Book Review: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Quirk Books (September 18, 2018)
Length: 336 pages
One thing I’ll say about Grady Hendrix: he really knows how to tell stories about the things he’s passionate about. His newest book We Sold Our Souls is described as a version of the famous Faust legend but with a heavy metal twist, and the entire thing reads very much like a love letter to the music genre. Still, whether or not you consider yourself a metal head, I predict anyone with an appreciate for horror and dark fiction will be able to rock out to the beat of this zany in-your-face novel of fun and frights.
Opening in the 90’s, the story introduces readers to protagonist Kris Pulaski, just another awkward teenager hiding out in her basement, strumming out a few tentative chords on her new guitar. Fast forward about three decades later, she is now a middle-aged woman, barely making ends meet as she works night shifts at her local Best Western. Looking at her, few would suspect she was once a rising star in the rock music scene, playing lead guitar for Dürt Würk, a band that was on the verge of making the big time. However, that was before their front man, Terry Hunt, decided to sell out his bandmates on what has become known as “contract night”—for that was the night Terry made them all sign their names to a deal which would eventually lead to his own stardom, while the rest of them were left behind and forgotten.
Now in the present day, the former members of Dürt Würk are all barely scraping by, save of course for Terry, who has raked in millions and is making headlines again with the recent announcement about a farewell tour for his solo act, Koffin. Though she cannot recall exactly what happened, Kris does find it very strange how nothing in her life has gone her way ever since contract night, and as it turns out, Terry’s success might not have been his own doing after all, but rather bought in exchange for his bandmates’ souls all those years ago. Furious when she discovers what has been done to her, Kris decides it’s high time to get the band back together again. After making plans to track down her old pals Scottie the guitarist, Tuck the bassist, and Bill the drummer to tell them the truth of what Terry did, our protagonist embarks upon a cross-country journey to finally confront the man who ruined all their lives.
Of the three novels I’ve read by the author so far, We Sold Our Souls may be the darkest and most complex of them all. Taking readers forwards and backwards in time, Hendrix gives us a rather bleak glimpse into the lives of a group of aging rockers, which is a dreary enough subject all by itself even without the evil supernatural shenanigans. If there is an analogous term for a “coming of age” type of story that explores on the growth of a protagonist into middle age and beyond, it would suit this book well. Filled not with the themes of hope, ambition, and dreams for the future but instead focusing on the failures, regrets, and what-could-have-beens of the past, the novel follows a flat broke and worn-down Kris who once did what she loved but has now hit rock bottom. But even so, her love for the music never died, and I believe this, in the end, is what made the story’s conclusion so triumphant and satisfying.
Also, when it comes to Hendrix’s work, nothing is ever straightforward and simple—and I mean that in a good way. Often his books are associated with plenty of humor as well as some kind of “hook” (like Horrorstör, a novel about a haunted IKEA-like furniture big box crafted to look like a catalog). Heavy metal is obviously the main selling point here, though as usual, Hendrix’s way of handling the topic, as well as his clear love for the music and understanding of the culture kept this from becoming a mere gimmick. It’s also fascinating how he’s incorporated the idea of “selling out” with the concept of making a deal with the devil—not a new idea, obviously, but I did like how he’s managed to tie in all the references to rock musical culture, fandom, and history to create something that will resonate to the readers who knew the 80’s and 90’s metal scene well.
And then, of course, there is the horror, which is as always the author’s forte. While We Sold Our Souls is in no way a typical horror novel, I still think it would appeal to most horror fans, simply because of the way it employs certain classic themes of the genre. Even though no part of the story was particularly scary to me, there were plenty of bits I found creepy or psychologically uncomfortable, like the kind of dread you feel as you read about or anticipate bad stuff happening to good characters. In any case, it’s easy to immerse yourself in Hendrix’s stories, because he’s so good at creating atmosphere. As I alluded to earlier though, it was the climax and conclusion that really killed it. This was the sort of ending that would leave your heart racing hours after you finish the book. It was just that epic.
All told, I thought We Sold Our Souls was Grady Hendrix best book to date, and it also shows how far he’s come as a writer. With each novel, he seems to be coming up with even bigger and better ideas, and if he keeps it up, he could become a new favorite horror author. I’m looking forward to what he comes up with next.