Hellraisers: The Devil’s Engine is a two-person book about a juvenile named Marlow Green who likes to scratch rocket ships on fancy schmancy cars, and Pan, short for Pandora, a girl with a ticking clock both on her wrist; she doesn’t have much left, and in her fists; she’s a no-nonsense Navy Seal kind of girl. It’s mainly about Marlow, though, who everyone calls, even he calls himself, a coward, who always runs away when the going gets bloody. And he has asthma, making him have to cover himself up from others when he needs a breather, which immediately makes him at least a little sympathetic because he has a special weakness, something we feel each of us has (not exactly Marlow's, just a weakness we might have that sets us apart). After a day of some particularly gigantic trouble, a truck pretty much melds into a monster of steel and oil and glob with its logo as one eye, and all of a sudden, he's recruited by the Hellraisers to walk a tight rope with the devil himself, or the devil's engine.
I remember Smith mentioned in the Q&A of his masterpiece Lockdown that he feigned asthma attacks at gym class in school, so maybe he has asthma too. He probably does. No wonder he’s able to make us feel like the air is thin or Marlow is suffocating.
I also like how this time, Smith seems to have not followed this rule he sets for himself. He feels that people die and that not letting them die is cheating. I half agree with him, and even though there’s a scene that kind of reeks of early demise before anything really good, thankfully Smith doesn’t throw away his characters like single-usage shaving razors, which is what would probably happen if a story as deadly as this came into the universe.
The best moments of this book are when Marlow is on display, trying to balance a friendship with his BFF Charlie Alvarez, who must’ve grown really attached to him quickly if he became the friend he is to Marlow in his umpteenth school, or when Marlow’s trying to make things up to his mom. There’s a conflict Marlow faces about whether or not he should let Charlie be with a troublemaker like him and it really rockets most of the experience. I also won't spoil something Marlow "learns" how to do in this book, but the result brought one of the most fun and relatable experiences of the early year that reminded me of all the fun I had when I first read "Michael Vey" and "The Rig", two books I read way back when I was fifteen and starting up my book reviewing path. I also even found his idea of the supernatural realistic enough to imagine myself alongside Marlow as he was, well, my parents would say "causing trouble".
Something I had a mixed reaction to is the action pretty much begins on Page 1, and I mean the end of the world. I'm not the biggest fan of books that start too many things off at once before we can read the buildup, but sometimes that comes in handy. For this case, we get to see right when Marlow and Pan are close to meeting up. I sometimes felt like Pan had a separate story we should've had more of a chance for us to hear about, and this book is not as terrifying or even as cute as Lockdown was. But it's hard for me to rant on a book like this when I'm in a way loyal to Mr. Smith. We've messaged on Facebook, and he's an incredible, inspirational author. Which may seem like my review is biased, but my note to people who feel like they'll hurt an author's feelings: Don't write a review. It's always easier to say something brutal about a book when you have no connection to that author. But thankfully, Hellraisers is good enough for me to not have to go up on that inner conflict.
Hellraisers is a thrill show that brings out monsters attributable to the most grotesque of them all and yet still has quite the funny bone, which sometimes comes out as a weird combination, but the result is a hell-of-a-fun weird, and the cliffhanger surprisingly sent me a shiver.