Devil Take Me is an an entertaining anthology filled with stories involving folks who have sold their souls to the devil. This is a star-studded group of authors and the stories cover a variety of genres, including fantasy, historical, and contemporary tales. I was impressed by the way these authors take the same theme, but have produced widely different stories, which helps keep the anthology interesting and creative.
Infernal Affairs by Jordan L. Hawk
Ralgath has always wanted to be a crossroads demon, but he blew it the first night on the job when he let his mark pull one over on him. Now Ralgath is disgraced and stuck working intake in Hell. But Ralgath has a chance to redeem himself when some demons go missing in the human realm. If he can find out what happened to them within the week, he can get his old job back. Unfortunately, the person he needs for help with the task is none other than Chess, the one who led Ralgath into trouble in the first place. But Chess may actually be on Ralgath’s side after all, and if they work together, the two have a chance at success — and maybe at love as well.
Infernal Affairs is a fun, humorous story with a lovers reunited vibe. It is the only one where the demon is the POV character, which is an interesting twist. Ralgath regrets the mistakes he made with Chess, but we learn Chess’ reasons for their actions and it is clear they never intended to hurt Ralgath. The pair work well together, though the declaration of love comes way too quickly for me. But the story is quirky and amusing and a great start to the anthology.
Collared by T.A. Moore
Jack is a former priest whose soul belongs to the demon, Math. When he finds a dead body in his bed, Jack knows trouble awaits. It turns out a man has been murdered and his wife and child kidnapped. Math wants Jack to investigate, and in particular, to find something valuable of Math’s that has been taken (but of course, he won’t say what). Even if he wanted to, Jack can’t say no, as he is under obligation to Math. But he also can’t help the sexual draw he has to Math, nor his need for the demon. Things are dark and dangerous in Jack’s town and the investigation takes him to the particularly seedy underbelly. Now he has to work to rescue the girl and find Math’s precious possession before it’s too late.
One of the things that T.A. Moore excels at is creating rich, layered world building and this story is no exception. As with many of Moore’s darker stories, this book is full of lore and legend and she creates a dark world where Hell is making its way steadily into the human realm. I will admit that at times I find Moore’s world building to be a little complex for me, as I sometimes feel like I have trouble keeping up with exactly what is going on, and that was the case in this story at times as well. While I followed Jack’s task and most of his relationship with Math, the larger picture left me feeling like I wasn’t quite getting it all. I’ll also note that this story isn’t really a romance the way some of the other stories are, at least not in the traditional sense. But it is clear that Jack and Math have some sort of bond, one that is important to Jack, even as Math holds Jack’s soul in his hands.
Counterfeit Viscount by Ginn Hale
Archie Fallmont, Viscount of Granville, is determined to see his uncle ruined, even if it means selling his soul to do it. The terms are not so bad; Archie barely made it out of the war alive anyway and his soul now belongs to Nimble Hobbs, a man Archie cares quite a lot about. When Prodigal devils begin disappearing from a gentleman’s club with somewhat of a seedy reputation, Nimble recruits Archie to help figure out what is behind it. And with his uncle somehow involved in the shady goings on, Archie is happy to do some investigating. But it is clear not everyone wants Archie and Nimble poking around and the men find their lives on the line just as they are figuring out who is behind the disappearances.
This story was one of my favorites of the anthology. Ginn Hale does wonderful fantasy world building, and this story pulls together the fantasy elements into a historical setting. The premise is that these Prodigal beings have joined the human world, but they face a lot of rules and discrimination and mostly live difficult lives. Overlaid with this setting, we have a minor mystery as Archie and Nimble try to figure out who is behind the Prodigals disappearing from the club. Added to that, we have the relationship between Nimble and Archie. I found these guys really sweet together, and it is clear that while Archie worries it is all part of the deal to Nimble, he actually has feelings for Nimble and wants more between them. My only issue was that I was never fully clear why Archie resents his uncle so much, nor why he is hiding his identity. But overall, I found this one really well developed and interesting and Hale has created a world I would love to revisit.
