Into the Abyss by J. Langland
I pulled this book from a recommendation thread on r/Fantasy, and the premise was entertaining. Tom, a normal boy in our world, goes to a party and gets summoned into another world–as a powerful demon. Tom’s soul is effectively ripped from him, he dies, and he’s bound as a demon slave in Astlan. Being a powerful demon yet a slave is a contradiction, and this story is riddled with uncomfortable moments for Tom while he comes to terms with not being human (yet still obviously remembering and thinking of himself as human) and with being a pawn in a magical war where both sides (there are 2 powerful wizards at war) are afraid of him.
The story turned out not to be clunky, either, which was a fantastic surprise. It gets a bit unwieldy as it goes on by adding too many uninteresting POVs but most of the characters in Into the Abyss matter (at least in the first 3/4 of the book…the army generals and wizards that get introduced as POV characters later are forgettable and boring). Tom as the main character is definitely interesting, and he has to deal with the duality of being a human and a demon, and he finds himself slotted into the default ‘evil hell spawn’ role rather he wants to be or not. The wizards of Astlan don’t understand where demons come from (aka normal souls from other dimensions). When Tom becomes a demon, he has trouble with controlling his master’s missives and his demonic impulses. Jenn, a young wizard, starts out as a more interesting character, but she becomes a less interesting character as she (a supposedly intelligent and otherwise compassionate woman) is played as a bit of a fool when she irrationally and instinctively distrusts Tom. This is maybe my biggest character complaint–there are characters that do act irrationally For The Plot. Jenn is the biggest violator, but even the better characters like Tom and Rupert get in on the action. The maligned and traitorous wizard, Gastrope, is maybe the most rational character because he has a reason to distrust Tom (he almost murdered him and scared the shit out of him), but Gastrope is the character that makes active attempts to come to term with Tom and (spoiler) Rupert being demons.
Now, let’s get to the MVP character of the story–Rupert. I would’ve read a story 1/2 this length that was just about Tom and Rupert, and their big brother/little brother relationship is seriously sweet. Rupert was a born demon, and he appears to be a major exception to the ‘ripping souls from other dimensions’ rule of how demons are made in Astlan. Rupert disguised himself as a wizard when he started to turn into a demon, and it’s Rupert that teaches Tom to shapeshift from demon to human. There’s a truly touching scene where Rupert reveals his demonic self to Tom, who realizes he and Rupert are the only two people in Astlan who really understand each other. Rupert talks about how he ran away when he started to become a demon, and then Rupert drops a bomb–he thinks Tom is his father because they do look exactly alike. (If you think about it, there’s a magical in-story reason this could be, even if the book doesn’t address it.) This adds levels of questions and confusion to the plot, and Tom, being somewhat sympathetic and simultaneously spineless, decides to let Rupert believe he’s Tom’s son.
After a series of okay-but-sometimes-boring plot developments, Tom & Co. find themselves in Freehold, where the political situation has spiraled out of control. The two wizards are still at war, but there are archdemons involved, too. There’s also a McGuffin book, which doesn’t figure too much into the early plot but the wizards are really interested to open it and control the astral planes. The most interesting development is that the Rod of Teirnon, a religious army of a literal warrior God, converge on Freehold to route out the demons. The Rod is led by Talerius, their Knight Rampant, and there’s a truly climactic battle at the end of the story between Tom and Talerius. As with much of this story, there’s a bit too much padding around the fight, but it’s amazing, and unlike with some books I’ve read recently, the ending doesn’t disappoint.
Rating: 4 stars for the story, even when it does feel a bit unpolished and a bit unwieldy.