Fiction, Reviews

The Last Temptations of Iago Wick by Jennifer Rainey

The book "The Last Temptations of Iago Wick" by Jennifer Rainey, sitting on a bed of orange flowers in a circular arrangement.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the end, regardless of the life lived – or the complexities of the temptation planned – it all came down to one question. Was a man good or was he wicked? How did his life, when parcelled out, balance upon the golden scales? A hideously simple question for a beautifully complex world.

*There may be spoilers in the content warning section above the summary. Tread lightly!*

Published: February 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Representation: People of Colour (Mexican); LGBTQIA2S+ (WLW & MLM)
Content Warning: gore; murder; mentions of mutilation; mentions of drug use; reference to mass death; body horror; mentions of exsanguination; gun violence.

Summary

The city of Marlowe, Massachusetts is a lovely place to settle down…just ask its two resident demons.

For centuries, Iago Wick and his partner, Dante Lovelace, have meddled in the affairs of Man for the benefit of Hell—and had a damnably good time doing it. 

Everything changes when a peculiar demon hunter with a murky past comes to Marlowe and sets his sights on Iago. Mr. Wick is all too happy to grant him a game of cat and mouse. After all, a little distraction from his Hellish duties does an old demon good. 

But soon, Iago and Dante find themselves entangled in the mystery surrounding the strange hunter, and the line between danger and excitement becomes a blurry one. What happens when Iago gets a little too close? Is working for Hell really all it’s cracked up to be? And why is the idea of free will suddenly so appealing?

Join a diverse and eccentric cast of demons and the hunters who hunt them in this wickedly witty tale of Victorian adventure and infernal mayhem.

— summary from Jennifer Rainey’s website

Review

The Last Temptation of Iago Wick is a brilliant and underrated piece of historical fiction/fantasy, written with an endlessly amusing dry humour, and set in a steampunk-y 1890s Massachusetts setting. It has a special place in Bec’s heart especially, as it’s what reignited their love of reading a few years ago, and so where would we be if we didn’t rave about it? The story follows a pair of adorable, very much in love demons, doing work for the Powers That Be (not those ones) while one questions his place in the system and the other revels in his work uncritically. The worldbuilding around demons and angels is so much fun, let alone with the way the story fits humans into the fold. Where there are demons, there are demon hunters, and it all plays on a level of moral ambiguity that is so much fun (and confusing) to experience as a reader.

Iago Wick is a Tempter, up for a big promotion and working to prove his skills to his over(under?)lords. His work is to obtain the souls of his targets (as determined by his bosses), and his hits in this book are unambiguously not good people – which is what makes it so easy to love and support Iago, despite the fact that he’s a demon and he does terrible things to us humans. It’s only a matter of convenience that most of his targets are morally corrupt humans – it’s not because he has a quote-unquote “moral compass” – especially since morality is an incredibly human ideal.

An artist who creates for himself and himself alone is truly free, Iago through once more. He did not, after all, require the approval of a handful of absent gods. And yet, were they not always the beneficiaries of his hard work? Didn’t Hell ultimately control his fate? Oh, what a dismal thought.

The idea of demons having these mundane (to them) “jobs” that they’re so passionate about, but that involves torturing/killing humans is an interesting take (and maybe not the first of its kind), but the way that it’s described and approached in this novel is unique. The demons talking about their jobs as casually as we do about ours lends to so much moral ambiguity – it makes you forget exactly what the nature of their job is until it hits you in the face, and then you have to shake yourself a little bit as a reminder. 

There’s a lot of moral greys, and the author does a phenomenal job of playing with this greyness throughout the novel. Your love of Iago and Dante is quickly put to the test when you meet demon hunters working for the good of humans – who (for good reason) want to eliminate the demon threat so we humans can live safely. It’s funny because you want to root for Iago and his very sweet boyfriend Dante (a Catastrophe Artist, which is exactly what it sounds like), but when you’re confronted with the ideals of the demon hunters, you’re quickly reminded that Iago and Dante are supposed to be the bad guys!! It’s a hilarious dichotomy when you love the characters, and then the book challenges you to critically think about said love by reminding you that they’re demons, not humans, and they’re inherently anti-human. Iago and Dante as free-thinking, and specifically Iago’s critical approach to the Powers That Be make them especially sympathetic to us readers. And it’s hard not to get sucked into all this moral ambiguity when it’s underscored with tender queer love, plot twists, dry humour (of the likes of Terry Pratchet and Douglas Adams), and an entirely badass and clever cross-dressing lesbian demon hunter-slash-scientist – all in a story that slowly unravels while you’re busy revelling in the characters’ developments and interactions. And we’re going to stop with the overly descriptive language now to prevent spoiling anything about the story.

All of it is very reminiscent of what made us love Good Omens – part incredible world-building, part queer love, part dry humour and sometimes campy depictions. Rainey’s look at demons and Hell, angels and Heaven (respectively) are entirely unique, something we haven’t seen before. It’s a lot of fun, but it also gets fairly dark, so keep that in mind when you go to read it – we are talking about Hell and its corrupt human targets after all! So if anything we’ve talked about here sounds tempting to you, come and join us in Marlowe, Massachusetts…just be sure to keep an eye on your soul.

Happy reading! Becca & Abarna.

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