Simon & Schuster, out now
Countless millions want to get out from Hell – but Peter Octavian needs to break into it…
If you’ve followed Christopher Golden’s career over the past quarter-century, since he created Peter Octavian, you’ll have entered many fictional worlds, and encountered assorted heroes and villains. Most seem to exist in mutually exclusive worlds – but if one of them can travel between dimensions, then all bets are off. Peter Octavian needs help to get into Hell to rescue the friends who are trapped there (and everything you need to know about who, where and how is summed up well in the opening chapters), and there’s a certain hobgoblin from a different series of novels who can help.
Thus begins what could easily have turned into Christopher Golden’s Greatest Hits, with cameo appearances from characters from many of his novels; however King of Hell has a much more unified feel than that. You don’t need to know more than is provided about the back stories of the “visiting” characters – in some cases, they were from series I’ve read; others I only knew of – as their place in the story becomes clear.
Reviewing Golden’s standalone novel Snowblind recently, I commented on its resemblance to Stephen King’s work, and there’s a certain element of that here too (appropriately enough, since Golden was co-writer of a very useful guide to the Stephen King Universe). King brings in characters from other books if they’re useful to the story-telling in the current novel; Golden does the same here.
That may make it seem as if it’s a continuity-fest, overladen with references to past stories. That’s certainly not the case: Octavian’s quest to find his friends, and a battle against demons threatening a parallel Earth are the driving forces of the novel, and the threads inevitably intertwine as the book progresses. As a result, you may want to seek out the earlier novels but this does work as a self-contained story.
There’s plenty of Golden’s well-written horror set pieces, and imagery (particularly as Octavian and party travel through Hell) which will nestle into a corner of your mind ready to emerge just when you least want it to.
Verdict: With a vein of black humour running throughout, it’s a great conclusion to the Octavian saga – and a surprising end to some other stories too. 8/10