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Monday, November 23, 2020

Infernal by Mark de Jager review


Official Author Website
Release Date: November 26, 2020, page count: 384, publisher: Solaris
Order the book HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFO: Mark isn’t sure if his love of writing led to his love of gaming or vice versa, but his earliest memories involve both. He now spends his time trying to find a balance between these and working a full time job in the City, a process made slightly easier by his coffee addiction. An ex-MP in the South African army, Mark now lives in Kent with his wife Liz (herself a published author) and their lazy dog in a house that is equal parts library and home.

OVERVIEW: Infernal is fun. It’s also over-the-top and pulpy, but I loved it. Stratus wakes in an unfamiliar place, with no memories of his past. And just in time before local vultures rip him into pieces to enjoy the meal. 

Things escalate quickly, and Stratus finds himself engaged in an approaching war with evil forces. He has no interest in people and their conflicts, but the fickle hand of fate cares little for his plans and goals. Especially that he has peculiar, inhuman, skills. Preternatural strength and a knack for sorcery allow him to decimate his opponents. Those who try to trap and hurt him disappear in a shower of blood. Interestingly, tasting brains allows Stratus to gain insights into the past of his fallen opponents.

I need to emphasize that despite gritty and violent moments, Infernal remains darkly humorous. Sure, not everyone will enjoy the grim humor, but I found it hilarious. Like this exchange between Stratus and Tatyana, the second key character:

Tatyana stared at me without saying anything for long enough that I began to wonder whether I had said it aloud, or simply thought it. As I was about to repeat myself, she turned her gaze to the dead man, then back to me. ‘You’re going to eat him,’ she said. She made it sound like a statement.‘Just his brain,’ I corrected her.‘His brain.’‘Are you repeating everything for a reason?’

In a way, Stratus resembles Drax the Destroyer - he has no sense of humor, he doesn’t understand sarcasm or metaphors. Subtle jokes skip right past him. Something about his earnest tone and deadpan delivery is comic, especially in his back and forth with Tatyana. The smell is his strongest sense - Stratus sniffs people without realizing it’s creepy as hell for them, and it results in solid situational humor.

Because the story is told only through Stratus’ POV, we don’t get any unnecessary exposition. It also means secondary characters remain underdeveloped, but I didn’t mind. We discover the world through his eyes and nose, and because Stratus isn’t human, he sees things from an alien perspective. Frankly, the big reveal of his identity is hardly surprising, but I won’t spoil the fun for you. I’ll just say the foreshadowing, while not subtle and rather in-your-face, entertained me a lot and helped me to picture him. 

Infernal gives an old school fantasy vibe but plays with tropes. It blends non-stop violent action with horror and grim humor. I couldn’t put it down, but I need to point out its weaker parts. Jager’s writing is uneven. I found his similes awkward and sentence structure surprising in places. The beginning, while entertaining, is repetitious, and the story doesn’t pack a lot of really surprising twists. It’s simple and unpretentious, and I guess that’s the reason why I enjoyed it so much. Readers looking for depth and complexity may find it disappointing.

Personally, I'll read the sequel as soon as it's available. I love the amnesiac hero trope, and Jager nailed it. Join me if you fancy following an inhuman with a fractured mind.


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