Sympathy for the Devil, by Holly Lisle

This book is available at the Baen Free Library, visit this site directly here. I’ve read a few other books by Holly Lisle, ambulance including the other one available at the Baen Free Library, and enjoyed them in the past, so I thought I’d give this one a try. Generally speaking, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Baen books. They all seem a bit formulaic, but primarily I’m offended by the overly lurid covers. They’re probably getting better — the cover of John Ringo’s The Centurion (a book I will never read, by the way) looks almost normal — but generally speaking, the covers are definitely not to my taste.

Anyway, this book begins with a brief scene in the life of Lucifer — yeah, that Lucifer. It’s a sort of a prologue, though, and the real story starts with Dayne Kuttner, a nurse, attempting to save the life of an unsavable patient. She is so disheartened by what she is forced to do by her doctor-boss that she goes home and sends up a desperate prayer to God, asking him to give everyone in Hell a second chance. God therefore informs Lucifer that he is allowing 58,851 of Hell’s creatures to go about in the human world (North Carolina, to be precise), and get a . . . second chance. The overseer of all these creatures is one fallen angel, named Agonostis. The trip out to the surface has two purposes: first, it’s a punishment for letting fornication drop off in the human world, and secondly, Agonostis must capture Dayne’s soul for Hell. If he can’t do the latter, he’ll be suspended from a pit for a very long time. Can Dayne resist the Lord of Lust? What will North Carolina do with that many new inhabitants?

This book relied heavily on the Christian mythology, specifically the descriptions of Heaven and Hell. In so many ways, it’s a very religious novel, although I would expect that many rigid Christians would disagree with it. For one thing, Hell isn’t completely evil all the time — well, I suppose it is, but it’s at least funny. Heaven is a lot less straight-laced than you might think — God only wears the beard when he’s in the Christian part of Heaven (where, by the way, sex has been taken off the activity list). In Valhalla, he wears a Viking helmet, of course, at at one point, God is seen as a gorgeous black woman with cornrows — he’d been off blessing the crops in Africa. For all that, the book isn’t anti-Christian, or anti-religion; quite the contrary. It’s very much pro-religion, pro-faith, and pro-Christianity, although of a rather liberal sort.

Holly Lisle’s website has just confirmed that she was a nurse prior to being a full-time novelist. So many scenes in this book, including the second chapter, could only have been written by a nurse, a nurse’s family member, or someone who had basically had a nurse over his/her shoulder the whole time. No scene goes over the top with gore, but there’s a level of detail there that a casual viewer of ER or House, M.D. would never have been able to get right. My mother is a nurse, which doesn’t give me any special powers other than the power of recognition of superior nursing knowledge, and I was impressed.

The plot is very predictable; I knew how it was going to end about twenty pages in the book. Elements are heavily borrowed from romance novels; I don’t say that as a detraction, in particular. I like romance novels, and sometimes predictable plots are wonderful, because you get to enjoy the ride rather than second-guessing everything. The characters are borderline stereotypes — even Lucifer-with-a-sense-of-humor. For all that, though, I liked the characters; I enjoyed the book, and it was competently written and brilliant in parts (the aforementioned nursing details). All in all, this is a good work of pass-the-time literature, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a bit of an open mind about Christianity, and a sense of humor. 4/5 stars.

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