Hell Spawn is an action packed novel that is one part exorcism horror, one part urban fantasy. This first installment in the Saint Tommy, NYPD series reverberates with tension, featuring physical battles with the demon-possessed, God-given superpowers, and chillingly palpable evil.
This review contains minor spoilers.
Hell Spawn takes place in New York City and stars a sharp detective with powers that enable him to stand up to powerful, supernatural forces.
The mash-up of urban fantasy, with its tendency towards high stakes and grueling fight scenes, injects the exorcism horror premise with non-stop action and retribution against evil.
These powers, including bilocation and healing, deliver most of the action. Tommy is a likable character and the demon he faces off with equivalently loathsome, making every confrontation a suspenseful one-two punch of trepidation and gratification.
The story kept up the pace, too. When the action let up, the tension swept in to replace it in a drive towards the satisfying conclusion. This story starts the series, but stands alone well, without compromising on the comeuppance that evil deserves.
Declan Fin’s NYC is grim, as the setting for a story with both a serial killer and a demon must be. However, it is not “dark” in the sense that it is not hopeless. There is a sense of community and belonging for most of the people we meet, and even the criminal element in the neighborhood works to keep out the worse bad guys.
Of course, Fin also taps into the fear such dense population presents to the mind, that you don’t truly know your neighbors and you are never far from threats to your family.
The contemporary, real-world setting is starker than most examples of urban fantasy due to the blatant naming of activist groups and the incorporation of real-world antagonists taking actions we recognize as evil as opposed to mythological beings whose behavior has cataclysmic consequences but may be morally muddled.
And that is from where the true horror in Hell Spawn springs: not the debilitating agony of a loved one held hostage by a demon, as so often seen in exorcism horror, but from real-world perpetrators of evil much closer to home. The evil usually kept safely behind the fourth wall and the suspension of disbelief is undeniably part of our world, our country, our cities.
Of course, this existential sort of horror is not the only kind present in Hell Spawn. There is a great deal of body horror, due to the nature of the serial killer, and a truly shudder-inducing haunting sequence.
But, to reiterate, Tommy gives this evil no quarter. Instead of the typical, possession tale trajectory, there is no wallowing in helplessness, no harrowing battle with one’s own guilty conscience, no futile death with the demon still at large. Fin’s upstanding hero has been empowered by God to lay the smack down.
The demon can only possess a willing and degenerate host—a simple mechanism which makes all the delicious vengeance possible. There is no young girl thrashing around and projectile vomiting because she played with a Ouija board (although that is still not advisable).
Instead, it is depraved criminals—people who actively reject redemption and embrace their own demonic possession—who face off with the hero. There is no need for him to pull his punches.
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Hell Spawn is an intense ride that delivers both dreadful terror and righteous retribution. This is an amazing start to Saint Tommy’s journey!