Tag Archives: Samuel Johnson

The Infernals/Hells Bells – John Connolly (Samuel Johnson#2)

Samuel’s success at closing the gate to Hell didn’t leave him quite in the position one would hope for.  Instead of being hailed a conquering hero for sussing out the plot and rallying people to the cause, they quietly believe he bears some responsibility.  They have done all they can to forget that demons descended on Biddlecombe.  When they see Samuel, however, they remember.  This makes him partially to blame in their thoughts.   If you have not read ‘The Gates’ it’s the wonderful start to the tale of Samuel Johnson vs. the Devil series. Everything started because Samuel and his faithful dachshund, Boswell, went trick-or-treating on October 28 when he was eleven.  He was maximizing his candy gathering potential when he interrupted a party of bored adults playing with the occult.  It all went downhill from there.

Samuel is thirteen now, and infatuated with the girl every little boy falls in love with.  He’s not spoken to her yet.  He’s still working up the courage. Aside from regular teenage worries he keeps seeing Mrs. Abernathy in the reflections of a puddle or mirror.  He just catches her out of the corner of his eye.  He has no doubt being the focus of an extremely powerful demon with a grudge is not a good thing.  During this book he is transported through a portal to Hell.  Luckily, he has company.  In trying to obtain Samuel a few others were brought to Hell by mistake. England has its own devilishly mischievous creatures.  Mr. Merrywether’s dwarves, an acting troupe of four little men, are pleasantly troublesome. The badly behaved crew is always in conflict with the law and once in Hell they give the demons just as much hassle.

We get to be reunited with “Nurd – The Scourge of Five Deities, Wormwood, and some of our other endearing demonic friends.  John Connolly did not disappoint with this sequel.  He includes the footnotes I loved in the first book.  There is a lot of scientific information in this and the last book.  The footnotes allow for some humorous/clever explanation.  It has been likened to Douglas Adam’s humor in ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’  I don’t disagree, but Connolly has his own voice and style.  I saved this for Halloween because I believed part of it was set on October 31st, like ‘The Gates,’ but that was a misguided notion.  The third book, however, is set during Christmas time.  I will be putting ‘The Creeps’ in the queue at the end of November.

‘The Infernals,’ like ‘The Gates’ audio version is narrated by Tim Gerard Reynolds and he does an amazing job.  Do not read this book even  if you only occasionally dabble in audio books.  He is paired perfectly with the material and, in my opinion, adds to the experience of the book.  I’m sure reading it will not disappoint, but I highly encourage you to listen to this book not only for, but also specifically for, his interpretation of Mr. Merrywether’s Elves/Dwarves.

It is a middle grade book, however, most of the people I know who have read and enjoyed it are adults.  There is much discussion regarding Hell and demons.  This may have you questioning whether eleven and thirteen year olds should be reading it.  The UK title is ‘Hell’s Bells’ and was changed for the US publication in part because of this concern.  It is not frightening or inappropriate.  There is no profanity included in it unless you count ‘Hell’ as profanity.  It does not comment upon religion in a negative or positive light.  I, personally, would not have a problem with nine year olds reading it, but I am not offended by Hell or demons.  I include this so you have some context in determining how family friendly it is.


The Gates – John Connely

The Gates (Samuel Johnson, #1)


Connolly set the story between October 28 and November 1.  This tale includes demons and the Gates of Hell, trick or treating, and general Halloween hi-jinks .  It’s not terribly spooky but very fun.


Recently, I requested of the Blogverse some recommendations of good Halloween books.  ‘The Gates’ was recommended, and I am indebted to Ashley at readfantasybooks for doing so.  This is a delightful tale of a precocious eleven year old boy, Samuel Johnson, who takes initiative to start trick-or-treating with his dachshund Boswell on October 28  to get a head start.  Initiative, in this case, being something everyone says they want but don’t actually like when being used.  Connolly  is humorous.  He sprinkles in footnotes that explain words like initiative, the Hadron Collider at CERN, and nefarious in delightfully amusing ways rather than using strict boring definitions.  It is young adult, but I believe I would be hard pressed to find adults that don’t like this.  Samuel Johnson’s reward for early trick or treating is not candy but witnessing, albeit looking through his neighbors basement window, the Gates of Hell being summoned.  Samuel tries to tell his mother, his father, and his babysitter but no one believes him.  They all believe he is making it up and is spending too much time playing video games to get such weird ideas stuck in his head.

Samuel must figure out how to stop the Gates of Hell from being opened and allowing The Great Maleficence to enter Earth and destroy it.  Along the way we meet scientists, Samuel’s classmates, and a bevy of demons.  A beautiful aspect of this book is that when Samuel is visited by demons, who are supposed to either eat him or drag him to the pits of Hell, he befriends them.  You must understand Hell isn’t a terribly fun place and they don’t want to return to it either.  Just like adult humans the demons must have a job, like scaring small children, or being that terribly annoying bit of toothpaste you can’t get out of the end of the tube.  Some demons have exciting jobs, but others have to take jobs that are more frustrating or annoying.  Those more boring jobs are good for gentler demons.  We meet Nurd, a less successful demon, who was banished by The Great Maleficence.  He randomly is traveling between Hell and Earth without his say so, once being hit by a car, and once visiting Samuel’s room.  Here they share jelly beans, Nurd learns to smile, and Nurd gains the only friend he’s ever had.

Connolly is brilliant.  I read/listened to this book a second time immediately after finishing it.  If you enjoy audible books there is a great narration done by Jonathan Cake.  He made me love this book even more.  It is one of those rare combinations where the narrator is perfectly matched to the book and enhances it.  Either way I believe you will enjoy it

This is the first installment of the Samuel Johnson vs. the Devil series.  I’m excited to pick up the next book, ‘The Infernals.’  This is a series you want to be able to pay attention to.  Some audible books I can listen to and not give them my full attention.  You can do that here, and  probably glean most of the story without too much trouble.  I fear you would miss some of Connolly’s humorous gems, however, and I just don’t know that it would be worth it.  I recommend you listen to it while driving or doing something mindless so you can enjoy the whole of it.  If the kids are asking to many questions for a group listen turn it off and listen/read it on your own time.  You can make them take a second turn if they can’t behave.  We all must learn patients after all.  You’re building their character…that’s the reason…isn’t it? – You should now look up Connolly’s definition for nefarious.


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