Pact by Wildbow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this world of magic, most battles between practicioners are not won by strength of magic alone, but by rule-following, whether it is to gain the favor of a god that will allow you to perform some great feat; to gain the favor of the local spirits so that the things you want to happen become easier while the things you don't become harder; or to gain the favor of fellow practicioners, who may help or harm your ability to perform in any battle. But there is one group that stands apart: diabolists.
Diabolists call upon the power of demons to achieve their ends, but everything has its price. Deals with demons often have grave consequences, sometimes quite literally. When a practicioner battles a diabolist, the question is not who has more power nor who has gained more favor; rather, the question is: how badly does the diabolist want to win? Because if your desire to win is great enough, you can always enact one more pact with a demon strong enough to make you the victor.
I enjoyed J.C. McCrae's writing in Pact. He did an excellent job of creating a world of fantasy that isn't quite hard fantasy, but that nevertheless adheres to rules that are strongly hinted at. In several parts of the story, it becomes apparent that an observant reader could potentially figure out how the main characters would get out of situations by thinking hard enough about the hints included earlier in the story. This is not common with most fantasy stories, and I truly appreciate that Wildbow has written Pact in this way. Even so, I would not quite call this hard fantasy, mostly because many of the rules of how magic works in this world are only just specific enough to make the mysteries solvable and the drama sensible. Maybe we can say this in the hard-ish fantasy genre. It's rational fiction-adjacent.
If you like stories about deals with the devil, where wishes are granted a la The Monkey's Paw but you won't like how they come true, then Pact is definitely for you. The story defies conventions in ways that I can't say here without giving spoilers, so don't expect it to be like other fantasy stories in this vein, but this is to its benefit. When a character in Pact is shown to be holding the idiot ball, it either makes complete sense why that is, or you may find that things are not quite what they at first seem. For these reasons, I strongly recommend Pact to anyone interested in hard fantasy.
However, there are a few problems. The most glaring is the grammar and typographical issues, which isn't quite at the standards readers might be used to. There are several places where typos may temporarily take you out of the story, and there are two or three sections where Wildbow could really use an editor to change the pacing or cut a significant number of paragraphs that don't add enough to the flow of the story. But the story itself more than makes up for these small issues, and I truly do recommend the book to others regardless.
View all my reviews