This book was a really pleasant surprise. It was a really nice change from what I have been reading lately, and reminded me how much I like a good sci-fi/alternate universe story. It was my first reading love, before puberty got me interested in sex and smut.
Bell has crafted a very believable vision of the afterlife, where the various belief systems of humanity – Christian, Hindu, Celt, ancient Egyptian, etc. – all have their concepts of the afterlife realized. There’s Heaven, Hell, Asgard, Olympus and all the other ideals, along with their respective gods, such as Thor, Zeus, Set and so on.
But things are not exactly as they should be in the afterlife. Something has gone wrong, and it becomes our hero John Grey’s task to help set it right. John is a new arrival in what turns out to be Purgatory, why some kind of cosmic game is being played, like a twisted version of Farmville. John befriends a couple of other lost souls, and together they try to escape from Purgatory, only to find out just how far out of hand the place has become.
They do eventually make their escape, but John ends up riding Dante’s sins straight to Hell, which turns out to be a rather nicer place than expected. But then, Hell is trying to enlist John’s help in their war against Heaven, which they believe is responsible for the mess the afterlife is in. They use a sexy incubus to seduce John and guide him through the various realms of the afterlife in his quest to raise an army to free the souls from Purgatory.
It’s quite a roller-coaster ride that takes you to the halls of Asgard, Mount Olympus, the tomb of a Chinese emperor and more. Along the way, John manages to learn the secret of why he was uniquely qualified to take on this quest. Despite this, and some misgivings about being “Hell’s Pawn”, he continues his quest.
The final ending is a bit of an anti-climax, and for that I’d give the book 4½ stars rather than five. A few things are left unexplained, but by the end it really doesn’t matter, as it’s been such a good ride. The story is told in rich detail, but without being pedantic or boring. There’s a bit of a message near the ending, but it’s delivered rather subtly and I’ll let you figure out what it is.