Review: The Devil's Dictum by Frederick Gero Heimbach
The Devil’s Dictum is a satirical alternate history featuring a United States founded by pirates and propagated into a country of wickedness more playfully crude than baldly evil. This stand-alone novel crafts a coherent and exciting story out of glittering fragments of our history.
Here at the Periapsis Press blog, we only post reviews of works we recommend, so you already know I enjoyed The Devil’s Dictum. I encourage you to check it out!
This review contains minor spoilers.
The Devil's Dictum Publisher Description:
In a topsy-turvy United States founded by pirates, the personal assassin to the chief justice receives a terrifying order: round up and kill all men who look like himself.
Why does the chief justice want these men dead? What threat could they possibly pose? And can the assassin save them—or will he become the final victim?
Spooky, sly and satirical, The Devil’s Dictum recasts J. Edgar Hoover as a Satanic high priest, Calvin Coolidge as a private eye, and Richard Nixon as the pilot of a giant armored robot.
Readers hungering for original and mind-blowing alternate history need look no further.
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What if the pilgrims were rebuffed from landing at Plymouth Rock by pirates, who then founded the United States of America – “the only satanic republic”? The setting for The Devil’s Dictum rests on this scenario. This is not really a serious thought experiment, but rather a situation to create comedy.
This is executed brilliantly, weaving historical figures and real places into ridiculous circumstances, not unlike a child with a number of movie-based toys. The result is delightfully original and pleasingly unpredictable.
I especially enjoyed the numerous “In Point of Fact” items peppered throughout the story. These pseudo-serious records and artifacts from this alternate world fleshed out the setting nicely, often contributing to comedy and the plot in unexpected ways.
Decay, Destruction, and Neglect
The setting of the story, this satanic United States, is steeped in a well-developed atmosphere of decline. From the first chapter, Heimbach makes clear that things are falling into disrepair, and not all of it is based in physical descriptions of the characters’ surroundings, although those tend to be falling apart, too.
The madness of most government officials, the crude humor in a literal river of urine, the national motto “Eh. Whatever.”–all contribute to the mood of atrophy.
However, the story itself does not take on the weight of hopelessness this might suggest. The situations are so outlandish and entertaining that the sense of degeneration is less heavy than it might be in a more earnest alternate history. The other element that makes the setting bearable is, of course, the main character.
The Special Master
The Devil’s Dictum follows the Special Master as he navigates a bewildering and terrifying new agenda from his boss, the Chief Justice. His uncertainty further contributes to the setting’s atmosphere, but it is our hero’s integrity that equips the reader with optimism.
The Special Master is a compelling and sympathetic character. Even though he works as an assassin, his resolve to discover the truth and protect others makes it easy to root for him. He upholds a moral decency, applying honesty, mercy, and respect. He even treats the Chief Justice with consistent kindness, even as their relationship deteriorates, which tends to soften the central antagonist for the reader from irredeemably evil to misguided and pitiable.
In a crumbling world, the Special Master is reliable and upright, providing an appealing point of view character.
The plot of The Devil’s Dictum is well-laid and each element introduced plays a role later, often returning more significantly in a light-handed foreshadowing that allows a pleasing sense of gratification.
This was often accomplished through the “A Point of Fact” chapters. They often touched upon people or places that had already been introduced and seemed to be included primarily for flavor, but would actually expose the reader to additional concepts or items that would come into the story later. As I was reading, I would be distracted by the former, which kept the foreshadowing from being too explicit.
The World’s Only Satanic Republic
The Devil’s Dictum, with its satanic rituals and under-handed deeds, did not join the cacophony of media in derogatory treatment of Christianity. Rather, the ideals of Christianity were used primarily to craft a humorous, photo-negative world.
Still, a story with a setting predicated on a religious impetuosity must consequentially have a great deal to say about religion, whether intentional or not. The themes derived are thought-provoking, to say the least.
First and foremost, Heimbach presents a forthright argument that the success of the American Experiment was (and continues to be) possible due to the Christian values of the founders. By replacing the pilgrims with pirates devoted to Satan instead of Christ, and further by portraying various consequences including the decay and neglect, The Devil’s Dictum presents an interesting scenario that opens a discussion of less dramatic what-if’s when considering the importance of our nation’s founding values.
A second thematic reflection evident throughout the story is that evil does not have to be ambitious or overt in order to destroy. The national motto, “eh, whatever,” embodies this sentiment. There are plenty of obviously evil acts in the story, but neglect and the failure to follow through are just as detrimental to the success of the nation.
Finally, there is the complete absence of women in the country, which says something important about the role of women in society that I’m sure would be irritating to modern, politically-correct sentiments.
Check Out The Devil’s Dictum!
The Devil’s Dictum is a satirical tale of adventure in a twisted-history version of the United States. A highly entertaining stand-alone story!