Book Review

We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

I love We Sold Our Souls so much that returning it to the library is going to cause me physical pain. Many a shitty day has come and gone, but I have persisted fueled largely by the words, “She didn’t worry, she didn’t smile, she didn’t feel out of place. A girl with a guitar never has to apologize for anything.” Hell yeah.

Our story begins with Kris Polaski, who was once the lead guitarist of a heavy metal band (Dürt Würk) and who now works the night shift at a Best Western where one of the regulars likes to pee on the lobby floor at three AM. Her band was poised for stardom when their lead singer, Terry, split off to form his own group (Koffin). Seeing a billboard of Koffin’s upcoming concert leads Kris to reconnect with an old band mate, Scottie. Alas, all is not well with Scottie, who is living in his basement and using a cell phone wrapped in tin foil. Soon Kris is desperately trying to find the remaining former band members while avoiding murderous assassins. Things escalate quickly and surprisingly and just keep going, while Kris attempts to solve mysteries like:

  1. What happened to Dürt Würk’s lost album, Troglodyte, which told a story of the Blind King, who sees all from Black Iron Mountain in a hole in the center of the world?
  2. Why are people dressed as UPS drivers trying to kill Kris?
  3. Did someone’s souls get sold? If so, whose, and to whom, and for how much?

Meanwhile, across the country, Melanie is waiting tables and waiting for her life to kick into gear when she also sees a billboard featuring Koffin. Melanie, who is a fan, decides that moving to Las Vegas and seeing the concert will let her make a new life. Thus sparks her road trip, which intersects with Kris’.

Some of the character interactions in the book are based on long experience, or greed, or ambition, or resentment, or love. Some, such as the one between Melanie and Kris, are based on simple truths:

“We have to watch out for each other on the road,” Melanie said. “The guys aren’t going to do it, right?”

“Right,” Kris said.

They have nothing in common except for a very funny and awesome shared taste in music (you’ll never guess) but they each need someone to watch their back. This makes them allies even as they doubt each other. Kris is in middle-age, afraid that her life trajectory is essentially over, while Melanie is a young woman afraid that her life will never start. Friendships between women and men are celebrated in this book, but Kris and Melanie are also constantly alert to danger both in general and from men in particular:

Kris had been alive long enough to know it was dangerous when men accused you of being better than them.

Oh, honey. Word.

This is supernatural horror, not romance. It involves the supernatural, but is grounded in the most mundane realities, like the process of developing calluses and the way the top of a guitar digs into your midsection when you bend over it. This is a story that never forgets that people eat and drink and pee and that cars run on gas, which costs money. Frankly, of all the gibbering horrors that await the reader, I considered the most terrifying to lie in the opening chapter, which confronts us with the fact that that our heroine is forty-seven with aching knees and no prospects for the future beyond cleaning up pee.

The tonal shifts and the character-based surprises are just fabulous. One sequence goes seamlessly from funny to despairing to “Yeah team” to macabre, terrifying body horror and tragedy in a sequence of seamless pages. Here’s Kris’ ally, JD:

“Kris,” he said. “Let us go into a battle from which we may never return. But I have sworn Odin’s Oath to keep you safe, and I believe in our victory. For our hearts are pure, Troglodyte is with us, and I just gave the van its annual emissions inspection.”

With that, he dropped the minivan into drive.

“Until Valhalla!” he shouted.

This book scared me, but mostly it made me replace the missing string on my guitar, and want to write another song. It made me feel like I need not smile, nor worry, nor feel out of place in the world, nor apologize, with or without my guitar. It made me feel angry, compassionate, and hopeful. It’s a fantastic celebration of music, it has great characters, it’s funny and sad and awful and terrifying and hurrah and feminist, and it is all about how our passions can save our souls. The only reason this is an A- and not a SQUEE grade is that the story didn’t actually need the scary monsters and when they showed up I felt less afraid instead of more afraid. Real life in this book is both fear and catharsis enough.

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We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

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  1. terrierhead says:

    I have this book checked out from the library right now. It’s next on my list to read. Can’t wait!

  2. Judy says:

    I loved this book and I’m pleased as punch that ya’ll reviewed it. And that one musician reference you mentioned? Absolutely Golden. If Grady Hendrix is doing a signing near you, ya’ll need to go. I’ve attended two of his signings and was delighted to discover that he does PowerPoint presentations instead of readings snippets from the book. I got to learn about the inspirations for the story as well as a little bit more about the events in heavy metal history that I may have never know or had forgotten. His other books are just as amazing!

  3. Ashley M. says:

    Reading this review reminded me a bit of how I felt and what I thought when I read Edgar Cantero’s book Meddling Kids. Seems like they’ve got a bit in common, and since I enjoyed Meddling Kids and all the things you mentioned in the review, I definitely think I’ll be picking up this book!

  4. DonnaMarie says:

    Happy to say that this time the SBs are not copying me, because I’m pretty excited to put this on the tbr pile. I was totally heh, until we got to that last quote. I need that character in my life. I had a friend in high school who actually would have said something like that. I adore him.

  5. moonviolet says:

    Dürt Würk’s album Troglodyte: 10/10. I laughed so hard I spilled my coffee – I think I will read this book just for that one perfect moment in time when the words “Dürt Würk” hit my brain 🙂

  6. Lisa F says:

    Oh man, this reads like total catnip to me. Must find a copy of it soon!

  7. Doug says:

    It took a second for the synapses to fire and remind me of where I know Grady Hendrix from–he wrote the amazing Horrorstor.

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