The Devil’s Alphabet, by Daryl Gregory, centers on the aftermath of a strange epidemic in a small Appalachian town. Ten years before the events of the book, a disease ripped through the town of Switchcreek. Those that survived had their DNA altered to the point where the scientists don’t even think they’re human anymore. Apart from some seriously bizarre explanation of where the disease came from (that, frankly, even I don’t give credence, too), there isn’t much talk in this book of the disease. Instead, this book is more about how the survivors have learned to live with their new bodies and how the world is still learning that lesson.
Ten years after the epidemic, Pax–a skip who wasn’t touched by the disease–returns home for the funeral of one of his childhood friends. Once he arrives back in Switchcreek, he gets tangled up in the local politics. It was hard to pick up on an overarching plot. I got the sense of Pax getting caught up in other people’s schemes; he reacted for just about the entire length of the book. He is a strangely passive protagonist. I was much more interested in the other characters: the corrupt but hospitable mayor, the gigantic and honest unofficial “chief,” Paxton’s loopy ex-preacher of a father. If Gregory had chosen one of them to be the main character, this book would have been a lot more interesting.
I read Gregory’s previous book, Pandemonium, and while this book shares the same originality, it doesn’t have the same kind of intensity. I kept waiting for this book to pick up, to get to the point, but it never got there.