Giles (Dark Song, 2010) and Vanasse (Out of the Wilderness, 2013) team up for a paranormal novel, the first in a series featuring three teenage musicians in an unwitting Faustian bargain, a mysterious librarian and a supernatural James Cagney wannabe.
Pod, Manny and Flaco are practicing in Pod’s family barn, preparing for an upcoming battle-of-the-bands competition, when a combination of a dead rat and inspired lyrics somehow results in the boys’ accidentally selling their souls for superstardom. They face challenges from all directions as they struggle to believe that the devil is real and not a hallucination. As the battle of the bands looms, they face a bully named Noah Tillson, their own sharp, suspicious band manager, Becca, and many strange crows. They must also solve the lingering mystery of Pod’s mother’s disappearance as they try to find a way to weasel out of their deal. The guys have a lot to deal with—but thankfully, Ms. Linely, a librarian, is there to offer cryptic help in the form of old books. The three main characters are the strongest part of the story, and Pod, in particular, is appealingly quirky and believable. The primary demonic force (whose name is Fred) is effectively menacing as he puts on gangster mannerisms (“So we got us a quitter.” Fred twirled his largest ring, a ruby-red jewel. “Ain’t that a shame”). The colorful cast often makes up for a plot that sometimes relies on predictable twists, although many of the antagonists, including Noah, tend to be overly simplistic stock character types. The novel’s numerous songs link the story to Goethe’s Faust and provide a welcome additional dimension to the story, but the plot thread sometimes gets lost amid the sprawl of song lyrics, making it difficult for readers to always grasp precisely what’s going on.
The first movement in an ambitious song cycle of a tale which, despite a few sour notes, offers entertaining characters.