Book Review: To Beat the Devil

Amazon Cover

To Beat the Devil: A Techomancer Novel by M.K. Gibson


175 years have passed since God quit on mankind. Without his blessing, Hell itself, along with the ancient power of The Deep, were unleashed upon the world. Two world wars and oceans of blood later, a balance was reached. Demonkind took its place as the ruling aristocracy. Mankind, thanks to its ability to create, fell to the position of working proletariat. Alive, but not living.

Lucky Us.

Welcome to New Golgotha, the East Coast supercity. In it, you will find sins and cyborgs, magic and mystery, vices without virtue and hell without the hope of heaven. In the middle of it all is Salem, smuggler extraordinaire and recluse immortal, who has lived and fought through the last two centuries, but his biggest battle is just beginning.

To Beat The Devil: A Technomancer Novel is an incredible adventure full of cyborgs and demons, gods, magic, guns, puns and whiskey, humor and heart. Follow Salem as he embarks to discover the meaning of the very nature of what mankind is: our souls. And, who is trying to steal them.



Short Version: An action-packed urban fantasy with some crazy fight scenes varying from single mano-on-demon to full scale wars with thousands and back again. Also emotional character development (but not at the expense of the action), a fantastically dark world built to many layers, and a couple of flaws often found in first novels which fade into the background the longer the story goes on because it is a rocking, heart-pounding story full of twists, red herrings, and cool cyber-technology.

Long Version: 
“The protagonist isn’t out to save the world –that ship has long since sailed…” (a line from the Foreword). In a world abandoned by the capital G, humans and demons have come to an uneasy truce with demons being overlords and humans being serfs running all the technology. Salem is a lightrunner, basically a quiet smuggler capable of a great deal of violence when necessary. He has developed a nice (as in survivable) little life with associates and no friends, when one of the associates sends a piece of business his way that changes things. Life may no longer be survivable, but it certainly becomes interesting.

As mentioned in the Short Version, the book is both very good and has a few flaws so let’s get into that.

1. PRO – None of the action is boring. Every fight scene is different, from the opening fight with a Demon Bishop, to the land war, to the final fight with the big bad. Mr. Gibson changes fight strategy from single person to large group, from intent to kill to just maim a little, from physical fists to cyber tech. I’ve rarely run into such a wide range of fighting.

2. FACT – Has a great deal of “language”. Fits the character and situation (after all, hell come to earth), but pushes this book firmly in R for language alone. (For me this is a CON, but I know not all readers have the same issue.)

3. TRIGGER – One rape scene. Done quickly.

4. FACT – Male version of Urban Fantasy. Okay, what I mean by that – the female version has a paranormal female, usually with two love interests who support her but never overshadow her and all characters exist in relation to her. The male version of UF has gun porn instead of soft porn and again everyone exist in relation to him, usually with the male secondary characters having agency and the female characters, if any, existing to jiggle.

4a. PRO – Gun Porn – The guns are sexy. The cybertech more so. Oooh, the McGyvering and Blade Runner vibe is hot. Really, To Beat the Devil has some of the most interesting information dumps about guns and cyber, I actually read through all of them and enjoyed it while I did so. They were short and sweet.

4b. CON – Women – The handful of named women in the book all look in their twenties, wear g-strings and bikini tops if not just naked all-together, and either lust after the main character, have slept with the main character, or has the main character lust after them. Except for the one which is the lover of a secondary character. Typical male urban fantasy, inherited from the spy-thriller tradition. And a total turnoff for a female reader. Every single effective fighter in this book is male, even when the female characters are described as scary fighters (after their boobs are detailed); if the scary female cybers do do any fighting, it is off screen. Somehow I noticed this more than normal within the manuscript and the rating lost a star on the non-agency of the females in the story. 

5. PRO/CON Worldbuilding – Very detailed bleak world. Great backstory; maybe – no (sigh) definitely – a little too much exposition describing the backstory. Several NOTICEABLE introspections put into the book just to provide the cool backstory describing the world as well as aside breaks into the past for a short couple paragraphs here and there. In fact part way through the book the method changed from introspection exposition to the flashback breaks; a content editor should have asked the writer to go back and even out these two methods of backstory reveal. As this is the first in the series and the first book by the author, I expect the exposition issues will not happen in future books. Usually backstory is a little heavy in the first book of a series. And as I mentioned, the writer did find a better device while writing. I did enjoy each jump further down the rabbit hole when the worldbuilding reveal happened in dialogue between characters. Some of the flashback scenes were stories and some were just exposition – as Mr. Gibson continues to grow as an author, I expect the flashbacks will become more integral to the story and less worldbuilding expositions.

5. CON – Poor transitions. The first three chapters glaringly have jumps in transitions. This issue goes away later in the book. In fact the whole book gets better and better as the story goes on – usually in small press and first-time author works, the story gets less tight and technical writing skills get less polished as the story goes on because the writer rewrote the first three chapters a dozen times and ignored the rest of the book. During the first couple of pages of the second chapter I wasn’t certain we didn’t change Point-of-View characters – so much of the beginning of the second chapter felt like a repeat of the first chapter, but the voice felt different and the jump between the two chapter nearly a complete break. If I hadn’t received the book in exchange for honest review from publisher I might not have pushed past chapter three – which would have been a pity because after that weak beginning everything keeps getting better and better.

6. PRO – The most amazing part of the book, especially for an Urban Fantasy, is the personal growth of the main character. The guy starts as a self-centered smuck. The journey this book is about isn’t just the plot of solving the mystery(ies), but also about the character growth. Mr. Gibson does a very good job of establishing the personality of the main character and making the growth believable. I’ll be interested to see if Mr. Gibson can keep that portion of the story plot up for future books.

In conclusion, To Beat the Devil is an action-packed urban fantasy with great fight scenes, emotional character development (enhancing the action, not slowing it down), a Blade Runner apocalyptic world built complete with demons (and worse than demons), and a couple of flaws with technical writing (transitions and expositions) which fade into the background the longer the story goes on because it is a rocking, heart-pounding story.