I would love to know where Simon R. Green comes up with his book titles. They are so delightfully punny. In my continuation of rereading the Nightside books, I have just finished Hex and the City. This book finds John hired by one of the (many) Transient Beings, Lady Luck, to find the true origins of the Nightside. This is something that John has secretly always wanted to do and now someone handed it to him on a silver platter, with the added bonus of finding out who his mother is at the end.
Ultimately, John decided this was too good to pass up, even if it was extremely dangerous for all involved. Knowing he would need serious backup, John went out to find a man called Madman. Madman, at some point in time, used some sort of complicated mathematics to find out the truth behind reality. Turns out this was a really, really bad idea. The poor man went cuckoo and due to his (new) nature, he changed things around him, seemingly at random but who knows. Also, he comes equipped with his own personal soundtrack. How cool would that be? You could know who was angry, sad, in love all by the sound of their music. 😀
At any rate, John finds Madman at least moderately lucid and talks him into this quest. From there, they go to the Nightside’s library and pick up a man named Sinner. Sinner’s name is Sidney and he made a deal with the Devil. Not a devil but the devil. Some time ago Sinner called up the Devil to this realm and promised him his soul in return for True Love. Which is kind of an odd request to make of Satan don’t you think? Well, the Devil agreed and sent him a woman for ten years.
Of course, the Devil lies and the woman turned out to be a succubus named Pretty Poison. Even knowing this, Sinner agreed to go down to Hell when the Devil came to collect his soul. Not too long later (no specific times of course, just some time later), Sinner was kicked out. After all the lies, he still loved Pretty Poison. Of course, since he sold his soul to the Devil, he wasn’t welcome in Heaven. So he went to the Nightside to find a way to get to one or the other realm, Pretty Poison by his side because she just could not understand why Sinner still loved her.
Before they can so much as think about where to start looking, Walker sends his infamous Reasonable Men to bring John in. The Reasonable Men are a bunch of Old School, snobby, aristocratic tits who think that they are better than everybody else. John and the others make short work of them, killing them all. Knowing that there will be consequences and wondering why Walker is so keen for him to stop, he leaves the others in the library and heads to the Londinium Club.
The Londinium Club (and this is not the last time it will feature in a book) is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, and most exclusive club in the Nightside. Strictly members only. John only gets in because Walker is expecting him. Walker unsuccessfully tries to talk John out of this line of questioning to no avail. Before John leaves though, he catches a snippet of conversation between Walker and a mercenary named Bad Penny (always turning up, don’t you know). Walker has authorized her to take John out if need be.
Shaken, John heads out to rejoin his party when he gets a call from a panicked Alex Morrisey, which isn’t something that happens often. Alex is hard to rattle. But when Merlin Satanspawn is trying to manifest through you, you get scared. If your sane. So John rushes off to Strangefellows and finds Merlin already there. They have a conversation that is extremely polite given the fact that Merlin isn’t always but Merlin sends him to find an old, wild god by the name of Herne the Hunter. And then he leaves, letting Alex back into reality.
John uses Alex’s special membership card to Strangefellows to bring Sinner, Pretty Poison and Madman in from the library. Its drinks all around while they discuss how to find Herne. Finally John has no choice but to use his gift to find him and find Herne he does, only something else finds him. The Harrowing break through Strangefellows natural, Merlin built shielding but it weakens them. There is a moment of collective ass kicking and then Sinner suggests John use his gift to figure out who his enemies are.
Of course this has never occurred to John. Don’t you just hate it when a simple solution is staring you in the face and you just don’t think of it until someone else suggests it? Doing as Sinner suggests, John finds that his until now unknown enemies are some current major players in the Nightside: Jessica Sorrow (no longer the Unbeliever in the terrible future that Could Be), Count Video, the King of Skin, Larry Oblivion the dead detective (never liked him. Self-righteous asshole. Maybe its being dead) and Annie Abattoir (who uses blood magic). They’re trying to kill John from the future to prevent a war from happening.
He can’t do anything about it now though, but it helps to know who he needs to contact in the future. Right now, they go to a place called Rats Alley in Uptown. Or rather, just to the side or in back of Uptown. Its a dark, dark alley where everyone who hits rock bottom goes to eventually. It is revealed that at some time in John’s past, he himself lived there. Its where he met Razor Eddie, who still frequents the place from time to time.
The find Herne in a box and he eventually spills some of his story. He used to be the god of the wild hunt, among other things, but the advent of cities and the narrowing of the wild places have curtailed his powers. Though he does not know who created the Nightside, he suggests that they talk to the Lord of Thorns, who is the “overseer of the great experiment” (as he says later). The Lord of Thorns is generally thought of as one of the scariest beings in the Nightside, not the least because he can easily dispatch pretty much everyone of every station.
