There was a time when all I read was classic literature and paranormal/urban fantasy (odd bedfellows, to be sure). I’ve since dropped every last one of the fantasy series I followed (haven’t even read the last two Sookie Stackhouse books), except Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series staring Rachel Morgan. When Harrison announced that she was writing a YA series, I obviously gave a little shout of joy and raced out to buy the first book. It only took me about 2 years to read it (FAIL).
Madison Avery is killed the night of her junior prom by a Dark Reaper. She steals the Dark Reaper’s amulet which keeps her body corporeal as long as she wears it, so no one knows she’s dead. A Light Reaper is assigned to protect her and teach her. The Dark Reapers are after her and she slowly begins to realize there’s more to her story than meets the eye. Her protectors are quickly beginning to look like her enemies and she’s left on her own (albeit, with the help of her human boy crush and singing (yes, singing) guardian angel) to figure out the truth about her post-death existence. Sound confusing? It is. Plus, there’s a whole commentary on fate (Dark Reapers) versus free will (Light Reapers). Oh, and did I mention that the Reapers are Angels?
What left me most wanting in regards to Madison’s story was the utter sense of befuddlement I felt at trying to figure out what was actually going on. The above synopsis partially came from reading the book and partially from googling the bits I couldn’t figure out – never a good start. The novel seems to jump right into Madison’s story with very little back plotting and scene setting. My googling soon led me to discover that Madison’s death had already been covered in a previously written short story. If only the short story had been included in the novel – would have saved me a ton of hassle!
What I’ve come to love most about Kim Harrison’s adult fiction is her world building capabilities, especially in regards to creating a very down-to-earth atmosphere and characters filled with humanity in a world with very little humans. Once Dead, Twice Shy is devoid of this quality – I’d be hardpressed to even begin to describe the town, state, or country this novel takes place in or anything about Madison’s character besides the fact that she has purple and blonde hair. Apparently, her own personality is summed up in purple dye. Where is the strongly written, fully fleshed out female heroine I know Harrison is capable of writing? I can barely believe Kim Harrison wrote this. I want to make a thousand excuses for her – editing pressures, rushed deadlines, misleading advice?
I also wouldn’t describe Once Dead, Twice Shy as Young Adult fiction. At best, this is middle grade stuff. I read this 200+ page book in a couple of hours. Honestly, if I had a teenager, I’d direct them to her adult stories instead. The only character I found interesting was Dark Reaper, Nakita, who was a decent depiction of how we aren’t always what we seem and everyone is filled with both light and darkness. I missed Rachel and Jinx so much. I hate when characters end up as caricatures, and not even particularly good caricatures at that.
I won’t continue on with the trilogy. I spoiled myself on the rest of the story and other readers have assured me I’m not missing much. I hope Kim gives YA another try with better success. In the meantime, I’m anxiously awaiting the next book in The Hollows series, A Perfect Blood, and Harrison’s visit to Atlanta the day after my birthday next month.