City Infernal, by Edward Lee

city-infernal-by-edward-lee cover imageGenre: Horror
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: twohalfstars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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Journeys to/escapes from/travels in Hell have provided a fertile field for many speculative fiction authors. Some easily recognized names in the biz (Like Niven and Anthony) have penned their Hellish tales, taking inspiration from Dante, the bible, other religious texts, or striking out entirely on their own.

In City Infernal, Edward Lee reconstructs Hell as a sprawling city, larger than any on earth, and filled with inhabitants trying to scrape by. Over the millennia, Hell has evolved into a bustling metropolis with looming skyscrapers, crowded streets, systematized evil, and atrocity as the status quo.

I’ve never read any of Lee’s other work, but from the research I did I’ve learned that he has a reputation for being extreme. In fact, this book is regarded by many of his fans as ‘light fare’ and an effort on his part to enter the mainstream.

Cassie and her sister Lissa are twins, adherents to the Goth subculture, but opposites in almost every other aspect. While Lissa is an upbeat extrovert, Cassie is a depressed introvert. It’s Lissa who usually runs the show, as she does the night they head out to a local Goth club. Once inside, things go terribly wrong, and it’s that event the ultimately provides the catalyst for Cassie’s ability and desire to journey into Hell, where she ends up being more than a mere mortal and might very well be the hope of all the damned souls living there….

There’s a lot of inventiveness here. The source of Cassie’s power derives from the unlikeliest of rules that still make a sort of diabolical sense. The economy of Hell runs on suffering as opposed to money. Tortured souls provide ‘pain power’ as Hell’s substitute for electricity. Bones from the real world are the hardest type of currency. Drugs, crime, gangs, game shows, Mafia, there all here, painted with broadest and most gory of strokes.

Lee goes out of his way to be gross. It’s almost as though it’s a challenge to him, to see what disgusting atrocity or torturous sight he can come up with next. But there’s a cartoonish quality to the images he evokes that, to me, ultimately undermined the story and made them quickly lose their power to horrify.

There are unplumbed depths and potential here. Cassie and all the rest are cookie-cutter characters, and that’s a shame because with a little more effort they could have really been interesting. They are dragged through a frenzied series of actions as the fairly standard few-against-many plot barrels along without much pause. It’s a fast, furious and, ultimately, very thin read.

Let me just say that CPR is not a technique for revival (despite how we see it used on TV and movies), but is rather a method to sustain organ function until help arrives. Generally, once the heart stops, it needs electricity or a big shock of adrenaline to get it going again. And (and this is a big and) once someone’s heart stops, brain death begins to occur after 4-6 minutes. After that you end up with someone who is rapidly becoming more like a vegetable than a person. CPR can delay this onset of damage; that’s why it’s used.

Complaints aside, this was fun and even engaging (in a lurid sort of way). I could never quite shake the feeling that I was reading a graphic novel or comic book that had been rendered into prose form. It’s fluff, and often disgusting fluff to boot, but if disgusting-fluff-trip-to-Hell stories are your bag, you won’t want to miss it. If you’re looking for any sort of complexity of character and plot, shades of evil, and interesting moral speculations, you’ll going to come away disappointed.

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