BOOK REVIEW: THE EIGHTH by Stephanie M. Wytovich

Full disclosure: the author of this book and I are acquaintances through my graduate school. However, I bought my copy of this book of my own accord, and she has not asked me to review it any more than she has anyone else in the world.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read any of Wytovich’s writing outside of this, but from reputation alone, I know her to be a very talented horror-skewed poet. THE EIGHTH was her delving into this particular world of writing, and I will say, her poetic background shows through on every page. The descriptions are vivid and clear, the world easy to see in the mind’s eye. Every moment was perfectly balanced to be both evocative and showing, and it was easy to follow along with the waves of emotions these characters radiated.

We follow Paimon primarily, a collector in the business of bringing souls back to the Devil. However, the charge we see him go to first is no ordinary person. This woman–Rhea–bears a startling resemblance to Paimon’s late wife…and while he knows that his task is to return her for Lucifer…he doesn’t want to give her up. He’s lost Marissa once. He won’t lose her again. What follows is the inevitable fallout of one lone person going off book, and seeing just how far Paimon is willing to go in order to keep his Rhea with him. Because when something deeper and darker than the Devil himself starts creeping up around the edges, Paimon is going to have to make a decision, and fast–one which may not seem like the best choice.

Paimon is an interesting character. There’s no secret where his motivation comes from; it’s clear from the beginning that in one way or another, Marissa’s spirit is behind everything that he does. Whether it’s the love of her, the wrath at her betrayal, the anguish of her absence, she lives at the back of every move he makes. So seeing the struggle he has when dealing with Rhea–knowing that she isn’t Marissa but allowing it to be far too easy to ignore that–is intense and painful. There is a great deal of regret in Paimon, and it only builds as the story goes on–and becomes a very important element of the character.

I’m eternally fascinated by different authors’ interpretations of the Devil and Hell, demons and the like, and Wytovich puts her own spin on it all. They are clearly Other from us, but there’s a “human” quality to all of them (remembering a conversation with Charon the ferryman in specific) that makes it easier to relate to them, even when their reality is so far from our own. The Devil himself seems to shift as the book continues on, depending on what he’s doing and how he wants to be viewed. (Reasonably.) Darkly handsome, intensely charming, everything one might expect of the Serpent from the Garden. But for all his pretty words and beautiful facade, there is no romanticization of the Devil from within his hells. He is heartless, he is cruel, and he cares only for his own end goal. We see what little romanticization of him there is when he is around impressionable humans; again, when he plays the serpent, he is a cunning master.

Wytovich’s characters are all well fleshed-out and believable, with strong back stories and interesting quirks that set them apart from others…but occasionally I wonder if a little too much of it stayed within the author’s head. I feel like there is infinitely more to Paimon than what we see; what is his real drive in relation to Marissa? I’m not entirely certain how he started life; was he a demon at the start, or was he once a human? Why the process of self-burning that we are introduced to early on? There are holes in my understanding, and while it’s not nearly bad enough to drag me out of the story, it’s enough to make it stick in my mind.

That being said, the end is very neatly lined up for the possibility of a sequel, and perhaps that’s where she plans to reveal more of this. I always question, however, leaving chunks of a character’s driving personality and force for a second story. Perhaps it’s the right move; occasionally, it has been. I don’t know where the story is headed as the author does. I’ll leave that up to her.

All in all, a wonderful book and one I very much enjoyed reading. I’ll be interested to see more of Wytovich’s work, both poetic and prose, and will cross my fingers for more of Paimon’s story.

Rating: **** (Recommended)


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