“Unsoul’d” by Barry Lyga Review

We’ve all said it in passing: “I’d sell my soul to the devil for a (insert amazing thing here).” But what happens when the devil actually answers you?

Randall Banner gets an answer. He’s a published-yet-obscure author who would sell his soul for a bestselling book, so the devil appears in front of him, offers him a contract, and makes it happen.

So, what can I say about Satan. He appears as a hipster slacker douchebag, which seems appropriate somehow. He wears Hawaiian shirts and designer skinny jeans, makes inappropriate sexual innuendos and loves to intrude where he isn’t wanted. So he’s like your father-in-law? Okay, I can buy that. Randall and I both know that he’s going to get played, but it’s easy to forget that because the devil is so well characterized. There are no pointy horns, reddish skin or mustache twirling. From the beginning, he’s just another dudebro, crashing on his buddy’s couch and mooching from his fridge. I’m not ashamed to say I like (okay, love) the devil, and the snarky banter that he and Randall exchange is just too delicious to be sinful. I don’t see personifications of Satan very often in my literature, but regardless this one’s definitely my favorite.

Randall, however, is different. I’m not fond of Randall (who just so happens to be the narrator), but my dislike for Randall is tempered by my sympathy for him, his ache for fame and fortune, and his resulting plunge into indulgent sin. He’s a bit of a bastard and the devil is (obviously) a bit of a bastard, but they’re real. They have motivations and needs and desires that make them stand out in this “dirty little fable.” The background characters, however, feel shallow in comparison, which might not be due to any flaw of their own or the author but due to the shallow lens they’re viewed through (i.e., the “lovely” Randall). 

I think every writer can identify with Randall’s self-aggrandizing, though, myself included. Which got me to thinking: am I a self-aware, self-absorbed, solipsistic and depressing asshole? Is it bad that I envied Randall for having Satan as a house guest on more than one occasion? Yes, and… probably. But the fact that this novel got me to reflect on my own moral compass without beating me over the head with a sermon — in a fable, no less — is pretty darn impressive. A few of Satan’s tirades do come dangerously close, though.

Beside the devil’s propensity for self-righteous rants, I also wasn’t fond of all the sex scenes. Now, I’m a big fan of smut — in fact the devil would’ve enjoyed my last read immensely, if that gives you a hint — but the sex was overwhelming in this book. Randall gets laid so much I don’t know how he’s still able to walk. Did Lyga use all the vivid descriptions of masturbation and horizontal shuffling to convey some greater critique on Randall’s character failings or something? I think he could’ve just started summarizing halfway through the book if that was the case. If I’m going to be honest though, I think he just got excited about the opportunity to say the word “cock” as many times as possible now that he’s writing for an older age group. Oddly, though, he uses the word “buttocks” in place of “ass” a few times. Hmm. Well, obviously, the devil made him do it.

This is Barry’s first published foray into adult fiction, and it doesn’t disappoint. Although all the sexing threw me for a loop at first, the voice is grade-A Lyga. I couldn’t put it down, I found myself laughing out loud at inopportune times, and the twist ending was just perfect.  

Unsoul’d is available now through major ebook stores. If you love sin and debauchery and hipster douchebag devils, you’ll love this book.

I was given an ebook copy by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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