Jack Faust (1997)

Backcover Synopsis: At the turn of the sixteenth century, Magister Faust is made an offer he cannot refuse by a force he cannot resist, the demon Mephistopheles. Foolishly, Faust believes that once humanity has all the knowledge in the world it will use it only for good. He puts his new found knowledge of astronomy, physics and physiology to work in Nuremberg, where there are would-be industrialists only to eager to capitalize on the new-found wonders of mechanics and electricity. But Faust suffers as his successes multiply, for he is madly in love with Margarete, and his unthinking infatuation gradually corrodes the purity of his vision.

Mephistopheles wasn’t really a demon in this Faust retelling, but what he was and the motivations behind his action to help Faust wasn’t very convincing in my eyes, but for the sake of the story I could accept it. The writing was very solid, the characters at first interesting and compelling to read about. Sadly, Swanwick never rose above the source material, no new ideas or twists were introduced, and after the first half was over, I knew exactly where everything was going.

And while it was interesting at first to read about the characters, later some of what happens doesn’t feel natural anymore, it feels more like things and people are forced to behave in a way to make the story work, whether it feels right at the moment or not. In the second half I often had to force myself to read further, but in the end I didn’t get enough out of it to feel satisfied. If he had done something new with the source material, instead of closely following Faust’s fall, the book may have been better.