Book review: Breaking the Devil’s Heart

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review; however as always all opinions are my own.

Breaking the Devil’s Heart, by H.A. Goodman (Kindle edition, 352 pages). 3 out of 5 stars. When two Observers from heaven try to recruit a demon to spy on Satan, their decision has ramifications that affect not only their own fates in the afterlife but possibly the fates of everyone else in heaven and on earth. Stewart and Layla could have been Angels, but they prefer to work with less uptight rules–hence their roles as Observers, fighting in the war of good vs. evil. They work to infiltrate Hell in order to take down The Company and end evil on earth, but the tactics they use could instead ignite a civil war in Heaven.
I don’t really know where to start with this book, except to say that it’s really different from anything else I’ve ever read. It’s kind of a blend of fantasy, horror and philosophy, which makes it sounds much more intimidating than it really is; it’s not overly long and the pacing is decent, so it’s not like you’re picking up War and Peace or anything.
That said, I do recommend reading this in chunks. At its core, the novel is about the nature of evil, and how the actions or traits we might justify as “good” can be surprisingly bad when viewed from another angle. I really didn’t know what to expect from the philosophical side of the story, but it really makes you rethink your conceptions of good and evil. I think this book is best for someone who’s open to mulling over an idea, rather than starting out with a set belief, because it really does take some thinking and digesting. I picked it up and put it down again a few times just because I didn’t want to blitz through it without digesting the thoughts and arguments made by the different characters.
If that sounds ponderous, it’s really not: it’s packaged up with a whirlwind of a story involving two Observers (like Angels, but with more of a morally grey tone) who attempt to infiltrate Hell in order to shut it down once and for all. Goodman presents Hell as a giant corporation, complete with a Stock Exchange that trades in human souls. If you’ve ever joked about having a soulless job or working in Hell, then you’ll appreciate this grim idea of Hell as a never-ending series of sales quotas and deadlines. Our Observers, Stewart and Layla, want to figure out how the demons are selling The Formula, which prompts people to evil, so that they can concoct a counter-potion and put evil out of business.
However, the actions they take have far-reaching ramifications that impact not only their own destinies, but the fates of both the souls on earth and in heaven. There were some good plot twists toward the end of the book that I didn’t anticipate, and I felt like the ending was satisfying without being smarmy. I appreciated that the book wasn’t pitched directly from the viewpoint of Christianity, atheism, or any other single viewpoint; it’s kind of an all-encompassing approach to the moral issue of good vs. evil that asks you to think for yourself instead of pinning everything on a cut-and-paste doctrine.

The only thing that really bugged me about this book, and I suspect might bug other people as well, is the assertion that people gain access to Heaven or Hell based on the number of good or bad deeds they commit during their lifetime. It’s an integral part of the plot as it relates to the Stock Exchange in Hell, but it’s such an old trope and I think we’ve all heard it trotted out way too many times in real life to embrace it in a book. Also, just my personal opinion, it seems kind of at odds with the liquid state of good vs. evil. If you do a “good” action for a selfish reason, is it good or bad? If you do a “bad” thing to achieve a better end, is it good or bad? How does this affect the “point balance” (or what have you) that determines where you end up in the afterlife? This is probably a minor sticking point but just one that’s been rolling around in my mind since I finished the book.
Overall, if you’re looking for something really different to read and want to get a little mental challenge out of your book while you’re at it, I recommend giving this title a try. It’s creative, original, and thought-provoking, and it’s certainly never boring!

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review; however as always all opinions are my own.


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