Want to take a no-strings-attached visitor’s tour of the underworld without all the fuss and muss of the painful agony and burning? What if your personal tour guide was horror fiction master H.P. Lovercraft? In Edward Lee’s bizarre tale, Lucifer’s Lottery, you get an up close and personal look into the flaming Abyss, but it isn’t the great empty expanse of fire and brimstone you may have come to expect. This is also not Lee’s first foray into Hell. He first introduced readers to his version of the Inferno, a city dubbed Mephistopolis, via lonely goth girl Cassie in City Inferno, originally published by Cemetery Dance in 2001, and again in House Infernal. For Lucifer’s Lottery Lee takes us back to Mephistopolis to accompany would-be priest Hudson on a grand tour of the city of pain and suffering as Satan attempts to make him an offer that may be too good to refuse.
Every 666 years one man or woman wins the Senary, a lottery where Lucifer chooses one of God’s devout followers at random. The winner is tempted to give up all prospects of eternity in Heaven for an afterlife in Hell instead. Of course, the Morning Star will make it well worth the winner’s while should they accept his offer. So, what does Lucifer get out of this deal, you ask? Simply, the satisfaction of knowing he took one of God’s most devout souls for his own. The next 666 year cycle is here and just one month from entering seminary Hudson is chosen for the Senary. Howard Phillips Lovecraft, known as just Howard to us for the length of this story, is his ever-descriptive and poetic tour guide to Mephistopolis as he tries to convince Hudson to take this once in a lifetime opportunity. With the prospect of fulfilling his most sinful desires for an eternity in Hell, Hudson struggles with his commitment to God.
Lucifer’s Lottery has all the signatures of a Lee novel – hyper-sexualized scenes, stomach-turning filth and viscera. In the context of the story and Lee’s supernatural Hell-world he is able to create the most unspeakable horrors, but it’s not all eye-candy. Pulling the readers through this stench-filled nightmare of tortured human damned, monsters, and hybrids is the excitement of wondering what will happen next and what you will see next. And the bizarre sights are delightfully disgusting and morbid! “Each District, Prefect, or Zone features its own decorative motif.” There is a district made of skin and constructions held together by bones and guts. We’re introduced to a bar featuring Mammiferons, breasts that function as taps dispensing milk for its upscale patronage. Another establishment we visit offers “Hell’s greatest delicacies,” newborn Demon fetuses crushed like grapes to make Satan’s own wicked wine. And that hardly scratches the surface of the vile things occupying Lee’s Mephistopolis.
Lee goes all out in Lucifer’s Lottery. He doesn’t simply cross the line into the extreme; he won’t even acknowledge there ever was such a line, so for readers seeking the perverse and weird in excess Lee hits all the right notes. At the same time, there is a good sense of humor to this book giving us the chance to have a laugh or two in the face of evil. Lee elicits amusement married with disgust and sometimes even eroticism with revulsion. He is a master of creating mixed emotions in his readers. It’s hard not to be charmed by Lee when he not only shocks us with wild sights, but has some comedic relief as well. We first arrive to Mephistopolis with a newly deceased human damned only to have “a black bat with a six-foot wingspan and a vaguely human face” drop a deuce on his head! While that opening let’s us know we can have a good time with this book it doesn’t take away from the hideousness of Lee’s Hell. It’s sick, depraved, hysterical, and sometimes even titillating. Lee manages to make you feel a little weird about the latter. You may find yourself turned on by a sexy Golemess whose “grapefruit-sized breasts…offer nipples distending like overlarge Hershey’s Kisses;” a possessed Deaconess who lubes herself with olive oil to temp Hudson; and Lycanymphs, “Erotopathic female werewolves,” who dispense milk from a wall of boobs!
The horrors are inexplicably grotesque and the pacing break-neck, but none of this would be quite as successful if the characters weren’t interesting. None of them are particularly likable save for the protagonist Hudson, but they each have their own allure and don’t fail to entertain. The bad guys are absolutely despicable, the sinful are the worst of the worst and they have some hilarious dialogue. Like when a bum laments his choices for sustenance in difficult times – “It sucks when ya have to eat your own nut just for the calories, ya know? You ever do that?” No, no I haven’t. We have Howard narrating the tour of the city making the atrocious place almost sound beautiful in his fluid prose. While I found Hudson sympathetic, I was especially hopeful for the down-on-his luck, suicidal paraplegic Gerold. Unfortunately, this is a tale centered on Lucifer and the unlucky humans that become part of his game, so I wouldn’t get too attached if I were you.
Lucifer’s Lottery had me gasping in shock, squirming in discomfort, and laughing aloud at the insanity of the world Lee created. It’s non-stop thrilling and will keep surprising the reader up to the last page. But, be warned! Lucifer’s Lottery should bear with the same warning as the gates of Hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”