Hell’s Pawn

Title: Hell’s Pawn
Author: Jay Bell
Cover Artist: Andreas Bell
Publisher: Jay Bell Books
Buy Link: Buy Link Hell’s Pawn
Genre: M/M fantasy romance
Length: Novel (274 pages)
Rating: 5 stars out of 5

A guest review by Jenre

Summary Review:
A delightfully imaginative fantasy novel with a strong and very likeable hero.


John Grey is dead… and that’s just the beginning.

Purgatory should have been a safe haven for souls that belong neither in Heaven nor Hell, but instead John finds himself in a corrupt prison, one bereft of freedom or pleasure. Along with his decedent friend Dante, John makes a brave escape, only to fall straight down to Hell and into the arms of Rimmon, a handsome incubus. John is soon recruited as Hell’s ambassador, visiting the afterlife realms of other cultures to enlist an army strong enough to stand against Heaven. As interesting as his new job is, John’s mind keeps returning to Purgatory and the souls still trapped there. Somehow John must stop a war he doesn’t believe in and liberate Purgatory, all while desperately trying to attract the attention of an incubus whose heart belongs to another.


Having read the previous book by this author, Something about Summer (reviewed here), I was keen to read another book by Jay Bell. Hell’s Pawn has a completely different feel to it, as it’s a fantasy rather than contemporary, but the same great writing and characterisation are present.

The opening of the book finds our hero John, standing looking out across the fog at the Golden Gate Bridge. He has no memory of how he got there but soon realises that, since his last memory is of driving his car into a tree, he must be dead. He’s taken to purgatory where he meets Dante. Purgatory is a dull place where souls have to earn points to escape. However, something seems off about this for John and it isn’t long before he finds himself embroiled in a plot the free the souls from purgatory along with the help of Dante and an alluring incubus, Rimmon.

I have to admit I had a slight wobble with the beginning. I’m not keen on ghost books and this story treads that line a little. Once I got over the fact that the hero is essentially dead, and set aside my scepticism about the book’s ideas of where we go when we die, then I found myself enjoying this book a great deal. One of my very few niggles is that the book has a bit of a slow start but once John escapes purgatory and enters hell, the pace speeds up and I was hooked from then on. The story rather reminded me of one of those Greek epics where the hero takes a journey in which he has to complete certain tasks in order to succeed. Certainly the presence of all the different gods from world religions helped to cement this idea. Part of the fun for me was seeing how the gods were portrayed and watching John wriggle out of various difficult situations.

It also helped that I liked John a great deal. He’s an intelligent guy but more than that he’s also sensible and a go-getter. I liked that he feels a constant sense of disorientation and wonder yet has the determination to succeed despite this. From the start he recognises that things aren’t right and instead of sitting back and just accepting how things are, he sets about to find out how he can change things. This of course leads him into a whole heap of trouble and that was the enjoyable part of the book! His relationship with Rimmon is both a romance and not, and those looking for a HEA are heading for a disappointment. I didn’t mind that aspect because the focus in the story is on the adventure plot with the romance being only secondary, and things work out OK for John in the end, even if it wasn’t in the way I expected.

Another part I enjoyed was the way the author used all the world religions and mythology to weave a vision of the afterlife. It was imaginative, sensitive, realistic and also a little reassuring. The different religions and how their own afterlives contrast and intertwine with those of other myths forms a backdrop to the action in the book. As he journeys to each realm, John encounters different characters from legend, myth and religion who either help or hinder him, as well as a particular human who will be familiar to fans of the author’s other books. All these characters have a role to play, but the constant is Dante and Rimmon who act as guides, advisers and occasional saviours. It was the complexity, not only in the story and setting but in the character of John that I found delightful and made this a book to be highly recommended.

I’ve already mentioned one of my niggles with the book – the slow start – and there is one other. John has a big secret (which I’m not going to reveal here) but when we discover what it is, it made me wonder why others with the same secret weren’t in the book. Maybe it was because of John’s unique restless character which made him unable to just accept purgatory, but I still thought it a little odd. Sorry for being vague, but I really don’t want to give away spoilers!

