I’ve been a huge fan of Douglas Wynne’s work ever since I discovered Red Equinox back in 2015. His ability to marry Lovecraft’s mythos with modern action and fantastic character work was exactly what I’d been looking for as a reader.
A few years later, I was lucky enough to be online when the author asked for volunteers to beta read a short story. Wynne liked my notes enough that he’s continued to ask me to give his Lovecraftian tales a once over before sending them off to be published.
After he finished the first draft of His Own Devices in 2019, however, I didn’t get a call. When I
whined like a petulant child asked why, he explained that he liked to keep his usual beta readers in a rotation so they weren’t constantly being asked to read his unpublished works. Thankfully, Wynne still offered to let me take a look at the manuscript and give him my general thoughts about it.
By the time I turned the last page, I’d finished one of my all-time favorite novels.
Almost two years later, His Own Devices has been tweaked and refined into an even better story that’s finally hitting store shelves (and your Kindle devices) this week.
Before diving into why I love this book so much, a few disclosures:
If it isn’t obvious yet, Douglas is not only one of my favorite writers, but a friend as well. That’s never stopped me from telling him when I don’t like something he writes, though.
Also, before Wynne set the publishing date for His Own Devices, I begged/borderline threatened him to let me take a pass at the manuscript first. He liked my notes enough to give me an editor credit, which nearly required a change of pants on my part.
That being said, I’ve been head over heels for this story since the first draft…and I’d bet a few million Minecoins you’ll be, too.
His Own Devices takes place in 2016, a hellish year that in many ways feels like a pleasant fantasy compared to the last twelve months.
Jessica Ritter is navigating how to parent her 10-year old son while her husband is deployed in Afghanistan. Like most children his age, Gavin is obsessed with video games, particularly the popular sandbox game Minecraft. Thankfully, he’s also a sweet kid who (mostly) abides by the screen time restrictions his parents have put in place.
Things on that front get exponentially more difficult when one of Gavin’s favorite YouTubers named Rainbow Dave releases a new game. Unbeknownst to her, a shadowy organization has provided Dave with knowledge about our world that’s equal parts incredible and unholy.
Now Jessica’s son is at the center of a plot even more dangerous than the threats her husband is facing overseas.
If you don’t know anything about Minecraft (or video games in general), don’t worry. Wynne does an excellent job ensuring you’ll understand everything you need to without turning the story into a gameplay/exposition dump.
The mechanics of Minecraft definitely play a part in things, but they quickly and seamlessly take a backseat to the narrative along with the characters who inhabit it. The characters are also what makes the story so engrossing.
Each point of view we see is wholly unique and feels completely genuine. Gavin is given the self awareness and intelligence many stories deny their young characters while still retaining a child’s unique point of view and naiveté. Jessica is a tough-as-nails military wife who also struggles with multiple bouts of fear and hopelessness. Every relatable moment of weakness is met with a resolve that’s impossible not to admire.
And then you have Rainbow Dave, whose descent into darkness is almost enough to make you feel sorry for him even when it’s costing people their lives. Despite being the tale’s most visible antagonist, his story is arguably the most compelling.
On the narrative side of things, His Own Devices avoids the dense/slow openings that plague many of Wynne’s other works, instead gripping us with an opening chapter that is every parent’s worst nightmare.
From there, the story provides a brief respite before steadily ratcheting the tension toward an explosive conclusion. Along the way, the characters are put through a gauntlet of circumstances that threaten to stop or break your heart at any moment.
Despite having a host of horrific elements, His Own Devices also manages to balance things out with some much needed moments of levity, but never enough to throw off the book’s tone. Instead it makes us love the eclectic cast of characters even more…and makes it that more impactful as Wynne puts them through the ringer.
After the story reaches its mind-bending climax, Wynne provides us with a much needed coda to help process our thoughts, feelings, and theories about the insanity that just took place. Just when you’re ready to begin dissecting things, however, the haunting final pages ensure you won’t forget how severely the characters were affected by what transpired.
What Doesn’t Work
The only thing that ever bugged me about His Own Devices is linked to what’s also one of its strongest aspects.
Rainbow Dave is a superbly crafted tragic villain, but the beginning of his spiral into madness does feel a bit compressed. Thankfully, his story ends up being so well developed/explored that you barely notice.
Also, Wynne recently released a prequel novella entitled Random Access that’s centered around Rainbow Dave’s time before the events in His Own Devices. It’s fantastic, but I still strongly recommend reading this book first.
Years ago, I heard a bunch of my students discussing how much fun Minecraft was and decided to give it a shot. I quickly learned that my brain’s pathetic left hemisphere didn’t possess the engineering skills necessary to get much out of it.
If you told me back then that the same game would one day be a major plot element in one of the most thrilling and emotionally impactful novels I’d ever read, I would’ve simply laughed and gone back to getting my ass kicked at Call of Duty.
Now, though, I’m all types of excited for everyone to read this book I’ve been raving about for almost two years that didn’t technically exist.
His Own Devices isn’t just a techno thriller or a clever merging of horror and modern technology. It’s a story whose themes and characters grab you from the first page and absolutely refuse to let go. If you’re not able to read the book in one 24-hour sitting, then you’ll be thinking about it during the day and dreaming about it at night.
Thankfully, the only side effect will be an unshakable desire to explore the book’s characters and their world again…
…and maybe a healthy fear of gazing at your personal devices’ screens for too long.
‘His Own Devices’ is available now in paperback or for Kindle.
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