November 23, 2010

Once Dead, Twice Shy & Early to Death, Early to Rise: Review

Madison Avery is dead. Well, sort of. She's been scythed by a dark reaper, which should have been enough to do the job properly and finish things off...except she managed to grab his amulet in time. Turns out that gives her the semblance of a body, while her real body is lying between now and the next.

Before Madison knows it she is swept up in a fierce debate between the dark reapers, representatives of fate, and the light reapers, representatives of human choice. Really, she just wants her body back, but the reapers seem to have other ideas...

Once Dead, Twice Shy and Early to Death, Early to Rise by Kim Harrison

I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this series; in fact, the only reason I picked these up was because the 2nd book was on sale at my library for $1. I couldn't really turn down the deal of a hardcover for that price, so I figured I'd give it a shot, and took the 1st book out from the library while I was at it.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself quite enjoying these books! Madison is a lively protagonist who doesn't mope around too much, despite the fact that she's dead. The book starts several months after her death, so she's had some time to absorb it all and acclimatize to the situation. For the reader, it is somewhat confusing at the beginning to get a picture of the paranormal/magic system but it does become clearer as you read.

I did take issue with a few things. The characterization isn't phenomenal; in particular I found Josh's character to be quite flat. He didn't seem to bring any personality except for being a "nice guy." Madison, at least, has the hobby of photography to flesh her out a bit more. I think my favorite character would have to be limerick-spouting Grace, Madison's guardian angel (even though most of the limericks were pretty bad!) Some of the dialogue is cheesy and/or a bit dated, and Madison's substitutions for swear words ("son of a puppy," for instance) just made me groan mentally.

Also, even though we have a better idea of the magic system at the end than at the beginning, I still had several questions. What exactly is the role of the seraphs (and what do they look like? We never get a description.) How do Madison's powers with the amulet work exactly? What are the limits of guardian angel ability? What about reapers? Just generally, the descriptions of the magic itself are vague. I felt like I couldn't quite pin down the restrictions on the characters' powers, and how their abilities differed. It seemed a little too easy that most of them were so magically talented.

In fact, Madison's trial-and-error attempts with the amulet are usually at least somewhat successful - conveniently lucky for her! I distinctly recall being skeptical at one point, when she is in a terrible amount of pain and anguish, but somehow manages to summon the strength to pull out a few martial arts tricks... Also, Madison intuited an awful lot of information very easily about the magic system. Spoiler, highlight to read: she instinctively understands that the black wings are "eating her memory" — but how does she know this? In fact, we never seem to see her missing any memories at all. And then she later realizes that Nakita has developed a sense of fear from "falling through" Madison. Her descriptions of what Nakita is suffering seem to come out of the blue, and portray Madison as far more knowledgeable and experienced than she really should be.

That said, the world of reapers, seraphs, and guardian angels is rather creative, and the journey we accompany Madison on, as she discovers more about herself and her powers, is entertaining. The writing style is immensely readable, and it is fairly well-paced (though in the second book, I thought there was far too much time spent on arguments between light and dark reapers instead of focusing on the boy Madison wants to save, which was really the main story arc). The romance quotient is very low in both books, but there are hints, and the story carries along well without needing it - unusual for a YA! The plots aren't remarkable or particularly memorable, and while it might make you contemplate philosophy for a moment, it won't stick with you for days afterward.

So if you're looking for a deep read, look somewhere else. This series doesn't pretend to be a monumental philosophical statement about fate vs. free's just a fun paranormal/fantasy read. But I am looking forward to the third one (spoiler: will we finally get some romance? I am rooting for Barnabas!).

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars.


  1. I haven't read the second one in this series but I did quite enjoy the first. I agree that the characterization isn't amazing but I loved Madison and was rooting for her to figure out her situation. Thanks for the review!

  2. Sounds interesting. I like a little romance in my books but not a lot, so this sounds about right for me. Is this the same Kim Harrison who wrote the Hollows books? I really liked those.


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