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Literature / The Devil's Engine

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The machine will give you anything, if you're willing to risk everything.

The Devil's Engine is a YA horror book trilogy by Alexander Gordon Smith. The series follows a secret war between two machines that will allow a person to make any deal imaginable with the devil, at the cost of having their soul taken six hundred and sixty six hours after making the contract.

The books alternate between two perspectives of Marlow, a teenage boy who was unwillingly thrown into the war, and Pan, a veteran soldier who ends up recruiting Marlow. They are fighting to try and prevent the connecting of the engines, to avoid unleashing the horrors of hell from destroying the world.

The books are:

  • Hellraisers
  • Hellfighters
  • Hellwalkers


The Devil's Engine contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Pan and Night.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Truck is implied to be this. When Marlow first enters the engine, Hanson yells after him "to make sure he doesn't think about Pan without clothes on" in order to trick Marlow into making a stupid extra contract. It works on Marlow, but Pan notes that Hanson tried to do the same thing with Truck, to no avail as Truck is "of a different persuasion".
  • Angsty Surviving Twin: Patrick Rebarre
  • Anti-Antichrist: After Marlow realizes that he's the devil's progeny and nearly winds up destroying his universe, Pan helps bring him back into his own head and validate him as a real person who can resist the call of the Stranger's heart.
  • Anyone Can Die: And how!
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Marlow and Pan in the hotel room.
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  • Badass Grandpa: Herc, though it's unclear how old he actually is.
  • Bad Black Barf: Claire, after Ostheim uses her body as a host
  • BFG: Herc's rocket launcher, otherwise known as his 'Big Girl'
  • Big Bad: Mammon.
  • The Big Guy: Truck, along more of the lines of the gentle giant category.
  • Broken Bird: Pan.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Every time a contract is broken, leaving the Engineer literally powerless.
  • The Brute: The wormbag formerly known as Brianna Rebarre. Later on, in hell, Patrick takes on this role while eating his sister, in part because of his own greed and to gain his massive size, and also to try and set her free from hell.
  • Canon Welding: This occurs when Meridiana reveals the existence of infinite, interconnected universes. When Marlow witnesses them while making a contract with her, he sees the villains from Alexander Gordon Smith's prior series. This is further expanded upon in Hellwalkers, where it’s revealed that The Strangers, the first of which was introduced in Escape From Furnace, split into seven and resided in seven separate universes.
  • Child Soldiers: A good portion of the Engineers are this, due to the fact that older age complicates the contract that the Engine makes.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Marlow just can't help himself, though this often jeopardises whatever mission he's been tasked to do.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Pan leaves one of her crossbow bolts near the engine and the black pool in Hellfighters. Later on, she uses this to beat the Stranger’s heart in Hellwalkers.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In Hellwalkers, Marlow makes a deal with the Devil to let him, Pan, and Night escape from hell and to have the barrier between both worlds be destroyed once they all make it to the other side. Marlow and Pan get through, but Night is killed before she can make it across, leaving the gates of hell completely unleashed to the real world. In the end, Night reformed and escapes from hell, helping Marlow and Pan finish off the Devil's heart. Night's escape thus fulfilling Marlow's end of the deal, and permanently closes the barrier between the two worlds.
  • Covered with Scars: One of Herc's defining physical traits is that his face is riddled with scars.
    • During her time in Hell, Night is similarly covered in scars that represent the killing blows her body sustained after she reforms.
  • Dark Action Girl: Jaime.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Pan, who spent most of her childhood in the foster care system, and in Hellraisers reveals how she almost went to prison for killing the man who sexually assaulted her.
  • Determinator: Pan, Marlow
  • Eaten Alive: While technically dead already, it appears to be a pretty consistent fate in hell. The most notable examples being Marlow almost being swallowed whole by a ghost, Patrick eating his sister Brianna, then Pan's head, then Night's head.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Loads and loads of these. The most obvious being Mammon, Meridiana and Ostheim. Then there are the Strangers who were once a singular entity, but in fear of being killed, they split into seven smaller entities scattered across multiple universes, each one making deals in order to reconnect back into their original form once more.
  • Enemy Summoner: Jaime, who uses a special knife that whenever makes contact with an inanimate object, it summons a demon to inhabit said object.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: At the ending of Hellraisers, when Herc calls Pan and reveals that Mammon has infiltrated the Pigeon's Nest and has slaughtered all of the Lawyers inside.
  • Everyone Looks Sexier If French: Played straight when introducing Taupe, an informant for The Fist and described as an extremely handsome frenchman. His flirty banter catches Pan's interest, which inevitably infuriates Marlow.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: First shown when Marlow tries to visit home. His dog, Donovan, is extremely aggressive towards Marlow as though Marlow were a stranger. Pan explains to Marlow that dogs, animals, even close friends and family can sense the evil of the Engine when an Engineer is under contract.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Getting dragged into hell, as well as the infinite torture and loss of identity that hell entails.
  • Half-Identical Twins: Brianna and Patrick look strikingly similar to each other.
