YA fiction has a lot of different genres. There’s romance, there’s sci-fi, there’s fantasy...and there’s horror. I don’t come across too many YA horror novels. But when the cover of a book claims that the author is “the Stephen King of YA horror,” I take notice. And that’s the story of how I read Hellraisers, the first in The Devil’s Engine series by Alexander Gordon Smith.
Hellraiser tells the story of Marlow and Pan. Marlow is a teen who has just gotten kicked out of school. Again. This school is the one they send you to when you get kicked out of every other school. His brother was killed in Afghanistan, and his mother became an alcoholic. Marlow has debilitating asthma, though that doesn’t keep him from getting into trouble.
Pan is definitely *not* your typical teen. Pan is an Engineer. When Marlow first meets her, she is invincible. Literally. A stab to the heart doesn’t kill her. She has made a contract with the Engine, a mysterious and ancient machine that might have been created by the Devil himself. The Engine grants you any wish you desire, but, in return, you forfeit your soul. You enjoy the gift for 666 hours, and then the demons come to drag you down to Hell.
Fortunately, after the Engines were rediscovered during WWII, advances in technology have made it possible for “lawyers” to break the contracts with the Engine. You lose whatever ability you gained, but your soul is safe. Wish for super strength? No problem to break. Ability to read minds? Piece of cake. Invincibility? That one’s trickier. The lawyers were working on breaking Pan’s contract up to the last second, and she almost didn’t make it. Want a loved one back from the dead? That’s a problem. That contract is unbreakable. Also, whatever comes back won’t be the same.
Pan works for a group called the Hellraisers, who make contracts for supernatural powers and then go on missions for their mysterious boss, Ostheim. Another Engine exists, and those who control it want to unleash Hell on earth. So they fight other Engineers while trying to locate the other Engine, all the while hoping that the lawyers will successfully break their contracts in time. It’s a terrifying life, but for Marlow, a teen hunted by cops who has to struggle for his next breath, it might be his only hope.
*I know, I know, "Careful what you wish for" is such an obvious, cliche title for this post, but, seriously, you try naming these things every week. It's not easy. If I could find a pithy phrase to sum up everything in this post, then I wouldn't need to write the dang post. Just don't judge me until you read the whole thing, okay?