Hilton Pashley’s debut novel does not lack ambition. Not many books for young readers include the likes of the Angel Gabriel, the Archdemon Belial, a talking cat named Elgar, a comedy duo of chatty gargoyles who double as Exocet-style missiles, a trio of malevolent Corvidae (Rook, Crow and Raven), Heaven and Hell and a quaint little village called Hobbes End, which is a kind of Paradise Reserve on Earth. As for the humans – well, there’s Ignatius Crumb the vicar and Halcyon Nathaniel Oberon Grimm, a giant of an ex-army doctor who wields his cricket bat (named Isobel) like a battle-axe. Then there is a sparky girl called Cay Forrester whose Dad is a likeable werewolf; and there’s a Scotsman who can be relied upon for plenty of ‘D’ye kens?’ and ‘Nae problems’. God, as such, has understandably gone missing, so although fallen angels such as Lucifer and his kin are very much present, the theology of the whole enterprise is, well, inventively flexible. Oh, and there are some lines from a poem written by a nineteen year old Canadian pilot in 1941 which assume great significance very suddenly in the closing pages. At the heart of all of this is the half-angel, half-demon boy, Jonathan. Belial is desperate to get his hands on Jonathan and his powers since he would be invaluable in Belial’s scheme to unseat Lucifer himself.
You might well wonder whether this is a lot for 247 pages to carry, and you would be right. It is clear, though, that Mr Pashley was having a really good time, and his enjoyment is infectious. It may well be that things seem barely in either the writer’s or the reader’s control at some points. There is hardly world enough and time to believe the domination of the universe is at stake; and the Miltonic conflicts may sometimes be reduced to super-hero punch-ups, but they’re good punch-ups. The setting and dialogue, apart from a fleeting reference or two to lap-tops or Jonathan’s very occasional use of ‘cool’, seem agreeably old-fashioned; more Box of Delights than Playstation. Despite some genuinely nasty stuff from the baddies – torture and an assault on Gabriel’s eyes straight out of Lear – they are clearly a rather ridiculous crew. Indeed, much of the book is very cosy and amicable. The affectionate dialogue between the Hobbes Enders, for example, is always charged with an undercutting humour, so readers know that they need not take things too seriously. It’s a foregone conclusion that the good guys are going to beat the bad guys comfortably enough in the end.
There’s a great deal to admire and enjoy here, then. Now that the future of the universe has been resolved for the foreseeable future, it will be fascinating to see what Mr Pashley’s welcome and original new voice will tell us next.