What do secret societies, world mythologies, steampunk vampires and time travel have in common? The Devil Pulls the Strings by J.W. Zarek weaves these strands and more into a complex multi-genre romp that combines urban fantasy, science fiction and paranormal adventure, with a big dash of Renaissance faires and the haunting violin music of Niccolò Paganini.

Boone Daniels is working as a musician and jouster at a Ren Faire in Missouri when he accidentally impales his best friend, another musician, during a faux joust. In penance, he agrees to travel to New York City and take his friend’s place in his band, the Village Idiots, at a major musical event at Central Park. 

From the second Boone gets off the bus in New York, nothing goes as planned. The man he’s supposed to meet up with, Professor Stone, is killed in front of his eyes just before their appointment. He barely escapes the professor’s killers, taking with him another potential target, virtuoso violinist Sapphire Anjou, who also happens to be the professor’s assistant.

With Sapphire’s help, Boone discovers there are two competing secret metaphysical societies in New York: one that’s trying to summon the devil, seed chaos and end the world, and another that’s trying to stop the worst from happening. And it all hinges on the concert where both he and Sapphire will be performing. 


Sapphire is slated to play a missing Paganini composition but it’s not going to be easy, as she must find it first. Uncovering it requires three other pieces of music, ink made from an impossible rose, and a once-in-100-years full moon — and it comes with a dangerous spell of summoning that all sorts of baddies are hoping to use for their own destructive devices. Crows and odd vagrants who aren’t who they seem follow Boone and Sapphire throughout the city as they try to find the missing music and save the world, with the help of a very odd taxi company that demands payment in song. 

Haunted since childhood by a wendigo and the death of his parents, subject to panic attacks and plagued by extraordinary but uncontrollable abilities, Boone was already a bit of a mess before he fell into this one, but he takes things in stride with a good dose of humor. Along the way, he slips through time, meeting historical figures and deities and confronting his own demons and his traumatic past.

There are so many complex elements to this story that I can only scratch the surface here, but in the end, it all comes together, skillfully woven into something extremely entertaining. It’s a fun piece of world-building that blends history and folklore (Baba Yaga, wendigos, domovoi) with entirely original elements (the clandestine Lavender and Roses Society and its nemesis, the Dragons and Nymphs Society), and sets the stage for the next book in the Archivist series. If it’s anything like this one, prepare yourself for a wild ride.

Buy this book!

Joseph helps catch naughty folks for the Government. He’s successfully run in the Walt Disney World Marathon as a woman. He’s climbed to the top of Mount Fuji and been kicked off Mount Rainier. He’s sailed through the Suez Canal and taught English Conversation in Japan, and can analyze anyone’s handwriting.

He’s also on a mission to save the world through cheesecake, one-slice-at-a-time. When he worked at the FBI, his thesis Red Flag Behaviors Found in Relationships, earned him an invitation to present a paper at the First Annual Forensics Congress in China.  Which led him to write his award-winning book Naughty or Nice – Whose List Are You On? Available as a handout during lectures. His other bestselling book, The Happiness Code, he co-authored with Ray Brehm and other authors who share and show you their own happiness hacks they use, you can use too.