Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kayla and the Devil

At the time of the implosion of Dorchester Publishing’s imprint Leisure Books, it was the principal mass market source of horror fiction, publishing 24 new and reprint titles a year. Since its fall, the authors of those books have had to find new means to get their books to the public. The best writer working in the Dorchester stable at that time was Bryan Smith (House of Blood, Soultaker, Freakshow), who has moved on to publish with Deadite Press. He has also ventured into e-publishing, and his latest book is Kayla and the Devil.

Kayla Monroe is a sophomore at Vanderbilt, and not that nice of a person. She is sarcastic and the definition of a “mean girl.” Since she’s also rich and pretty, her personality has never been an obstacle in her social life. In the last year, however, everyone has begun to shun her. She has no friends and even nerds won’t sleep with her. This is a mystery to her until she meets a stranger in the park, who explains to her she has been placed under a shunning spell which will keep everyone away from her. The stranger can lift the spell, however, and will be glad to do so in exchange for a couple of things: Kayla has to kill an innocent person, and give up her soul. If you paid attention to the title, you know who the stranger is.

As Kayla seeks to fulfill her end of the bargain, she finds out she might not be quite as mean as she thinks. She also gets to meet, courtesy of her benefactor, Jack the Ripper and the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who functions as sort of middle management for Lucifer. Kayla has to make a choice between eternal satanic servitude and being unable to get a date for the rest of her life.

Stories about deals with the devil have a long history in literature, from Faust to “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and so on. It is a rich subject for exploration, and Smith handles it exceptionally well. There has always been an element of humor in Smith’s books, and that gets a lot of play here. The book is a bit of a hybrid between the author’s previous work and urban fantasy. There is plenty of elements of each genre, enough visceral scenes to satisfy horror fans, and enough of a playful element to attract readers who are more likely to favor Jim Butcher over Stephen King. Highly recommended.

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