018. Review of Death’s Daughter by Amber Benson.

So this week I read Amber Benson’s book Death’s Daughter because I actually sat next to her on the train home. I was curious, and therefore went out and bought the first two books of her series: Death’s Daughter and Cat’s Claw. So I finished reading the first one and here are my honest thoughts:

The premise is pretty imaginative. It follows Calliope “Callie” Reaper-Jones, who is one of Death’s three daughters. Death, in this world, is run by a corporation, of which her father is the head. It deals a lot with mythology, and she uses all different kinds of mythology: Greek, Norse, Hindu, Christian, you name it. I’m a sucker for mythology done right, and I think Amber did a pretty good job with this. Kali is one of the best characters in the book, and even the Devil is done interestingly. I like the way she dealt with the family’s history, the way Hell was conceptualized, and the way no one religion was ranked better than another. I particularly liked the fact that God was not a nameless, faceless being that showed up only in rhetoric, but was actually a character, if a minor one.

One thing I particularly admired about the characters was that none of them were too perfect. Callie’s very flawed, and can sometimes be annoying because of it, but no one can accuse Callie of being a Mary-Sue character, which means quite a bit in this genre. Even when she does have powers, she does not quite know how to use them accurately, and she makes enormous blunders. She is often emotionally weak but can pull through for herself, her family, and her friends in times of dire trouble. This is the kind of hero(ine) I like to see.

There were some negative aspects of the book: Callie sometimes reads like a valley-girl rather than someone in her mid-twenties; she (and Amber) focuses too much on fashion and labels, and sometimes the references to clothing and shopping and designer can be too much, even for someone like me who does recognise all the labels. When Amber told me on the train that it was like “Neil Gaiman meets Devil Wears Prada” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant. Sometimes her material concerns can be really funny; other times, it bogs down the prose and makes me feel a lack of description acutely (although for the most part, Amber’s description’s pretty good!).

Another part I didn’t like was the clunky handling of romance. Callie is, granted, hitting a dry spot in her life, and Daniel can, admittedly, seduce people with his powers, but she thinks about sexing up almost every main male character (as long as they are attractive). There’s a moment in which she’s saved by a bogus semi-sexual ritual, and I felt a little cheated by that because … honestly, there are so many ways to deal with a situation like that, and a sexual/romantic way of dealing with it seems like just an excuse to raise the heat. I also wasn’t sure why Daniel was so interested in Callie, or why he was so mind-bendingly impressed. Impressed is one thing. Impressed in total hyperbole is another.

My final pet peeve with this book was something that an editor really should have dealt with: there are a lot of italicised words. I’m not counting titles of books/movies/etc or internal thoughts. I’m talking about sentences such as this which have too much dramatic emphasis put on random words. Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But there were pages in this book (a tiny paperback) that had six italicised words that did not need to be italicised. That’s a huge issue with me, but clearly I got used to it at the end because I kept reading.

All in all, though, I think Death’s Daughter was decently entertaining; it’s not meant to be the next Wuthering Heights. It’s supposed to be a fun, action-packed beginning-of-the-series book. I’ve heard that the second one is more focused and better written, so I’m interested to read and see–it’s next on my list! I will not pass judgment until afterwards. Really.

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