Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: Once Dead Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Found via: Meg in the comments of my review of Devil's Kiss

Because I know my mom reads my blog from time to time, let me preface what I'm about to say with a reminder that I really do in fact love her and think she's all around awesome.

But sometimes I seriously question her taste in books.

Seriously, she'll be all "oh, I read this great paranormal romance! Vampires! Werewolves! Awesome!" And I roll my eyes and say that, no, an awesome book is something like The Hunger Games and she stares at me, aghast that I could find children killing each other to be entertaining, and then I wonder if maybe I was actually adopted from a family of dystopian-fiction lovers, and that family has some mysterious paranormal-romance-loving child in my place.

So when, in the comments to my review of Devil's Kiss, Meg mentioned that my "angels are dicks" refrain reminded her of Kim Harrison's Once Dead Twice Shy...I was hesitant to pick it up. Because the author's name was familiar and once I Googled I saw that this is one of the authors my mom loves.

But then I read more about this actual book and saw that the protagonist, Madison, has purple hair, and we've already discussed my fondness for multi-colored hair. So I had to pick this one up, Mom's taste be damned.

Madison Avery's story actually began in the short story collection Prom Nights from Hell, but it seems like most of the back story is filled in here for new readers (I haven't read the original story, but I'm pretty sure I followed everything). On prom night, in order to get out of a date with Josh, who only asked Madison out as a favor to her dad, Madison runs off with Kairos, a tall dark and handsome stranger. However it turns out that the old adage of you shouldn't talk to strangers is true, because Kairos is actually a type of reaper, as in grim reaper, who was determined to kill Madison.

But Madison is a tricksy girl and manages to steal Kairos' amulet, which grants him his powers, and by claiming the amulet she's able to retain a tenuous hold on her life. Tenuous because she actually is dead - the amulet she now possesses is the only thing giving her the illusion of a body.

Madison is assigned to work with Barnabas, a light reaper, while it's decided what should be done with her. No human has ever taken an amulet before - touching it should have shattered her soul on contact. In the meantime, she hangs out with Barnabas and tries to help him in his work. As a light reaper, his job is to counteract the chaos the dark reapers, like Kairos, try to encourage. Light reapers believe humans have free choice, while dark reapers believe in fate and will preemptively reap a soul if they believe that person is going to do something terrible in the future.

Madison's a bit of a trouble maker, but she certainly doesn't have any evil plans for the future, so she has no idea why a dark reaper might target her.

It's been a few months since prom, and Madison hasn't made any progress on learning the reaper-tips that would help protect her should Kairos come looking for her - and it's certainly only a matter of time before he does. Also back in her life is Josh, who isn't so terrible despite being in cahoots with her dad for a date. But being involved with a dead girl isn't the safest position, so Madison finds herself using all of her wits and burgeoning supernatural abilities, plus a feisty guardian angel sidekick, to keep herself and Josh safe until someone "upstairs" is finally willing to explain to her what this new existence means.

Unlike Meg, I didn't come away from this with a huge "angels are dicks" feeling - there actually are some different personalities here and while some are dickish, others are just as confused as poor Madison.

Madison herself I'm kind of torn on. Overall I like her as a character, but I think Harrison was trying too hard to be witty with her teenspeak, because she'll say things like "son of a dead puppy" or "puppy presents" instead of actually cursing (I swear all of her phrases didn't involve canines, but those are the two that stuck in my mind). It's just a little too cutesy for my taste.

On the other hand, kudos for this clearly not being a paranormal romance title. The burgeoning romance with Josh is clearly secondary here, though it's also pretty clear that future stories in the series are going to build up that relationship. Madison has much bigger things to worry about than boys, so while she spends a lot of time with Josh, most of her thoughts are "how can I keep him safe?" rather than "how well does he kiss?"

Also, I totally love Grace, the guardian angel, and Nakita, a badass dark reaper that Madison tangles with. Through her supernatural characters, Harrison weaves in some very interesting musings on what it is to be human. Aside from the usual commentary on free will that angels often blather on about, there was also fear, which totally caught me off guard in a very fun way.

Cover thoughts: Once Dead Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

I wanted to give HarperCollins some recognition here for not lopping off Madison's head here. The headless girl cover is almost as irritating as whitewashed covers. Madison's purple hair isn't present, but at least the monochromatic cover is tinged with purple. Very goth and cool.

On a final note: I told my mom I had read this book. She told me she had beaten me to it - but hadn't mentioned it to me because she figured that would turn me off completely! Sometimes we think way too much alike. Maybe I really am related to her after all.


Anna Rhoswen said...

I'll have to give this one a shot and figure out what else I've read by her, because I know I've read something.

Also, I totally think the girl on the cover should have purple hair. It's just a really like lavender purple...?

Sami said...

This looks really fun, and different from the paranormal that's popping up now.I'll definitely have to pick it up.

ck.twilighter (Chasity) said...

You are so funny!!! It's always ahrd to admit we are our mother's daughter after all!!!=)

Roxanne Rhoads said...

Yeah, Kim does the cutely thing in her adult books too- her favorite phrase when someone's upset is "they're going to have kittens"

She's usually referring to the vampire Ivy, as in "she's going to have kittens" and the pixie always swears with TinkerBell stuff, like "Tink's tampon" or "Tink's pantie or some weird stuff like that.

Angela Craft said...

Britt - I'm pretty sure Linda owns her adult titles (all urban fantasy with names that are riffs on Clint Eastwood movies), so if you're interested in those you know where to get them!

Sami - I haven't invested myself in the paranormal trend yet, but from what I've observed from scanning synopses is usually the girl is normal and she's up against a bunch of supernatural craziness. Kind of nice to have the girl be the one with supernatural powers this time!

Roxanne - I've actually heard the "they're going to have kittens" line outside of books. but it sounds like maybe she does go overboard with the cute witicisms.

Kathy Martin said...

I like Kim Harrison's adult books but I just couldn't get into this one. Your review makes me want to try again.

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