First a quick note: John Connolly’s latest book was released yesterday in the UK with the title Hell’s Bells. In the US, it will be released in October under a different title: The Infernals. Who can wait another 5 months, though? I recommend ordering a copy from the UK today, although this should in no way interfere with your plans to buy the US edition in October. You can thank me later.
Connolly is best known for his crime fiction series (starring PI Charlie Parker) and the previously-reviewed The Book of Lost Things. The Samuel Johnson books, however, are more humorous and adventuresome and generally not as dark. Read these with tongue fully in cheek!
Hell’s Bells is a sequel to The Gates, featuring a boy named Samuel Johnson and his trustworthy dachshund, Boswell. In The Gates, the Great Malevolence and his minions tried to invade Earth, but found themselves thwarted by young Samuel, the ever-loyal Boswell, and a very minor demon called Nurd. Hell’s Bells sees Samuel and Boswell lose the home court advantage as they are transported to Hell by a demon who has fallen out of favor after the failed invasion. Along for the ride are a group of notorious dwarfs, a couple of policemen, and an ice cream truck. Throughout, Samuel’s ordinary life problems (divorced parents, unattainable girls, and the like) are superseded by the demons he encounters and the battles he witnesses. His perseverance and continued good humor keep these books light, despite heavy subject matter.
Hell’s Bells works as a standalone, but I do have to recommend reading The Gates first because it is such a fun book and will help fill in character histories. Indeed, there is a rather impressive cast of characters in The Gates, and I was happy to see the return of my favorites in this sequel, even those who had only minor roles, along with some equally entertaining newcomers. It’s well worth getting to know them.
Connolly’s vision of Hell is an updated, funnier version of Dante’s Inferno. As in the Inferno, the denizens of Hell are tormented with punishments that reflect the evil they committed on Earth. But the landscape is not entirely bleak; there is still room for a demon to reinvent and redeem himself. Even demons stuck in the depths of Hell are imbued with a sense of humanity that keeps them from becoming too dissimilar from ourselves.
As in The Gates, Connolly makes liberal use of footnotes to educate and entertain on subjects ranging from science, philosophy, history, religion, and beer. There seems to be a mixed reaction to footnotes in books like this, but I always found them worthwhile. Actually, most of my sticky flags mark the bottom third of the page, which is how I generally judge my interest level in a book.
Overall, I’d recommend this book to boys and girls of all ages who like to laugh, learn, and have an otherworldly adventure.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, see the video below of author John Connolly reading an excerpt from Hell’s Bells:
This book was reviewed from an advance copy sent by the author/publisher.