Upon being asked to review Leigh Haddington’s debut novel, Kings of Hell, I was struck by my inner curiosity. Not only is Hell the setting of the novel I am currently drafting (take this as your official plug to stay tuned to wastanley.com for updates!), and Lucifer a major supporting player, but the concept of a mother signing a contract with the devil to save her infant son, only for the consequences of her decision to bite back—in a big, exciting, violent and bloody way, naturally—drew me in.
Since we’re at the beginning of this review, I want to get this out of the way early: Kings of Hell suffers from stilted dialogue between the characters at points, the prose is sometimes messy, and there are a number of typos throughout this book. While I understand that a number of typos are to be expected in an independent book and indie authors don’t have the same resources as the big four publishing houses, I do feel that Kings of Hell would have benefitted greatly from another round of edits to clean this up.
While the editing distracted me at points, including the beginning which was more difficult to read than it should be, Haddington’s debut is backed by a strong plot that tells its gripping story through its 270 pages on Kindle (272, if you spoil yourself with a hardcopy). After a brief introduction in the first chapter, Kings of Hell leaps into high gear and maintains its momentum all the way through chapters two to the finale at chapter thirty-one.
While chapter one is all about setting the scene, it offers a predicament that is sure to affect parents everywhere: A woman named Jude is at the hospital, hoping the doctors can work their magic and save her son, Nick, but this isn’t to be. Grieving Nick’s inevitable death, Jude is presented with an opportunity to save Nick: only this offer comes from none other than Lucifer, and it comes with a price.
The price? On Nick’s eighteenth birthday, Nick will be taken to rule in Lucifer’s stead, while the current King of Hell will take her son’s place. It isn’t a major spoiler to reveal that Jude chooses to save her son’s life, and from here, Haddington tells a riveting tale about a boy whose world dramatically changes. These changes aren’t all rainbows and unicorns; this isn’t a King Ralph-styled adventure or a feel-good Freaky Friday comedy. Instead, it’s a dark urban fantasy with splashes of horror, telling a tale of a young man who is thrown in over his head, destroying those he is led to by prophetic dreams.
Haddington frames the story well, and these dreams are expertly interwoven with the broader narrative. In the novel’s foreword, the author pays tribute to Neil Gaiman as an influence on his writing, along with John Scalzi, Scott Meyer, James Herbert, and Stephen King. Gaiman’s influence is particularly evident in the novel, and as a huge Gaiman fan, I was pleased to read the result.
Throughout the story, Haddington keeps the cast fairly small. This means that (virtually) no character is wasted, each of them serving their purpose, whether they have a large part to play in the narrative, or a smaller role. It was particularly enjoyable to see characters with a small number of appearances playing such pivotal roles in the story.
Kings of Hell is a thoroughly enjoyable read. It tells a largely self-contained story, however, Haddington leaves his story well and truly open for a sequel. In the previous paragraph, I alluded to a character that may have been wasted, and there is one subplot that went nowhere—if there is a sequel to come, I would expect that this will be delved upon further. If you are a fan of urban fantasy or horror, I recommend taking a look at Kings of Hell. Despite some frustrating editing that did manage to break my suspension of disbelief, it is still a brilliantly interwoven tale. And if there will indeed be a sequel or a series spinning out from Haddington’s debut, I am well and truly down for it.
The white car crawled behind her. She heard the rumble of the engine and quickly looked back. Her heart started to quicken and so did her pace. The car matched the increase in her cadence. Quietly he pulled alongside her, his excitement growing; he rolled the window down slowly, soaking in her youthful beauty. Sarah’s heart was racing in her chest; her pace increased again. She looked for someone she could run to, but there was no one around. The car matched her pace.
The smell from the car hit her, a mixture of tobacco, alcohol and something else. It vaguely reminded her of the dead fox at the bottom of her garden she had found last year. Then the aroma of strong aftershave, sweet and cheap, hit her, and that was the smell that would last, curdling her stomach as the fear wrenched at her innards.
“Hey, excuse me? I wondered if you could help, I think I’m lost.”Kings of Hell, Chapter 6: “Vermin Child”
Kings of Hell was provided by the author for the purposes of an honest review.
Kings of Hell is available in paperback, hardcover and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon).
You can follow Leigh Haddington online, via:
Note: I do not post scores on reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews: