To horror fans, Edward Lee is a famous name, credited with some of the most incredible tales I’ve read in a while – scary, imaginative, creepy, even disgusting at times, but always well written. I’ve already reviewed one of his short stories collections (Grimoire Diabolique) and today I’m going to talk about one of his novels, City Infernal, the first instalment of City Infernal Series. I’m currently finishing the second book of the series (Infernal Angel), and I’ve decided the whole concept is worth one discussion or two. The book’s synopsis takes us straight into it:
“Hell is a city. Forget the old-fashioned sulphurous pit you may have read about. Over the millennia, Hell has evolved into a bustling metropolis with looming skyscrapers, crowded streets, systemized evil, and atrocity as the status quo. Cassie thought she knew all about Hell. But when her twin sister, Lissa, committed suicide, Cassie found that she was able to travel to the real thing—the city itself. Now, even though she’s still alive, Cassie is heading straight to Hell to find Lissa. And the sights she sees as she walks among the damned will never be in any tourist guidebook.”
Now, City Infernal under many aspects is not the typical Lee’s book. His monsters are, more than often, nothing supernatural – only wicked and severely disturbed human beings (and this is when he is at his scariest, at least for me). That’s not the case here, with a gothic, twisted, sumptuous description of Hell and demons in a grandiose tableau (some descriptions made me think of Hyeronimus Bosch). The concept behind it is that not only human civilisation, but Hell has evolved, too – that alone is a quite interesting one. And the fact that it’s now an urban landscape tinges the book with a dystopian flavour here and there.
Another thing worth mentioning is that this book is the closest thing that Lee has written to a YA (dark) fantasy. While there’s the usual fair share of gore and splatter here, differently from other novels of the same authors there’s no overt depiction of sex. Even the horror is so extreme that fails to scare the reader – and the intention is not to terrify, indeed: it’s to prove how awful Hell can be (thing about nobody needs any convincing). In some cases, a dark humour is what the writing is about, reinforced by the fact that all the protagonists are YAs, who speak and act like ones.
In conclusion, an interesting reading, and a good introduction to Edward Lee’s work: if City Infernal proves to be too much, don’t even think about reading other novels – they’ve positively darker than this one, and far more graphic. But if you enjoyed it, well, you might think in keep exploring one of the contemporary masters of horror. Here for Edward Lee’s author website.