  • Hell: Hell in this universe looks like the barren remains of a decimated world filled with ghosts, ghouls, demons, and the warped forms of old engineers gone mad. There are mountains of human remains and glass tubes of black liquid that souls essentially respawn on when they are murdered, and it is constantly snowing ash.
  • Hero with an F in Good: Marlow. When trying to save Charlie's life by bringing him into their engine, Charlie opens the door to Mammon who slaughters everybody inside the Pigeon's Nest and connect the two engines.
    • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Marlow goes out of his way again to save rival engineer Claire from all the fighting, only to find out later that she was forced to host a piece of Ostheim's form that ultimately destroy's Meridiana's safe haven.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Truck's huge guy to Night's tiny girl.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Pan gets impaled multiple times within the events of the books.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Jaime has caused a number of griefs upon the Hellraisers, but silences Pan's accusations by saying that Pan was the one to actually bring Ostheim to the engine despite being told multiple times not to trust him.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Marlow finds out that his existence was born from a deal his mother made with Ostheim as a way to cope with the death of her son Danny. Marlow is actually the son of the Devil and his purpose was to open the gates of hell and return its heart back to it.
  • Mirror Monster: Meridiana
  • Narnia Time: While time in hell runs in principle more along the lines of Year Inside, Hour Outside, there appears to be no fixed rate to how it calculates that. Within a few minutes in the real world, Pan and Marlow spend four days in Hell. And while Night had only died and gone to hell a day ago in real time, she explains that she lost count of how long she's stayed in Hell after five hundred days. Along with this, Night explains that time seems to pass in a slower rate the longer you stay in Hell.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Given that the characters choose their own powers based off of their contracts, the powers they choose tend to be more catered to prepare fighting against their opponents. For example, the first contract we see Pan invoke is invulnerability which she uses to its full effect when being attacked by demons. The next is her lightning which first comes into play when going against the Wormbag. And in Hellfighters she and Marlow both gain the ability to time travel in order to slip under Ostheim's radar.
  • No Swastikas: Averted. The Pigeon's Nest used to be a Nazi military base, and had swastikas tagged onto the wall. The Hellraisers have tried to cover them up since then.
  • Official Couple: Pan and Marlow.
  • Our Demons Are Different: In The Devil's Engine, demons are the collector of souls and come when summoned by a broken contract. It is their only goal to collect when they are summoned to the material plane. However, they cannot possess any living creature (including plants) so instead they possess and take the properties of any inanimate object around. Except as revealed in Hellfighters, in hell they actually do take the form of actual beasts and creatures now free to roam as they please.
  • Reformed Criminal: Most of the Engineers that are recruited are often this, with nowhere else to go and nothing to lose, making them perfect candidates for a secret war.
  • The Reveal:
    • Ostheim, in Hellfighters who was actually planning ahead and manipulating everyone into combining and handing the engine over to him.
    • In Hellwalkers, Marlow learns that he's the Stranger's progeny.
    • In the same novel, Pan learns that she didn't kill Christoph, eradicating her justification for having joined the Engineers in the first place.
  • Run or Die: Mammon's first appearance, and for good reason.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Forrest.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Night.
  • Seers: Meridiana who can see into the multiple universe and beyond perceived human limitations of space and time.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Herc tries to suicide bomb the devil in the military helicopter, but ultimately his plan doesn't leave a scratch on the devil itself.
  • Significant Anagram: Sheppel Ostheim as an anagram of his true name Mephistopheles in Hellwalkers.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror: The Devil's Engine namely falls closer to the horror dominant category, but true to Smith's writing style be sure to expect plenty of deadpan snarking, dick jokes, and amusing antics between the cast.
  • Street Urchin: Claire, and implied for Night, who has a notorious history of pick-pocketing.
  • Tear Off Your Face: The magpie does this several times in the train fight.
  • Teeny Weenie: While Charlie is standing around in the nude, Pan comments on this.
    Charlie: I was wearing clothes, they must have burned off.
    Marlow: Any excuse. You got no shame?
    Charlie: Hey, it's what God gave me.
    Pan: He didn't give you much.
  • Theme Naming: The Engineers chose their nicknames largely based on their powers or the more dynamic aspects of each others personality.
  • Trojan Prisoner: Charlie Alvarez, who slaughters the occupants of the Pigeon's Nest once Marlow supposedly rescues him from Patrick Rebarre and the rest of the Fist.
  • Two Girls to a Team: Mostly present in Hellraisers.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: While it was Marlow's own fault for being sent to the office, Mr. Caputo and the hall monitor Yogi could've at least helped Marlow through his asthma attack and sat down to talk through his expulsion, rather than let Marlow run out and into the path of the Hellraisers.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Everyone on the side of The Fist.
    • Marlow even more so when it's revealed that his existence of his being was part of a plan to open the gates of hell and reunite the Devil with its heart. Tough break.
  • Weapon of Choice:
    • Pan's crossbow.
    • Herc's guns.
    • Night's staff.

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