This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
In this novella, KJ Parker has taken the idea of Faust and puts his own spin on it. In most versions of that story, Faust makes a deal with the devil – in the person of Mephistopheles – whereby Faust gets all of his desires seen to and the devil gets his soul after some specified period of time. Classically, Faust panics at the end of the deal; of course the irony is that all Faust has to do to get out of the deal is to ask God for forgiveness and he’d be fine.
But this isn’t a review of Faust.
Saloninus is the greatest philosopher-scientist of his age, and possibly of all time. This is a secondary world, but Parker amuses himself by attributing numerous real-world achievements to Saloninus, I guess as a way of stressing how awesome Saloninus is. He makes a deal with… well, the being is never clearly identified as a demon, but that’s clearly the idea. Saloninus gets youth and twenty years of the demon being at his beck and call; he gives up his soul in return. Right from the start the demon is suspicious – why would such a man want to sell his soul for a mere twenty years? – and that’s what drives his(?) narrative throughout. Saloninus’ deal isn’t entirely clear.
One thing that got a bit annoying was the frequent switch in perspective, between the demon and the philosopher-scientist. In the version I read, an ARC to be sure, there wasn’t an easy way to tell the difference between narrators until, sometimes, a paragraph or more into the new section. Of course I got there, but there was more work involved than was necessary.
Overall, it was a fairly fun take on the idea of selling your soul.
The one real reservation I have is that the ending really didn’t work for me. I just wasn’t convinced by Saloninus’ motivation at all.