Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book back to back with another religious/Christian fantasy. It was rather constructive to compare them, to see the different ways different authors can approach this genre. In this case, this book is the superior of the two, with better worldbuilding and characterization. It's just a better book all around.
Helen Brandt is a mystic and private investigator who is doing one last job before her soul is forfeit to Hell. She bargained her soul away ten years ago to save the life of one of her family members. She works for Marlowe, a woman who (Helen discovers during the course of the book) is actually a demon. There is someone who is harvesting the souls of people like Helen just before their IOUs come due, and Marlowe hires Helen to find out who is taking her souls before she can claim them.
Helen is involved with Edith, a sound engineer for a local radio station who gets an offer for her dream job in San Francisco. Helen would love to go with Edith, but her time is running out in three days--that is, until the demon Marlowe offers to return Helen's soul if she tracks down the White City Vampire (not an actual vampire; that's about the only supernatural creature missing in this story), the being who is stealing Marlowe's souls.
That's the bare bones of the plot, but there is a lot of layers to this story: family, love, and an exploration of the power of the Brotherhood of the Compass, the society of mystics that kicked Helen out of their ranks after her "damnation," as they put it. Helen is reunited with her estranged brother, the person she bargained her soul away for all those years ago. In another plot twist, she meets up with a fallen angel, Haraniel, who is also trying to track down the White City Vampire. Helen, Edith, Haraniel, Marlowe and Helen's brother Teddy all come together in the action-packed climax, which sees Helen regaining her soul and sacrificing it again to save Edith's life.
The worldbuilding is well thought out in this book, and the characterization is lovely. Helen and Edith's relationship is believable and mature. The ending is bittersweet: would you condemn yourself to Hell in ten years to save your true love? Readers may answer the question differently, but I was so invested in Helen and Edith by the end that I couldn't argue with Helen's decision.
This is a novella, and while it is short (133 pages), the pacing is excellent and it packs quite a punch. It's a quick read, but it will linger in your mind.
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