Grady Hendrix is fast becoming one of the most respected authors writing today, and it’s easy to see why. His first title with Quick Books, Horrorstör, was a masterstroke, combining witty corporate satire and locked-room horror. His second novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, was one of the most celebrated books of 2017, a heart-rending tale of friendship, love, and demonic possession. After a foray into non-fiction with his acclaimed Paperbacks from Hell, he now returns with his third Quirk Books novel: We Sold Our Souls, a ‘heavy metal take on the Faust legend’. Grady Hendrix’s rise to power has been so swift, so subtle, so seamless, that I almost believe he might have sold his soul to do it… Or perhaps he’s secretly the devil? After all, Satan’s known for his scintillating use of language. Joking aside, there are very few authors like Hendrix. I didn’t think it could get better than My Best Friend’s Exorcism, but We Sold Our Souls might just be.
There’s something about a Grady Hendrix book that very rapidly lets you know this will not be an ordinary reading experience. It’s partly his specificity, how concrete his characters, locations and internal dioramas feel. It’s partly his prose, which is so polished you can see your own image reflected in it, yet retains a rawness of feeling that hits you in the gut. It’s partly the way he blends concepts. The parts of We Sold Our Souls that deal with heavy metal music, the music industry in general, and the way music can change a life forever could well have been the sole thrust of the book, they are so expertly done. As it happens, there is so much more to We Sold Our Souls. The Faustian dimension quickly gives way to something even deeper and darker. Hendrix has created a whole – and entirely fresh – mythology, entwined it with our reality, and then buried it like a secret within the narrative. This is about as metal as it gets.
On a personal level as a heavy metal fan, and someone who feels this is a tragically neglected genre, I was impressed by just how deeply insightful of the genre this book was. There are references to everyone from Sabbath to Slipknot, from Metallica to Avenged Sevenfold and more besides. He captures, effortlessly, in interludes between chapters, the dialogue of metal radio-stations, forum discussions, and band interviews. Clearly, Hendrix feels this is a genre that’s been neglected too. But he doesn’t just mimicry the lingo and drop names. He gets what metal’s about, because in the words of one of his characters: ‘Metal never gives up.’
You don’t have to be a metal fan to love this book, however. The characters are rich, three-dimensional and lovable for all their many flaws. They pull you in. You care because they care. And as you travel deeper into the rabbit hole of weirdness that is the secret truth at the heart of this novel, you’ll feel your heart in your throat when they’re in danger. Hendrix is masterful at horror; his last two books delivered a number of scenes that made me squirm in my seat. We Sold Our Souls is bang on yet again, with several horrifying encounters that will be seared onto your brain for all time, lingering like tinnitus after a raging rock gig. One, in particular, is not for those remotely claustrophobic.
At the heart of this novel, there are themes of friendship, paranoia, magic, conspiracy, but the real triumph of the book is the way it works these subsidiary ideas into a kind of emblematic mythology, drawing on Tolkien-esque elements and imagery to forge a new, bleak metaphor for the modern world. What is Black Iron Mountain? I’ll leave it to you to discover. Guiding you through this mythological maelstrom is the plucky heroine Kris Pulaski, a member of the now defunct band Dürt Würk, a band betrayed by its lead singer Terry (who now enjoys unimaginable wealth and fame as a solo act), consigning Kris and the others to a lifetime of dreary, menial, soulless work. Kris’ against-all-odds quest to right a wrong and discover the truth of what really happened to their band, and what is going on with Terry, is less Faustian and more redemptive, a grail-quest, taking her into the heart of all evil.
The narrative is well-crafted and complex. Things spiral and come back around in unexpected but deeply satisfying ways. Images are threaded throughout the story, some of them overt, others nestled in amidst other details, concealed like Easter eggs. This book feels like it is full of hidden meanings, of things glimpsed just at the corner of the eye, another layer of reality lying beneath the words we’re reading. I already feel hungry to read it again, there is so much here to uncover and digest.
If you’re new to Grady Hendrix, pick up We Sold Our Souls, then read all his other books too. They’re bloody exciting, dazzlingly well-written, and pretty much guaranteed to make you weep at the end. And I’m not just saying this because Hendrix holds my soul within a darkening glass and promised eternal punishment if I refuse to do his bidding… wait, master, please!
We Sold Our Souls is published by Quirk Books and is available here.
Grady Hendrix is the author of Horrorstor, about a haunted Scandinavian furniture superstore, which was named one of the best books of 2014 by NPR and has been translated into fourteen languages. His novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is Beaches meets The Exorcist set in the ’80s. He has written about the confederate flag for Playboy, religious aardvarks for the Village Voice, and Jackie Chan’s haircut for Variety. His other offering Paperbacks From Hell is also available from Quirk books which is any horror fans bible to old paperback horror.
We have reviewed My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix here.
We have also reviewed Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix here.
Whilst we have you why not check out our interview with the new master of horror here.
Reviewed by Joseph Sale
The SHALLOW CREEK Short Story Competition
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