These couple of niggles were not enough to detract from was was a very enjoyable rollicking ride of a book. There’s a great mix of action, pathos, humour, love and camaraderie, all set in a unique series of worlds which are imaginatively described. Those readers who like fantasy books and are looking for something a bit different will enjoy Hell’s Pawn. I did and I shall be eagerly anticipating further books by Jay Bell in the future.



  • I finished this one yesterday and I so agree with your review. I am very impressed by this writer’s knowledge of many religions. I was able to pick up on a lot of mythos and they were all so well researched and he made it a part of the plot so effortlessly IMO. I loved John, I totally agree that he is a go getter and I just loved his character overall. The only niggle I have is that I wished he would not attempt to do a romance in addition to a great fantasy. I think he is an amanzing fantasy writer, but I am really not impressed by his romantic storylines. Hmm, trying to think about phrasing my annoyance without spoilers? Okay, first of all I was annoyed about the fact that tension between two of the main characters went nowhere IMO. I do understand why of course, but why not to make them only friends then? I also was annoyed by epilogue. It felt more like an afterthought for me, the attempt at brief retelling of romantic storyline. Hope I am making sense. It was a five star read for me for sure, but I would took out the “plus” for unsuccessful romance teaser IMO. I was just as annoyed at the ending of “Something like summer”, I thought it was a very annoying and cliched plot turn to resolve romantic triangle.

    I will definitely continue reading his books, but I will be more careful if he would mark his next book as romance.

    Actually, wait, let me correct myself, I think Language lessons was a great short romantic story, I was happy after I was done with it. Thanks for the great review Jen.

    • Hi Sirius

      The romance was very much a sub-plot here and I was happy with that, if a little frustrated for John :). I agree though that the descriptions of the different religions was a big plus point for me too.

      Language Lessons is a great little romantic story with an interestingly flawed main character. I enjoyed it a great deal too :).

      • Hi Jen, I just want to clarify. I can be perfectly okay with romance being a subplot or with *no romance whatsoever* in the book. I love stories with excellent imaginative plot and great characters, which feature characters being just friends as much as I love stories where there is a romantic storyline. What I am trying to say that IMO in this otherwise superb book (OMG I am thinking about it again and it is a pleasure just remembering the fun I have had reading) writer did not write romance subplot very well. I would much prefer for John and other guy to be just friends, rather than all that tension going nowhere IMO. Am I making sense? I was frustrated for John *and* another guy, cannot say much without spoilers, but the resolution of his romantic desires for me felt the similar way as epilogue for John. I would not have minded the epilogue as much, had John and that other guy been just friends, because I sort of understand the need to at least mention that what happened to John after was good and happy for him. But for me the subplot with romantic potential was not resolved well – I did not even get a sense that what other guy wanted was his heart’s desire indeed. Anyway, despite my rambling, it was a pretty minor issue for me, but it took away a bit of my enjoyment.
        Thanks for listening Jen 🙂

  • JB is publishing his own books? Thats great. I have 2 of his books but have yet to read them. Cat in the Cradle and Something about Summer.
    Great review. Ill add to my growing list.

  • I bought the book few days ago, as soon as I saw the blurb and writer’s name. So my up of tea and your review only makes me want to read it faster 🙂 Thank you.

    • I hope you like it too, Sirius. I’m more and more impressed by this author each time I read a book or short story of his.

  • Is the kindle edition the only e-book available? It sounds very much like my sort of story but I need to be able to read it in epub.

  • Jen
    This book as described in your review, which is wonderful BTW, hits all of my hot buttons. Although I’m not religious and fully expect to go to Hell or Purgatory or whatever exists in an afterlife, I love to read books with religious themes. The adventures are a bonus.

    I was waiting for your and Kassa’s review (which are somewhat similar) before I delved into this book and I’m glad I did.

    • I’m sure you’ll love it Wave. I really liked the even handed way that the concept of the afterlife was handled in the book. There’s even a place for us sinners :).


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