The Devil’s Pawn (Faust 2)

Written by Oliver Pötzsch
Review by Franca Pelaccia

It’s 1518 in Europe, a time when kings are made, and the church wields spiritual as well as economic power. Johann Faust is a renowned magician, alchemist, astrologer, necromancer, and scholar who became the best and achieved fame because of a pact made with the devil, his former master, Tonio del Moravia. But all pacts made with the devil are paid with one’s soul, and Faust’s time to pay up may be approaching. Faust suffers from incurable seizures and paralysis but isn’t ready to pay his debt. Thus, he begins his journey for the cure by visiting powerful friends, including Leonardo da Vinci. However, his journey is thwarted by those who need him for their own gain: Pope Leo X, who needs him in Rome to use alchemy to turn the church’s drained coffers to gold; his faithful servant Karl and his daughter Greta, who have reservations and thwart him; and, more importantly, the devil, who appears in many shapes along with his various loyal subjects.

The Devil’s Pawn is, as the subtitle states, book two of the retelling of the Faust legend. It is dark and chilling and made me squeamish. Kudos to Oliver Pötzsch, who unflinchingly conveys the gruesome tale while delivering a work steeped in history and rich in description. I was given a colorful history lesson and had no problem envisioning the time and the conditions. The novel’s structure is also reminiscent of the epic journey of heroes, who go in search of redemption, are confronted by one conflict after another over a long period of time, and may or may not find their ultimate goal.