Because all of life is stories.
John Wayne Cleaver has been through a lot in his young life. He has trouble adjusting to life in high school. He finds it hard to talk to girls. And body possessing demons keep trying to murder him and his family. This is the first book in a new trilogy by Dan Wells, following up his immensely creepy and gutwrenching original John Wayne Cleaver trilogy. Without spoiling too much, let me lay the basic groundwork. John is a sociopath, and know that within him are all the tendencies and warning signs that most serial killers display. To keep from actually indulging in these urges, he has a set of rules. But when bodies start piling up in his hometown, John tears down all the walls he’s spent a lifetime building to protect the people he wishes he could love.
In the last three books John has battled with demons, both inner and outer, and crafted himself into a hunter. He’s someone who uses his own inner monster to hunt down and destroy other monsters before they can kill again. Think Dexter meets Supernatural. But after three books John knows that there are more demons outside his town. Without personal relationships tying him down, John makes it his mission to hunt and kill every last demon he can find. And here is where we pick up in book four, The Devil’s Only Friend.
Months after he leaves his smalltown home John finds himself working with a small government taskforce who acknowledges his belief in these monsters. The Withered, as they are sometimes called, have apparently been popping up on a few other radars as well, and a small portion of humanity has decided to do something about it. Being the kind of person that he is, John rails against being part of a chain of command. He resents being treated like the kid he is, having killed more monsters than most of the team combined all on his own. When their latest target starts leaving messages specifically for John the inner monster urges him to go off on his own like he used to when he was just starting out.
The interplay between the John Cleaver that wants to be ‘normal’ and wants to do good against ‘Mr. Monster’ (His inner serial killer) is one of the driving forces behind the series, and provides just as many moments of drama as the firefights and military incursions do. John is someone that, on the outside, is cold, stubborn, and frightening. It’s easy to see why life is so difficult for him. But we the readers have insight into John’s mind, as the series is told in the first person. Watching the personal struggle John goes through over the duration of this series is one of the strongest and most affecting character arcs I’ve read. And knowing what we know about John, even if you’ve only read this book, makes the choices he faces when the climax comes calling all the more daunting.
The demons themselves are interesting characters, and always have been through the duration of the series. They have very rarely been monsters that were evil for the sake of being evil. Most of them are just trying to survive and live the with terrible powers that they’ve had granted upon them. They come in shades every bit as varied as their human counterparts. Their motivations, their histories, their absolutely fascinating scope of powers, with the demons Wells has created a set of villains that share traits with the very best of villains. True, a few of them are just in it for the power and the godhood they once claimed, but others exist based on a very real feeling set of circumstances and choices and mistakes that they all have had to live with, even though they know it is destroying them little by little.
With two books left in the second trilogy, Wells has left a lot open for exploration of an already intriguing world. We’re learning that the line between monster and human isn’t delineated by who made a blood pact with who, or how or where you were born. The choices we make, the company we keep, the people we desperately wish to care about, those can be the things that define us. And Wells is only just begining to show us how.