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Praise for John Connolly’s Samuel Johnson Series

“Laugh-out-loud funny . . . a cross between Eoin Colfer and Terry Pratchett.”

—Los Angeles Times

“Whimsical and wicked . . . Connolly’s tale screams to be shared.”

—Minneapolis StarTribune

“It is Madeleine L’Engle by way of Douglas Adams. The Gates is a fun book and an awfully funny one, as well.”

—Chicago Sun-Times

“Delightfully fresh and imaginative.”

—Houston Press

“A wholly original novel.”

—People

“Delightfully horrific and hilarious.”

—Eoin Colfer

“Connolly’s graceful prose, laced with acerbically witty footnotes, is a joy to read, and he easily alternates among slapstick comedy, powerful drama, and skin-crawling horror.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Brilliantly funny, often touching, with enough action to keep adventure fans on the edges of their chairs, this novel combines top-notch writing with cutting wit.”

—Kirkus Reviews

The Infernals is a wonderful morality tale delving into the nature of evil, quantum physics, dark matter, and the hubris of scientists who play God. . . . A rollicking tale makes it a delightful treat for young and old readers alike.”

—Portland Press Herald

For Cameron and Alistair

I

In Which a Birthday Party Takes Place, and We Learn That One Ought to Be Careful with Candles (and Dangling Prepositions)

IN A SMALL TERRACED house in the English town of Biddlecombe, a birthday party was under way.

Biddlecombe was a place in which, for most of its history, very little interest had ever happened. Unfortunately, as is often the case in a place in which things have been quiet for a little too long, when something interesting did happen it was very interesting indeed; more interesting, in fact, than anybody might have wished. The gates of Hell had opened in a basement in Biddlecombe, and the town had temporarily been invaded by demons.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Biddlecombe had never really been the same since. The rugby team no longer played on its old pitch, not since a number of its players had been eaten by burrowing sharks; the voice of the captain of the Biddlecombe Golf Club could still occasionally be heard crying out from somewhere at the bottom of the fifteenth hole; and it was rumored that a monster had taken up residence in the duck pond, although it was said to be very shy, and the ducks appeared to be rather fond of it.

But the creature in the pond was not the only entity from Hell that had now taken up permanent residence in Biddlecombe, which brings us back to the birthday party. It was not, it must be said, a typical birthday party. The birthday boy in question was named Wormwood. He looked like a large ferret that had suffered a severe attack of mange,1 and was wearing a pair of very fetching blue overalls upon which his name had been embroidered. These overalls replaced a previous pair upon which his name had also been embroidered, although he had managed to spell his own name wrong first time round. This time, all of the letters were present and correct, and in the right order, because Samuel Johnson’s mother had done the stitching herself, and if there was one thing Mrs. Johnson was a stickler for,2 ?it was good spelling. Thus it was that the overalls now read WORMWOOD and not WROMWOOD as they had previously done.

Wormwood was, not to put too fine a point on it, a demon. He hadn’t set out to be a demon. He’d just popped into existence as one, and therefore hadn’t been given a great deal of choice in the matter. He’d never been very good at being a demon. He was too nice for it, really. Sometimes folk just end up in the wrong job.3

A chorus of voices rang out around the kitchen table.

“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday dear Woooorrrrrmmmmmwoooood, Happy Birthday to you! For he’s a jolly good, um, fellow . . .”

Wormwood smiled the biggest, broadest smile of his life. He looked round the table at those whom he now thought of as his friends. There was Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell. There were Samuel’s schoolmates Maria Mayer and Tom Hobbes. There was Mrs. Johnson, who had started to come to terms with having demons sitting at her kitchen table on a regular basis. There were Shan and Gath, two fellow demons who were employed at the local Spiggit’s Brewery as beer tasters and developers, and who were responsible for a 50 percent increase in the brewery’s profits, as well as a 100 percent increase in the number of explosions due to the instability of the still-experimental Spiggit’s Brew Number 666, also known as “The Tankbuster,” which was rumored to be under consideration by the military as a field weapon.

And then there was Nurd, formerly “Nurd, the Scourge of Five Deities” and now sometimes known as the Nurdster, the Nurdmeister, and the Nurdman, although only to Nurd himself. Nobody else ever called Nurd anything but Nurd. Nurd had once been banished to the remotest, dullest region of Hell for being annoying, and Wormwood, as his servant, had been banished with him. Now that they had found their way to Biddlecombe, Wormwood preferred to think of himself as Nurd’s trusty assistant rather than his servant. Occasionally, Nurd liked to hit Wormwood over the head with something hard and memorable, just to remind Wormwood that he could think of himself as anything he liked just as long as he didn’t say it aloud.

But in the end Nurd, too, was one of Wormwood’s friends. They had been through so much together, and now they worked alongside each other at the Biddlecombe Car Testing Institute, where Nurd tested the safety of new cars, aided by the fact that he was immortal and hence able to walk away from the worst crashes with only the occasional bruise for his trouble.

Wormwood had never had a birthday party before. He didn’t even know there was such a thing as a birthday until he arrived on Earth. It seemed like a very good idea to him. You got cake, and gifts, and your friends sat around and sang about what a jolly good fellow you were. It was all quite, quite splendid.

The singing ended, and everyone sat waiting expectantly.

“What do I do now?” asked Wormwood.

“You blow out the candles on the cake,” said Samuel.

When they’d asked Wormwood how old he was, he’d thought that he might just be a few billion years

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