Not Your Average Hot Guy: A Novel, by Gwenda Bond
St. Martin’s Griffin (October 5, 2021)
The Plot: The Devil’s in the Details
Callie had one job: run her mother’s escape room business for one night while her mother attends a conference. It should be easy, given she’s designed many of the rooms herself. But when cultists break into one of her rooms and steal a grimoire (that she thought was fake), kidnap her, and use her book to summon a demon, there’s far more at stake than the fate of her family business.
Luke Morningstar is, well, kind of a screw-up, a disappointment to his father, Lucifer, the ruler of Hell. Unless Luke acquires some souls in the next few days, he might be unmade. The best way to do accomplish this mission, he decides, is to answer the cult’s summons.
The cult offers Callie and her best friend, Mag, as a gift to Luke. Instead, Callie frees the hot-in-so-many-ways devil’s son. Now they’re stuck with preventing Armageddon together.
The Tone Of Not Your Average Hot Guy
Tone is so important in this type of story. Hit the terrifying stakes too hard, and it becomes too bleak. Make it too breezy, and that can downplay the stakes. Bond hit the target perfectly with her tone. If I had to make a comparison, I’d pick DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. That show regularly deals with death and world-changing stakes with snark, friendship, action, and belief in each other, as do the characters in Not Your Average Hot Guy. For example, Calie’s voice is showcased in the scene where Callie and her best friend, Mag, are kidnapped by the cult.
Before they can say no, I wriggle my arms free and run back inside. I could lock the door and leave them out there. But…I”m no hero and I can’t let them take Mag alone, can I? No way. I can’t even get one of our phones into my pocket.
I can scribble a note while the two masked people stand watching and then tape it to the glass door and flip the lock. It contains a lie, meant to be a hint for Jared. CLOSED FOR FAMILY EMERGENCY WE REGRET ANY INCONVENIENCE.
Although when Jared does show up, he’ll call Mom. Is that so bad?
Yes, it is. I didn’t even make it through the first night sucessfully. She’ll never leave again.
The Characters: Finding Their Best Selves
In a way, this story is a coming-of-age for Callie and Luke. Callie has a gift for puzzles and helps with the escape room business, designing clever ways to provide a fun experience for their customers. But it’s ultimately her mother’s business, not her own. Her college degree doesn’t seem useful in any practical way. She needs to find her calling. She’s already the kind of person who can’t walk away if someone needs help. What she learns is how to put that determination into action.
As for Luke, he’s not the son his father wants. He’s not the son his mother, Lillith, hoped to have either. He’s not interested in stealing souls or learning about all the rules of Hell. What he’s most interested in is the world above and the people in it, especially Callie, the purest soul he’s ever met. Luke’s aimless until he accidentally triggers the apocalypse. That forces him to choose not who everyone else wants him to be, but discover what he wants.
There are also excellent supporting characters, starting with Mag. They and Callie have been best friends forever but Mag is more than simply supportive, as they have a subplot of their own. On Luke’s side, there’s his enigmatic but supportive demon mentor, Porsoth. And, of course, the devil himself makes an appearance.
The story moves fast, from a normal night at the escape room to demon summoning to stealing the Spear of Destiny before the cult can. Luke’s main goal, at first, is to stay close to Callie because she’s the most fascinating person he’s ever met.
But halfway through, there’s a twist in their relationship that raises the personal stakes exponentially. From that point on, I could not put the book down. How would this be resolved? Could it be resolved? I was far more worried about the resolution of this twist than the apocalypse and that’s only fitting because, well, apocalypses are a dime a dozen in books. But two characters who are desperate for each other but divided by a THING that parts them permanently, that’s a way to hold my attention.
The ending all hinges on a great resolution to the twist and it’s absolutely perfect. I didn’t see it coming and I absolutely should have seen it coming.
Not Your Average Hot Guy is a fun, snarky, imaginative book that also has well-drawn characters that pull you into their story until you must know how it ends. Highly recommended.