The best fantasy novels that feature the devil

Donnally Miller Author Of The Devil's Workshop
By Donnally Miller

The Books I Picked & Why

The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Christopher Conn Askew, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky

Book cover of The Master and Margarita

Why this book?

This was a complete mind-bender when I read it as a teenager, and it had lost none of its punch when I returned to it as an adult. It is writing like this that inspired me to become a writer. In this erudite and playful novel the devil, wearing an expensive gray suit and carrying a walking stick under one arm has come to visit Stalinist Moscow.

While telling of his dispute with Kant over the existence of God, he also casts light on exactly what took place between Pontius Pilate and a condemned man named Yeshua in ancient Jerusalem. Accompanied by a beautiful witch and a huge black cat who cheats at chess, his bizarre adventures are well worth reading.

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The Devil's Elixir

By E. T. A. Hoffmann

Book cover of The Devil's Elixir

Why this book?

Once I started reading this I was unable to put it down. If you’re unfamiliar with the tales of Hoffmann you owe it to yourself to become acquainted. If you are intrigued by the sort of tale in which a young man meets a traveler in an inn who has seen the devil and he follows him into a dark and lonely wood, then this is the book for you.

The plot is an elaborately tangled labyrinth. The monk Medardus was brought up in a monastery to atone for his father’s wicked ways, but he knows only fragments of his family’s history. Forced to flee the monastery he sets out on a fantastical quest in which he encounters his lunatic doppelganger, becomes entangled in Vatican intrigues, commits a murder, is condemned to death, and much, much more. This is an early work of the German Romantic movement and had an influence on many who came later, such as Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and Poe.

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The Devil is Dead

By R. A. Lafferty

Book cover of The Devil is Dead

Why this book?

Anything by Lafferty is well worth reading. This was intended as the second book of a trilogy, but got published on its own. This tells primarily of Finnegan, an astonishing hero who is searching for the devil. If you haven’t made the acquaintance of R.A. Lafferty, this would be a good place to start. Imagine a cartoon world modeled on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Lafferty writes in a tall tale mode that disguises much of his literary ambition. It’s hard to describe Lafferty’s writing. It might be described as Calvino with no pretension. Or maybe, just read a sample:

A night-dune imaginary: there was a world full of people with pumpkin-heads for heads, and candles burning inside. Then Seaworthy and the Devil and their spooky crew came along, lifted the top off each head, blew out the candles inside and put the tops back. The pumpkin-headed people seemed to get along about as well as before; yet there was a difference.

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Good Omens

By Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman

Book cover of Good Omens

Why this book?

Armageddon is coming soon. Like next Saturday, right after dinner. It was foretold by Agnes Nutter back in 1655 and all her predictions have been exactly right (even the one about Betamax). If you’re familiar with Terry Pratchett’s sense of humor, you’ll know that the Lords of Creation are going to make a mess of Armageddon and not get it right.  

It’s an easy read and a good romp with lots of angels and devils along the way and in the end, somehow, Armageddon is averted.

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The Devil in a Forest

By Gene Wolfe

Book cover of The Devil in a Forest

Why this book?

I remember picking this up, not expecting much since it was marketed as a novel for adolescents, but what I found was a gripping story, very dark, about a time when there was a struggle between paganism and Christianity. It was a lot more than I’d expected, and so, like all the books on my list, it’s one I’ve returned to, to reread. It’s set in a simple village, and there’s a dark presence in the woods that surround the village, that might be a devil. The lead character is a young man trying to define the boundaries between good and evil. The writing is excellent, as is everything by Gene Wolfe, and the story is one that will stay with you. 

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