The Demonists by Thomas E. Sniegoski marks the start of a new series. John Fogg and Theodora Knight are paranormal investigators; hosts of a popular television program. During a Halloween special where the couple and their team investigate a house filled with dark energy, a supposed haunting, things suddenly take a horrific turn as malevolent forces kill John’s team and leave Theodora in a catatonic state; possessed by countless demonic spirits. Confronted by the veil now inhabiting his wife John must face off against threats both worldly and otherworldly in order to save the woman he loves.
The biggest problem with The Demonists is that John Fogg isn’t a very interesting character. Sure being driven by love is a noble thing it didn’t really help John feel like that noteworthy an individual. The novel is saved by its supporting cast. First there is FBI Agent Brenna Isobel, investigating a string of recent child abductions, who has a tragic past that pushes to complete her investigation as fast as she can. Then there is the novel’s sort-of antagonist Barret Winfield, also-known-as The Teacher, who was a bit twisted before being contacted and enlisted by darker powers. However, the most interesting character by and large is Theodora herself; particularly later in the novel. I don’t want to go into details, though what happens to Theodora isn’t a complete surprise, but she remained the most interesting part of the novel from the minute she is re-introduced. I was also particularly enamored with the psychic guardian that looks after both Theodora and John.
With the bond between Theodora and John being so integral to driving the novel’s action there is surprisingly little time spent on their relationship. While the novel’s opening scene reveals how the couple first met it quickly shifts forward to the haunted house element. While we are told, through John’s perspective, about their relationship it isn’t anything that is ever actually scene. As a result there is little to no emotional investment in John’s quest. In truth the novel’s opening, where Theodora openly challenging John’s initial skepticism of psychic abilities, might have made for a more interesting jumping off point that would have allowed Sniegoski to better flesh out the tenuous beginnings of their relationship as well as flesh out the world he has created.
Despite my disinterest in John as a character Sniegoski’s presentation of the supernatural definitely hooked me in. The scenes involving The Teacher and his “students” were particularly horrific and well crafted. Sniegoski also delves into some interesting psychic landscapes with his characters that definitely helped keep me engaged. As a series opener Sniegoski hints at a deeper and more significant looming threat and introduces at least two organizations; one involved in fighting evil and the other in hastening its arrival. Along with those hints of a doom yet to come there is the definite feeling that the world Sniegoski has created has more depth and detail than glimpsed within the pages of The Demonists. We are introduced to several demons in the novel, glimpse some raw and furious elementals, and even catch the brief glimpse of a long forgotten god all with just barest of illuminating brush strokes. While there are moments where this is frustrating, blame the long-time fantasy reader used to complex magic systems, for the most part it works. The action late in the novel is fast and furious and moral and emotional quandaries posed by the closing chapters will definitely have me checking out whatever is next for Theodora and John. Even though it stumbles at the outset fans of horror and urban fantasy should The Demonists a shot.