Friday, March 03, 2017

A devilishly Bohemian thriller: Dana Chamblee Carpenter's The Devil's Bible

The Devil’s Bible is a real book. Known more formally as the Codex Gigas (giant codex), it measures 36” tall and 20” wide. Believed to have been produced at the Podlažice Monastery in what’s now the Czech Republic, this immense medieval manuscript received its nickname because of the eerie legend behind its creation, and because it contains a full-page color drawing of the devil, in all his maleficent glory.

In her second historical fantasy novel, Dana Chamblee Carpenter uses the actual history and folklore surrounding this strange text to imagine the circumstances that led to its writing. It needs to be said that The Devil’s Bible is a sequel to Bohemian Gospel, and readers starting with book two will miss many nuances and won’t feel the full impact of events as they unfold. The first book introduced the character of Mouse, an orphaned young woman in 13th-century Bohemia whose unusual gifts and ability to harness supernatural powers caused people to fear her – for good reason, as it turned out.

Bohemian Gospel was an impressive debut, but I like this sequel even more; it’s more smoothly paced, and while the first book felt almost unremittingly dark, this book offers many moments of light and hope that counterbalance the bleakness.

The story is split between two time frames. In the year 1278, Mouse, who refuses to cause more unintentional harm to others than she already has, has herself walled into a cell at Podlažice Monastery and inscribes the book that will become the Codex Gigas. Unfortunately, the source of her occult talents, her father, finds her there and insists on making his own contributions to the book.

Then, in the present day, we find Mouse employed as a Nashville university professor calling herself Emma Nicholas. Fearful of becoming close to anyone over the last 700 years, she holds tight control over her gifts and hopes her father won’t find her again. That is, until a former student claiming expertise in the Devil’s Bible catches up with her at a conference. The power she unleashes in her defense naturally attracts her immortal father’s notice.

With its combination of speculative religious history and high-stakes thrills, The Devil’s Bible may feel thematically similar to The Da Vinci Code, but the writing is more sophisticated, and it takes a more original spin. For Mouse, who struggles to come to terms with her nature, the Church and the devil are both strong adversaries, for different reasons. Her twisty relationship with her father kept me guessing (what does he want from her?). I also appreciated the scenes juxtaposing past and present and the continued focus on less trodden historical ground.

While at the Vatican, Mouse encounters a likely enemy and finds a surprising ally who accompanies her on her mission. In their quest to evade her father and find clues from the book she inscribed centuries ago, she revisits many sites from her past: the crypts and monuments of medieval Prague, the crumbling ruins of Podlažice, and several others. Also, although Mouse is fictional, her depiction as the original scribe of the Codex Gigas fits neatly with its legend.

The Devil's Bible will be published in hardcover by Pegasus next Tuesday.  Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


  1. I looked at Bohemian Gospel on my TBR list the other day - sounds like I'd better get to it! Thanks for the reminder.

    1. I enjoyed it, although it is very dark! I also liked that it's different than the usual historical fantasy fare.