Review: The Devil You Know by K. J. Parker
The greatest philosopher of all time is offering to sell his soul to the Devil. All he wants is twenty more years to complete his life’s work. After that, he really doesn’t care.
But the assistant demon assigned to the case has his suspicions, because the philosopher is Saloninus–the greatest philosopher, yes, but also the greatest liar, trickster and cheat the world has yet known; the sort of man even the Father of Lies can’t trust.
He’s almost certainly up to something; but what?
So, what happens when the greatest philosopher of all time and a representative (a demon) who works for the Devil strike a deal. Who do you think manages to get the better end of that deal? That is essentially what The Devil You Know explores.
The philosopher, Saloninus, is quite well versed at finding loopholes and using manipulation as a means to an end. He can find power in words (as well as power in the words that are missing) and he is not above deception. And by the nature of working for the devil, you assume that deceit is also a strength of the demon. So when the philosopher signs away his eternal soul in exchange for the demon granting his every whim for the remainder of his life, restoring his youth and guaranteeing he will live a couple more decades, the demon is a bit perplexed at the philosophers satisfaction with the contract.
Surely his eternal soul is worth more than some gold and revived youth that will eventually be lost. In the timeframe of eternity, this deal seems incredibly short sighted and offers the philosopher too little. This is the crux of the book. Trying to figure out who really got the better deal. Saloninus seems awfully pleased, perhaps a bit too sure of himself. It sets the demon on edge, wondering what he has missed and what the philosopher is really up to. It is a fun read, watching how Saloninus chooses to use his time and his power over the demon. Reading the demon’s reaction to this, his apprehension that perhaps Saloninus is up to something that he can’t quite figure out, is definitely intriguing and entertaining.
The book is told from these two POVs, both in first person. I will say that I at times felt myself stumble a bit as a reader trying to distinguish between the two POVs early in a section after a switch, wondering if it was just a switch in scene or a switch in POV. It wasn’t a major issue by any means, but left me feeling a bit unsteady at times while reading. This is really my only complaint with the story.
Overall I found The Devil You Know to be a fun and intriguing novella. I love speculating character motivations and trying to discern what they are actually up to and there is ample opportunity for that in this.
This review originally appeared on The Speculative Herald.