Tess Matheson only wants three things: time to practice her cello, for her sister to be happy, and for everyone else to leave her alone.
Instead, Tess finds herself working all summer at her boarding school library, shelving books and dealing with the intolerable patrons. The worst of them is Eliot Birch: snide, privileged, and constantly requesting forbidden grimoires. After a bargain with Eliot leads to the discovery of an ancient book in the library’s grimoire collection, the pair accidentally unleash a book-bound demon.
The demon will stop at nothing to stay free, manipulating ink to threaten those Tess loves and dismantling Eliot’s strange magic. Tess is plagued by terrible dreams of the devil and haunting memories of a boy who wears Eliot’s face. All she knows is to stay free, the demon needs her… and he’ll have her, dead or alive.
TW: Blood, Gore, Murder/Death, Violence, Terminal Illness/Death, Neglect/Isolation.
“When Tess kissed the devil, she tasted death on his mouth”Tori Bovalino, The Devil Makes Three
I was worried going into this, as I wasn’t a fan of Addie La Rue (for reasons I won’t waste your time with here) – and seeing that this was comp’d to V.E. Schwab and The Library of the Unwritten (a book I really enjoyed) seemed like a complicated mix. Having read the book, I totally get it. The Devil Makes Three is kind of ‘Dark Academia Lite’, not quite Light Academia; we’ve still got the dusty, dark bookshelves, premonitions of demons, blood and terror, the study of the occult, death and elitism as key themes. But, the YA tone of this novel means the stakes are clear without being overwhelming.
We follow two perspectives; Tessa who is a Cello prodigy forced to give up her future for her younger sister, and Elliot, the beautiful son of a cruel headmaster, who wants to help save his mum from her disease. The relationship which emerges between these two characters starts contentious; as the book explores Tessa’s dealings with Elliot’s elitist father, and the hidden depths of Jessop’s Library.
One scene I particularly liked early on is when Elliot arrives in the US and sheds his ‘British Persona’ for a more cheerful American one. This scene was so telling, allowing the audience to see beneath both veneers to the real Elliot; the one pained by the changes in his mother, hateful of his father, lost and alone. Until he meets Tessa, anyway. I always enjoyed the brisk way the two characters meet, it was very funny (but I won’t spoil it here.)
I can definitely see the similarities between Addie and TDMT, though the writing style of this novel is far darker – the devilish character doesn’t pull any punches and the scenes where Tessa wakes up covered in ink, thinking it is blood, are gruesome. (That is a pro, in case I’m unclear.) But other than the fact there’s a library of occult books and grimoires, there are very few similarities between TDMT and The Library of the Unwritten, which is more of an epic quest through the realms of the afterlife, than a battle for one’s soul and the chance for unimaginable power.
The pacing is good, nothing feels rushed and there is plenty to establish the world around Tessa and Elliot. This is also a close 3rd narrative (meaning it’s a voice on the shoulder of the characters) so it’s fun to see how they interpret the same sequence of events differently, the lies they tell each other and the secrets they keep. The tension creeps up; very little happens in the first 150 pages, but once the devil arrives the stakes are raised and the people Elliot and Tessa care about are immediately in harm’s way.
I would recommend this to readers who enjoyed Ninth House – it has a very similar Dark Academia vibe, with secrets and monsters lurking in the dark, and the same tone of horror/mystery.