Hell’s Bells is the sequel to John Connolly’s first Samuel Johnson novel, The Gates. Set in the English town of Biddlecombe, the story picks up fifteen months after the events of the first novel, in which the demonic Mrs Abernathy’s invasion of Earth was was thwarted by 11-year-old Samuel Johnson, his dog, Boswell, and an un-demonic demon named Nurd.
Life in Biddlecombe is slowly returning to normal for Samuel and his friends. However, Mrs Abernathy has not forgotten her defeat at the hands of the boy and longs for revenge. When the scientists in Sweden turn on the Large Hadron Collider once more, it gives Mrs Abernathy the power she needs to drag Samuel into hell, so she can make him suffer before presenting him to the Great Malevolence in order to win back her place as his second-in-command. However, things don’t go to plan, and she finds herself contending with two police officers, four rowdy dwarves and Nurd’s loyalty to Samuel.
Hell’s Bells is aimed at young teenagers, with its easy-to-read, casual prose, though it would appeal to many adults as well. Some of the scenes and imagery created here are so utterly ridiculous (in a good way) that you can’t help but snort a bit with laughter when you read them. There are quite a few footnotes scattered throughout the book, amusing little asides on history, science or life in general. Some readers might find them annoying, as they can distract the reader from the flow of the story a little – indeed, I’ve seen them used poorly in other books – but I think they work well enough here, especially as they are often educational and quite funny. This is really the only complaint I had about the book, and that’s probably because footnotes remind me too much of academic papers, which are Evil.
The descriptions give you a real sense of how the world looks; particularly in hell, which has variety to its landscape as opposed to the typical “lots of pits full of fire” approach. The protagonists are likeable – I particularly enjoyed the close bond of friendship between Samuel and his dog – and even the evil characters have depth to their personalities.
And really, any story that includes a troupe of alcoholic dwarves can only be hilarious.
It looks like the series will continue, but (as far as I can tell), there’s no way of knowing when the next Samuel Johnson book will come out, or how many more there will be; Connolly’s next book, Charlie Parker mystery The Burning Soul, is due out in September, I believe.
Click here to find out about his other books.