The Devil's Only Friend by Dan Wells

What do you think of a seventeen-year old sociopath obsessed with killing and blood - but keeps himself tightly reined in, instead focusing on saving the world from the "demons"? Perfect anti-hero material? Add in genius level IQ's and a razor sharp repartee along with compassion? Odd ball? Sure. But that is what makes John Wayne Cleaver so charming and so endearing to the readers.

Welcome back to the crazy world of manic depressive John Wayne hell bent on getting rid of "demons" in this world - but this time he's not alone. He's teamed up with a crackerjack unit from FBI and the King of "Demons" is hot on his trail. With a personal agenda - that turns the table on the hunters and makes John's complicated miserable life, one hell of a hellhole. This is probably not the best place to jump inside John's head - he's got a trilogy behind him. Dead bodies piled up, tons of baggage, lots of history. But trust me, Dan Wells' a powerhouse of a writer. Who's peaking with every other novel of his - and this one, the start of an interesting new series featuring our favorite seventeen-year old butcher, is an explosive package that sets off a new direction.

So John is in introspection mode at the start of the story - having survived through demon attacks on his near and dear ones - Brooke, a girl whose soul was taken over by a demon known as "Nobody" lives in a mental asylum, still reliving those scars through Nobody's memories. It's during one of such meandering conversations with Brooke, that John and his FBI buddies realize there is a new "demon" or "withered" as he calls it, in town. tensions escalate. bizarre murders surface. and very soon the hunters become the hunted as John realizes this is an entirely new "withered" with highly deceptive powers and running a personal vendetta against John that threatens to blow into an all-out war.

Dan Wells has invested in building up John as an extremely interesting character - his internal personal struggles and confusions are still gargantuan - as twisted as the external real life situations he is put into - owing to his special ability to "connect" to the "withered"; with a colorful history behind him. This book solely focuses on John as a character - and that's a conscious effort from the author - as the FBI team around John is dealt with and dismissed with almost contemptuous ease. John finds it hard to relate to his life and normal folks around him, beset as he is with an incurable urge to kill people around that he keeps in check. In fact, readers easing into his life for the first time ( And yeah, that includes me!) would find it creepy as he slowly goes through the introductions of his FBI team. One by one, detailing how he would kill them. But what clinches the characterization of John is how easy Dan makes it for a reader to relate to this guy. At seventeen years, John has grown much older enriched by his worldly experiences and his uncanny knack to survive in the face of overwhelming odds.

Plot wise, things go zooming forward  as soon as the first dead body surfaces. And man, you'd need to have a strong stomach for the levels of violence described. But Dan Wells nails it spot-on and I was firmly behind John as he matches wit with a Machiavellian villain hell bent on outdoing the whole team. The pacing is relentless and the action and violence slam-bang. As far as characters go, I really couldn't root for any of the secondary guys - maybe done on purpose as you're yanked into the furious workings of John's mind. It's all you can do not to get lost as he follows the clues hot on the trail of the "withered" -- trying hard to stay alive and keep his friends alive. There are twists galore in the last few chapters and you will find yourself knotted up silly. The ending and the final confrontation is bit of a rush-job, but it's only Dan Wells setting up the pieces for another intriguing series.

Top notch writing, well structured suspense and a compelling anti-hero keeps you glued to this book. The darkness of the subject is let up a bit with the acerbic wit of John - that he uses as a shield against the world. This book is a welcome addition to the urban fantasy landscape - but in truth its probably more an edge-of-the-seat thriller with supernatural elements drenched in gore and blood.

Do yourself a favor and read John Wayne Cleaver's adventures fighting the demons. It's nothing like you've ever read before, I guarantee. Stupendous stuff, really. 


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