Deciding that that suggestions is quite definitely a last resort, Sinner suggests visiting an old creature called the Lamentation. The Lamentation jerks them about for a bit, giving them guesses and half truths, before trying to kill them. John finds the magic holding the Lamentation together and rips it out, causing them to revert to their original state, a couple of powerless humans. John and the others leave them defenseless because the Lamentation is so awful, has done such awful things, that it doesn’t deserve protection in any form.
This leaves them with just the Lord of Thorns as an option as to where to go to next. Just as they are leaving the Lamentation (or what’s left of it), Bad Penny turns up (see what I did there?). She is ultimately unsuccessful in killing any of them and sulks off to Walker while they head for the Lord of Thorns. The path to the Lord of Thorns goes through the World Beneath, the sewers and tunnels of the Nightside. They climb down into the underworld and take what I can only guess is Charon’s barge to the opening of the Lord of Thorns’ lair.
He is being guarded, for some reason, by Beelzebub, who refuses them entry. Even Pretty Poison who is, technically, on his side. John uses his gift (kind of a crutch, don’t you think? This gets addressed in later books) and finds Beelzebub’s true name and uses it to banish him. Apparently, as a human, he shouldn’t be able to do that. Which leaves everyone wondering just what the hell he is, especially John.
They finally get to the Lord of Thorns and he is as scarily impressive as they thought. I pictured him as Christopher Lee as Sauron. 🙂 Unfortunately, he has no answers for them either. The Nightside was already old when he was first set in charge of it. So that’s really the end of the road for the investigation. No one else is as old as the Lord of Thornes, Herne or the Lamentation (to their knowledge). The problem is getting out and reporting to the client, Lady Luck.
See, Walker has sealed off quite a few of the exits and sent an army’s worth of people after the four of them. Pretty Poison reveals that she knew Walker long ago and in the biblical way, so she tries to go sweet talk him into letting them go. Its during this interlude that it was revealed that Walker, the Collector and John’s father (Charles) were responsible for the whole mess revolving around John’s mother to begin with.
See, back in the sixties, they were among those young professionals who thought that they should be rocketing to power and it just wasn’t happening. So the Collector came up with this plan called the Babalon Working. It was supposed to open a doorway to another place and make manifest a Transient Being that would be bound to their will. And it almost worked, but John’s mother was so much more powerful than them or the Transient Being. She forced her way into the world and eventually came to marry John’s father.
Pretty Poison fails at talking Walker out of bloodshed, so they used John’s membership card to Strangefellows to escape while the Lord of Thorns made mincemeat out of Walker’s people. They’re all nursing very big drinks when Lady Luck comes striding into the bar and demanding an update. John gives it to her and that’s when Madman pipes up and reveals that, surprise! This Lady Luck is in fact John’s long lost mother!
We get a bit of exposition here where she explains that she is Lilith, Adam’s first wife (just a parable, dear, to help you understand) and that she created the Nightside. She wanted a place free of influence from Heaven and Hell. If she already knew this, then why did she hire John? Why, to make it easier for him to accept her being back. He basically tells her to fuck off, though of course before anyone can really do anything, Walker and his allies show up. Bad Penny, Pew and a bunch of combat magicians.
Deciding that its gone too far, Walker orders everyone taken out with prejudice. Lilith kills Pew easily, making John very mad. There is no one so close as an old enemy, don’t you think? Meanwhile, Sinner tries to protect Pretty Poison, Madman hides with Alex behind the bar and Bad Penny stabs John in the back. Angry, John uses his gift to find the source of Bad Penny’s magic and cuts it out of her, leaving her to fade out of reality. And that, of course, is when his enemies send their worst avatar yet.
A severely disfigured Suzie Shooter manifests in the bar. Grafted to her hand is the Speaking Gun. It has completely taken over her, making her quite insane. She unmakes a couple of the combat musicians and it is seriously disturbing. The others, hardened veterans of the Nightside, are crying and vomiting in response. Well, Merlin is just not going to stand for that shit. He manifests just long enough to rip the Speaking Gun off Suzie Shooter, sending her and it into unknown space and time.
The combat magicians increase their attack on Sinner, needing to hit out at something, hurt something. Unable to take it any more, and finally understanding his love for her, Pretty Poison tries to save him by sacrificing herself. It’s an act of redemption that restores her former angelic glory and Sinner’s soul. They disappear up to heaven, leaving people momentarily stunned.
At that point, Madman has decided that he doesn’t like this reality so he uses his madness to force Lilith out…of at least the bar. It is too much to think that she’s permanently gone (spoilers: she isn’t). This uses up a great deal of his energy and he falls quite asleep in the bar. With the fight over, Walker warns that John has no friends in the Nightside any longer and that it is open season on him.
This book was just okay, I think. The best bits are Madman’s lines. They are some damn funny and occasionally poignant quips. Still, you kind of need to read this to get an idea of what is coming up in the next few books. So I’d rate this a C+/B-. Its clearly building to something big and bad. And Madman is awesome.