journey beginning in Purgatory and ending in Heaven. During his traveling, he has the privilege of visiting several versions of the afterlife which he portrays in vivid detail. John has a special sort of energy which allows him to do things on the other side that others can't, and this is his key to success. John has a sense of purpose that others don't possess. John seems to be the only one with a drive to change, unlike his friend Dante who is comfortable being himself, being in the moment, without any desire for redemption. He wants to be productive and if the activity in which he's engaging isn't, he quickly loses interest. John's mission is to help Hell unite the different realms to free Purgatory from the domination it is under, but he's determined not to simply be Hell's pawn. The song 'I Did It My Way' kept filtering through my brain as John puts his special touch on negotiations between the realms, wheeling and dealing for their support. It was gratifying to watch John's confidence grow while he honed his diplomacy skills.
Rimmon is a fascinatingly complex character. With him, as with many other characters along the way, I see the theme 'don't judge a book by its cover', even if it has red skin, horns, and a tail and stereotypically speaking, looks like a demon which we associate with evil. However, it's the heart that counts and as John discovers, regardless of appearances, Rimmon has a good heart. He admires John and wants to love him, but his heart belongs to his estranged lover and he is unable to move on and get it back. Reconciliation with his lover is the only thing that will put his heart to rest.
One of the themes that I appreciate greatly is that animals have souls too, and if not inhibited by external sources, they have free reign and a much keener sense of direction than humans. So does John's traveling companion in spirit. Animals have the ability to travel in whatever realm they wish, which, to me, speaks to the purity of their spirit. Personally, I wouldn't want to be in any kind of afterlife that didn't include animals.
The amount of information Jay fits into two hundred and seventy six pages is amazing and a bit overwhelming; still the story flows so well. I can hardly begin to describe the plethora of ideas put forth in 'Hell's Pawn'. At the same time, Jay's incredible sense of humor shines through along with references to the past such as: Then the music changed, and his ridiculously bloodshot eyes widened. “Hey, who’s singing this?”“ Nirvana. They’re after your time.” “Man, they’re really good! Music is way better in the future.” John thought of the endless boy bands and sophomoric teenage pop stars that had dominated the music scene since the likes of Kurt Cobain had died, but kept his mouth shut. It was kinder to let Dante believe the lie.” It's a departure from Jay's usual storytelling, yet it still maintains his comfortable lyrical style, his passion and depth. Even though it's fantasy, it's a book that is best read at a slower, more deliberate pace, and perhaps even more than once, in order to grasp its significance, but in the end, it's worth it. Thanks, Jay for such a thought provoking look into the other side.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on Oct. 23, 2011 :
This book was a really pleasant surprise. It was a really nice change from what I have been reading lately, and reminded me how much I like a good sci-fi/alternate universe story. It was my first reading love, before puberty got me interested in sex and smut.
Bell has crafted a very believable vision of the afterlife, where the various belief systems of humanity – Christian, Hindu, Celt, ancient Egyptian, etc. – all have their concepts of the afterlife realized. There’s Heaven, Hell, Asgard, Olympus and all the other ideals, along with their respective gods, such as Thor, Zeus, Set and so on.
But things are not exactly as they should be in the afterlife. Something has gone wrong, and it becomes our hero John Grey’s task to help set it right. John is a new arrival in what turns out to be Purgatory, why some kind of cosmic game is being played, like a twisted version of Farmville. John befriends a couple of other lost souls, and together they try to escape from Purgatory, only to find out just how far out of hand the place has become.
They do eventually make their escape, but John ends up riding Dante’s sins straight to Hell, which turns out to be a rather nicer place than expected. But then, Hell is trying to enlist John’s help in their war against Heaven, which they believe is responsible for the mess the afterlife is in. They use a sexy incubus to seduce John and guide him through the various realms of the afterlife in his quest to raise an army to free the souls from Purgatory.
It’s quite a roller-coaster ride that takes you to the halls of Asgard, Mount Olympus, the tomb of a Chinese emperor and more. Along the way, John manages to learn the secret of why he was uniquely qualified to take on this quest. Despite this, and some misgivings about being “Hell’s Pawn”, he continues his quest.
The final ending is a bit of an anti-climax, and for that I’d give the book 4½ stars rather than five. A few things are left unexplained, but by the end it really doesn’t matter, as it’s been such a good ride. The story is told in rich detail, but without being pedantic or boring. There’s a bit of a message near the ending, but it’s delivered rather subtly and I’ll let you figure out what it is.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Sep. 05, 2011 :
Wow, Jay Bell, you continue to delight me and amuse me. You are an extremely creative wordsmith. I haven't finished this book yet and am so hooked. Please keep writing and writing and writing.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on July 30, 2011 :
Jay Bell continues to surprise with his literary prowess.
Hell's Pawn is an incredible work of fantasy fiction. A roller coaster of a ride that dives head first into mythology and religion in its many guises and forms. Bell uses the differing constructs to weave a story that is both engaging but also, whether intentional or not, an education in its own right. Bell has a commanding grasp of his chosen subject matter and the research he has done in this field is obvious.
The story centres around John Grey, or more precisely his soul, caught in the no man's land of Purgatory, neither being Heaven nor Hell. All is not right in this world however John manages to escape only to find himself in Hell. Here he meets Rimmon, an Incubus who is sent to seduce John in order to win his favour in support of a task that Hell requires of him.
His task is to amass an army, rallying the Gods of other realms and religions to join the Legions of Hell in attempting to bring order back to Purgatory, however it soon becomes apparent that Purgatory may not be the final goal of Hells plan.
Those who are already familiar with Bells work, will find the style and pace of this book as equally familiar, however it is obvious that he is growing as a writer, and Hells Pawn is as polished a piece of writing as I have read from any commercial author I have read.
(reviewed the day of purchase)