You’re still pretty young, living at home, wondering what comes next. Life has already made it clear to you that you’re not going to be the next best anything. Between getting thoroughly beaten by your dad at home and thoroughly beaten by the kids in the neighborhood on your way home, your position at the bottom of the shit pile is as solid as a position on the shit pile can be. Your mom has made it clear that you never should have been born, and yet you wait… for something. Surely something has to happen next. Do you get older, move out, move on and become someone? Or are you trapped in this pitiful, helpless situation for the rest of your life?
It sort of sounds like any book with a teenage protagonist, except maybe for the constant beatings, but what happens if you’re a demon and near immortal? Not only do you suck at life, you’re going to suck at it for centuries.
Meet Jakabok Botch.
He’s never going to amount to anything and life (or what ever the demonic metaphor for life is) makes sure he knows it at every moment. Even now, telling his story, you already know how it ends. His very first words to you are “Burn this book.” Is it a command? Is he begging? All we know is that whatever sad little things have happened to this pitiful little demon, the end result is that he’s trapped in this book.
In between begging/commanding you to burn the book before you get hurt, he tells his story. Sometimes he does it in the hopes that you’ll burn the book as a favor, other times he does it to spite you, and then there are times when he seems to need to tell you. It’s not a happy tale. He is pitiful. Even if he has a moment of greatness, it’s not that great.
Jakabok Botch was yanked out of the Ninth Circle of Hell and is now trapped on the upper world with the humans. Even here he gets no respect and is immediately recognized as a lesser lesser demon. It’s extra shameful when a human looks at you in disgust at seeing how little you matter.
And yet I enjoyed my time with Jakabok. I wanted him to have that last minute comeback. Triumph of the human spirit, and all that. Well, triumph of whatever the demonic version of the human spirit is. Although he threatens you and breathes down your neck, you still want to know what happened. How does a demon get trapped in a book? Should you fear him? Be sad? Laugh at his misfortune? Who is this demon and what emotion is he worth?
I was very entertained. I liked how Jakabok talks directly to you, immediately setting up the relationship of book and reader. You’re in control every time your eyes flick over a word, and yet you wonder how much he is guiding you. There were parts that did get a little creepy because you’d wonder if a really powerful demon did get trapped in a book and you were to read it, what would happen? Well, creepy for me and my overactive imagination. Because, seriously, demon in a book? That can’t end well.
My favorite part about the book is when Jakabok explains the mechanics of you as a reader. I really liked the idea of your face giving you away to the book. A twitch of your fingers as you turned the page, an eyebrow lowering, your lips turning down… all of this gives power to the book because you don’t even know you’re doing it. I loved it.
Jakabok’s relationship with his BFF and frenemy Quitoon was really well done. Jakabok’s desire to be better himself, to be feared, to be loved, to be something important is both reflected and diminished in Quitoon’s presence. With one look, Quitoon can lift him up or crush him, and Jakabok revels in his attentions. Again, my emotions were mixed. Is he a pitiful little puppy, groveling in the mud and making you feel embarrassed for him or is he trying to grow and learn and become what he knows he can be?
This fits with his tone when he speaks directly to you. Is he commanding you burn this book or begging you to do it? Is he threatening you into obedience or hoping your human nature will take pity on his smallness? And how many sentences will it take to go from one to the other?
And how on Earth (literally!) does he expect you to burn this book without finishing it? Something huge happens that brings all the demons and all the angels to a moment on Earth to battle. What did a human do to gain this attention and which faction will win control over the invention? And how does Jakabok come into play? Will he have his moment? Is he just a bystander? Does he get caught in the crossfire? Does he sacrifice himself for a greater purpose? What is going to happen before the last page ends?
This was a fun read and I’m very interested in the mixed reviews it has on Goodreads. I think a lot of people really did not like it because it was written by Barker and they expect perfection from him. I didn’t go into it as “OH MY GOD CLIVE BARKER! THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST THING I’VE READ IN THE PAST TEN YEARS!” I was more “Hey! Clive Barker! Let’s crack this open and see where it takes me.” And off we went and I had a good time.