11:59 by C.S. Poe
Asuka Kawashima is a former police officer who sold his soul for the chance to keep helping people. The world has been taken over my nightmares. People’s dream demons are crossing over into the human realm, turning them into beasts who then murder others. As Asuka was about to die, he made a deal with the devil to trade his soul for a chance to live without dreams so he can fight the nightmares. But that left Asuka with not only no literal nightmares, but also the inability to dream and hope in an abstract sense. When the devil returns, promising to return Asuka’s soul in exchange for a favor, he finally has a chance to not only get back his soul and his own chance for hope, but to save the save the world as well. With the help of his neighbor, Merrick Grace, Asuka takes a trip to the Underworld to fight for himself and humanity.
I really enjoyed this spin on the theme by C.S. Poe. The set up for this is really interesting, with the nightmares coming to life. The story has a kind of post-apocalyptic feel to it, taking place in a New York City where the population is decimated and people are afraid to fall asleep with the lights off for fear of what may come and snatch them away in the night. Asuka is a man determined to help others, a man on his own hero’s journey. The story is on the shorter end for the anthology, but Poe keeps it really tight and pulls together a well-defined story in a small number of pages. The romance works in nicely as well, and I enjoyed Merrick and Asuka together.
Wonderland City by Rhys Ford
Xander Spade sold his soul and went through the Looking Glass, ending up in Wonderland City and in the clutches of the Queen of Hearts. Years have now passed since a child named Alice destroyed the queen and left Wonderland in upheaval, and now Xander is offered the chance to go home. It turns out the devil accidentally let a human girl pass through the Looking Glass and everyone knows what a disaster that was the last time it happened. So he offers Xander a new deal — find the girl and he can have his soul back and return home. With the help of Jean Michel, member of the royal family, Xander takes on the new queen to save the little girl. His life is on the line, but if he can succeed in his quest, Xander may make it back home.
Wonderland City was my favorite story of this collection. I loved the play on the Alice in Wonderland story, and the way Ford creates a twist on that magical world. There are enough familiar elements to pay homage to the original, but the world building here is still very unique and creative. Ford builds the story well, giving us a chance to get to know Xander and Jean Michel and a bit about their past history together, and then leads us into a great climatic battle that is fierce and bloody and magical. I appreciated that even though these guys are not together at the start of the story, it is clear they have a strong affection for one another, and it develops nicely throughout the story. So this one is really fun and creative, with a splash of intensity as the men face battle.
Dark Favors by Jordan Castillo Price
As a foolish young man, Johnny Lockheart sold his soul to the devil, and he has been regretting it ever since. Now the devil has returned with a new bargain: if Johnny kills a famous TV personality, the devil will return his soul. Johnny agrees, only to find himself facing Adam, the woman’s bodyguard, and unable to complete the task. But there is definite chemistry between them, and while Adam won’t let Johnny kill his boss, he may just be able to help him end his problems with the devil.
Castillo Price has built an interesting world here with those that have sold their souls known as the Chosen. They trade in favors with one another, and the bestowing of a favor gives power that can be drawn on later. This concept plays out in some clever ways throughout the book and was the highlight of the story for me. I’ll admit, however, I wasn’t a huge fan of Johnny and Adam together. I felt the immediate chemistry between them, but didn’t love how things play out. The guys get together when Adam has Johnny tied up and held captive (after the attempted murder). He then forces Johnny to perform sexual acts upon him at gun point. Now, we could stretch and call this dubious consent based on Johnny’s feelings at the time, but as I said, that is a stretch. I can generally deal with forced sexual situations in my books, but I need to see the story acknowledge that this is what is happening, and here it is glossed over as if it were nothing, and the reality is that right now my taste for forced sexual encounters is pretty darn low. I also need time to see the character redeemed in some way. But this story is so short that one minute Adam is forcing sex on a captive Johnny, and the next minute they are all crazy for one another and it was just too fast for me to get behind them as a couple. So I did think there are some nice creative elements here, but the connection between the two characters just didn’t work for me.