Friday, May 16, 2014

At War With Satan (2014) by Steff Metal

Bogus Journey

Whenever I read humorous novels, I always pick them up expecting a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy approach full of wordplay and absurdity. I never get it. So it is with fellow metal blogger Steff Metal's At War With Satan. The tagline on the cover (a quote from Alestorm's Chris Bowes) calls it "part Dante's Inferno, part Wayne's World." Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey was already that in its way, but there's nothing wrong with that.

A demon forms a metal band and blows everyone away with his voice. (That is only superficially like Queen of the Damned.) The real purpose of this band is to get metalheads to fight church youth group kids in a planned mini-apocalypse. The end result is that the protagonists have to go to hell, visiting a few choice locations along the way.

The premise sounds like a really good idea.* But I'm not convinced it was executed well.

First, the humor. Every ten to fifteen pages I'd run across something that literally made me laugh out loud. The demon casually pulling an ice cream sandwich out of his coat pocket? Gold, and extremely well-executed.** But there are only about 20 or 30 of those moments. I'm fine with dumb humor, so it's not like I'm being a snob because there wasn't enough clever wordplay. But if you're going to make fun of the blind girl with physical humor, you should do it more, and get Looney Tunes with it. And there's so much in this book that I just didn't get. I'm not sure that gourds are funny, and there are only so many "drummers are so dumb they drool" jokes a person can make . . . actually, there's only one of those, but it was in here three times.

It could be that I'm simply missing the humor in the metal cliches. As I've made known, I'm not really a part of the metal subculture in my everyday life, so I could be missing what makes these jokes funny. Also, there's a specific set of prejudices that some of the humor is playing off, that I don't care about all that much. I don't care about grunge or emo,*** so making fun of them doesn't do anything for me.

Secondly, I have to address the writing. A lot of the characters ran together for me. I don't remember anything about Stan, for instance. The characters' motivations made no sense half the time, and at one point they drastically shifted within three pages. The descriptions were not detailed enough to let me track what was happening in some places, let alone to paint a vivid picture. And there is this nagging tendency for Steff to go into some serious, dark places, but it only detracts from the humor without serving to really make me care about the characters.

She could also use an editor. "Then" and "than" are used incorrectly almost every time. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say the phrase "strange and eldritch" appears at least forty times.

The book does look and feel amazing. The metal fonts in the title are great, and the subtle black flying-V guitar silhouette over a black background was nice. The physical cover isn't slick, either, which I find pleasing.

Despite a number of extremely funny moments, the majority of this was a slog for me. I can't recommend this book unless you think it's really funny to point out that emos and checkered patterns have some kind of connection. Then again, those with e-readers can pick it up cheaply enough, and there are few enough books made for metalheads, so it might be worth a shot for you.

The Verdict: 1 out of 5 stars

* The part where, apparently, every religion is simultaneously true was unnecessary to the plot. It was also an idea that one guy in my college creative writing course had, and I thought it was dumb then, too. Of course that's only a small point here; that was his entire idea.

** Although, when you later find out that hell isn't really hot, it loses something.

*** I can't even personally verify that emo people exist. I think I saw two of them at the mall once, like, three years ago, and they had dumb-looking pants and hair. Maybe they were emo?

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