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Monday, December 14, 2009

"Devil's Alphabet" by Daryl Gregory (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Devil's Alphabet is Daryl Gregory's second book, and is being published by Del Rey. The book stands at 381 pages and is divided into four parts with 23 chapters. The book was published on November 24, 2009 in trade paperback format. All chapters are set in the third person perspective which alternates between 4 to 5 different characters.

Daryl Gregory has had a lot of short stories published previously. His debut book, Pandemonium won the 2009 Crawford award.


Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium, which was published last year, had a unique-ish concept involving humanity's corporal invasions by demons, and was a fairly decent read for myself. I was very interested in reading this second novel based on my previous experience. Needless to say Daryl Gregory's Devil's Alphabet doesn't disappoint!

Devil's Alphabet focuses on a town in Tennessee, wherein a change has occurred and the people of the town have separated into three different types of humanoid species. However, at the same time there are a couple of people who haven't been effected by the change and remain the same.

Paxton Abel Martin is one of those few people who was not changed by the strange happenings. Although he wasn't effected physically, mentally the image of his friends and family changing into something inhuman has left him and his psyche damaged in many ways. He has left the Tennessee town, moved to Chicago, and has had no contact with anyone from his previous life. His life in Chicago is like a pebble in rushing water tumbling from side to side with the flow of water, however catching nothing and stopping nowhere. Paxton receives a call on day with news of his friend's funeral, which prompts him to come back to the small town and try and figure out what actually happened to cause such a change to the citizens of this town.

The story is told from many third person point of views, such as Paxton Martin, the main character stated above. Deke, Paxton's best friend who is know an Argo, the first of the humanoid species. Paxton's father who is a reverend but was later changed into a Charlie (the third human species). Aunt Rhonda, who is an aunt to everyone by name but is actually the main governing force of the town and runs everything efficiently. Lastly there is Sandra and Rainie, the Beta twins who are the daughters to Jo-Ann (another Beta as well) and who are smarter then they appear.

Daryl Gregory's Devil's Alphabet contains a very complex storyline. The bottom line for the plot revolves around a town with changes and all the individuals that it has affected. There is no real explanation given to why this change has taken place or what caused it, though there are many theories. Some of these theories sound fantastic but are also very plausible. I won't reveal any of the theories as it is much more effective if read within the context of the book. However, the main theory was the one that I found the most intriguing.

The writing and flow of the story is done decently. However there are a few problems with this book regarding the main plot and the pacing of the story. It takes a long time for a reader to get fully immersed into the story. For a while it has a feeling of just meandering through the first 1/3rd of the book, before a reader truly grips the characters, storyline and pacing.

Another minor issue, for myself, was that of the main character Paxton I found him kind of a bore. There's no real justifiable cause given for the way that he acted in the past. Although his actions in the book later redeem him in the eyes of the reader and try and make up for his past actions, in the eyes of the reader. It still did little for myself and therefore I couldn't really associate much with him and therefore had a lack of bonding with the story.

Devil's Alphabet is very hard to classify. In the end, I can say that it's a bit of Sci-fi mixed with mystery and a simple story about humans. It can be construed as a book about human emotions and what does it mean to be human and the choices that we make. This is not a regular thriller and will not be enjoyable if approached as such. My recommendation would be to read it if you are in the mood to be taken on a journey which can be compared to a slow river going along it's route, in that it has a bit of twisting and turning before ultimately reaching it's destination. The ending does justify its buildup and comes as a very good surprise to readers.

Daryl Gregory is definitely taking a different path with his books. It'll be interesting to see what other unorthodox stories he comes up with in the future.


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