About the Book

Title: Hellraisers (The Devil’s Engine #1)
Published: 2015

Cover Story: Mistaken Identity
BFF Charm: Big Sister
Swoonworthy Scale: -2
Talky Talk: Immersive
Bonus Factors: Noir, Deal with the Devil, X-Men
Relationship Status: Successful First Date

Cover Story: Mistaken Identity

This cover actually makes a lot more sense in context (the pool of water is part of the wish-granting process). But out of it, it just looks like some jacked kid stealing LeBron James’ style in the middle of the Step Up 2: The Streets rain scene. And its title conjures up memories of the face that haunted the Blockbuster aisles of my youth. 

The Deal:

Marlow Green is in trouble again. Not just at school—though also at school—but he finds himself caught in the crossfire of a demonic war with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, NO BIG DEAL. (If Marlow’s chronic asthma doesn’t leave him breathless, that certainly will.)

At the heart of this ruthless battle is the Devil’s Engine, a machine that can make any wish come true—including heightened abilities for a group known as the Hellraisers that are trying to stop, y’know, the apocalypse. But if Marlow’s going to join the fight against evil, he’ll have to risk everything, starting with his soul. 

BFF Charm: Big Sister

BFF Charm Big Sister with Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It All's face

Marlow might be a troublemaker, but he’s also been through a lot in his 15 years, with his brother’s death and his mother’s subsequent alcoholism. With few people who believe in him, he’s one of those kids that you worry will slip through the cracks, so you can bet I was cheering for him to find the strength to face his problems. But Marlow, DUDE—we need to have a serious convo re: how uncool you can be when it comes to girls. (More on that later.)

I’d also like to hand out a bonus BFF charm to Pan, a seasoned, no-nonsense, butt-kicking Hellraiser. Prickly and irritable, girlfriend does not suffer fools gladly.

Swoonworthy Scale: -2

Marlow instantly crushes on badass babe Pan, but the feeling is so not mutual, which Marlow generally takes pretty well—aside from entertaining the occasional creepy thought of sneak attacking Pan with a kiss. WTF MARLOW. There’s also an incident that isn’t completely within Marlow’s control, but is nevertheless yuck. (Nothing, like, utterly traumatizing, but still.)

I know a lot can change until the series ends, and I’m doubtful this relationship will stay platonic forever, but omg I really wish it would. Sometimes people aren’t destined to date, and that’s OK!

Talky Talk: Immersive

With his vivid imagery, Smith transports the reader into a gory and atmospheric world, and the action is just as descriptive. Smith also provides a satisfying reason for why teenagers are best suited to save the day in this story, which is a level of detail I always appreciate.

However, there was a throwaway line that felt particularly uncomfortable. After a battle, the Hellraisers casually mention covering up the aftermath by blaming it on a Middle Eastern terrorist cell. It’s a very minor quote that jumped out at me considering the current political climate, but UGHHHH CAN WE NOT. (Or maybe it was supposed to be an intentionally douchey move. Really hoping that was the case.)

Bonus Factor: Noir

Man in trenchcoat and hat

Maybe I’m just watching a lot of Jessica Jones and Daredevil lately, but I totally get a bit of that noir vibe here—like with down-on-his-luck Marlow turning to the bottom of a bottle to drown his initial sorrows. (And not succeeding in obtaining booze. The kid is 15, after all.)

Bonus Factor: Deal with the Devil

OK, so there isn’t an actual devil (that we know of…?), but the idea of the Engine is the same: pick any wish in the world, in return for signing over your soul. But choose carefully, because the Engine has a mind of its own, and it’ll DEFINITELY try to screw you over. Thankfully, the Hellraisers have a team affectionately known as Lawyers dedicated to finding ways to cancel contracts before any souls are collected. 

Bonus Factor: X-Men

Upon joining the Hellraisers, its members are reborn (sort of literally) under new names. Between that and the superpower-like abilities that the Engine can bestow, I couldn’t help being reminded of the X-Men. 

Relationship Status: Successful First Date

Book, your world is impressive—and gruesome. I don’t think we’ll be soulmates (har), but I’m def. intrigued enough to go on a second date. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. Hellraisers is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.