Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
Entertaining read for young and old
on 24 March 2011
As with some of the other reviewers, this was my introduction to John Connolly, and I was pleased to make his acquaintance. "Hell's Bells" is written for the pre-teen audience, with plenty of innocent comedy, but touches on some of the larger moral issues that you might not expect to see in a children's book, with a very (unstated, but obvious) Christian emphasis, despite there being no mention of the other side ("God", Heaven, angels, clergy, etc). There are obvious nods to Dante's Inferno and Pilgrim's Progress in the architecture of Hell and the episodic progression of the various characters through Hell; the clearest stylistic comparison would be Terry Pratchett, and yet I am also strongly reminded of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. In particular, I loved the footnotes, with their quirky emphasis on the history of science, and wished there were more of them (I am still thinking about the one involving Marat and Lavoisier).
Connolly has two characters "saved" from Hell, in a way: one through willingness for self-sacrifice which indicates repentance; the other implicitly through his friendship with Samuel. The other characters in Hell remain there, damned by their own attitudes, both devils and souls. The nature of the devils and imps was sometimes used for horror, and at other times for comedy; this is an uneasy mixture, resolved by keeping the horrific devils well separated from the comic ones. Glimpses of the Great Malevolence were scarce, rather like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings, and therefore not entirely compelling as the opposition, leading to the question: if he is mad, then can he really be the Devil?
This books is very clearly book two in a longer series: I was content enough to read it without having read the prequel, although, as is the nature of most series, I reached the end without feeling that there was a proper resolution, hence the four stars rating.
I'll keep an eye open for other books by Connolly, and I may still go back and read the first book in this series. If you're a parent or a teacher looking for a fun book with some very serious points for discussion, I can think of few better.