Mage Of the Hellmouth by John Wayne Comunale

John Wayne Comunale’s Mage of the Hellmouth is both surreal and captivating. It’s entertaining in the way a lot of subversive fiction is, and the horror of it sort of runs along with a similar style to Jacob’s Ladder and other psychologically unnerving horror stories that make you question what’s real and what’s not along with the characters. Apropos of the Jacob’s Ladder reference, this book even includes a bizarre scene of graphic sex at a party where our protagonist, Jake, is forced to question whether he’s simply too intoxicated or really witnessing the events taking place.
It’s a quick read, and it’s well-paced to keep you invested in everything taking place on the page…as you follow Jake from his late-20s slacker, stoner, drunk life of tedium working for the Fam-Mark ice cream company through the progressively sinister experiences and encounters with co-workers and friends as he takes on his new role at the main facility. And when I say “role” it has multiple meanings, as the events in Jake’s life dovetail with an old tabletop RPG he’d played as a child, Mage of the Hellmouth.
In the end, this is an example of no good deed going unpunished…as Jake receives the reward for the marginal part he’s played in grand events he had no way of anticipating.
The only issue I have with this book is a time jump/recollection that initially seemed like a formatting error. Upon finishing Chapter 7, the content that doesn’t appear until Chapter 10 seemed like it should have followed…making Chapters 8 and 9, Chapters 9 and 10 respectively. The ambiguous shift back to earlier in the story is not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, since the story as a whole was a terrific read just the same, but it was a bit jarring and led to momentary confusion until I’d caught on to what was going on.

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