Review: Managing Death by Trent Jamieson
Steven de Selby got promoted. This makes the increasing number of stirrers (and the disturbing rumors of a zombie god rising sometime soon) his problem. That time management seminar he keeps meaning to take would also remind him that he’s got a Death Moot to plan, a Christmas party to organize, and an end-of-the-world thing to avert.
Steven must start managing Death, before Death starts managing him, or this time the Apocalypse will be more than Regional.” (~from Publisher)
The Short of It
The unendingly creative, and hilarious Jamieson brings us the second book in his Death Works series. Fantastic and fun, Managing Death feels a bit like reading Harry Potter for Grownups, while riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and listening to Aerosmith (maybe just a little drunk on booze). The writing is superb, featuring tight plots, boundless imagination and witty charm. He gives us sterling characters woven through a wonder of new mythologies, which they navigate with perfect pacing. The book manages to be at times funny, at times scary and over-all profound. He counts among a handful of living fantasy writers who can do all that so well.
I have to confess…I’ve pretty much stayed away from books that hint that they may involve rituals, demonic gods or blood lust. Why? It’s simple. I scare really, really easily. I’m afraid of the stuff seeping into my dreams and taking over. I honestly got creeped out by The Hobbit when I read it in Jr. High, just for an example of how very wussy I really am.
But, in this case the publisher’s description seemed too delicious to pass up, and I decided if the book was half as entertaining as the potential the concept offered, I’d chance a few nightmares. After all, surviving Mockingjay relatively unscathed, (ha!) I’m kinda feeling like I can take on the world. So yes, I took a chance on this book on the strength of the publisher’s description alone. I knew nothing about the series or the author, but a quick Googling, (google-ing? Am I making up words again? Yes.) took me to his entertaining website complete with funny you-tube vids where he talks to himself whilst shamelessly plugging the book. Encouraged, I dove in.
I’m so glad I did.
Oh, and before we start – let me clear something up; No demons in the book. Not a one. Some other scary fantastical characters…yes, but nothing I would consider truly demonic.
The whole idea of Death being managed in modern times by a multi-national conglomerate was genius. It takes the back-stabbing of office politics to a whole new level. One of the most fun things about the book was that I never knew who to trust. And Steven de Selby, our main character who is finding his feet in his new position as Regional Death for Australia, is just as unsure.
“So I rule the land and the sea around Australia as Death, because once there were warriors and they killed Death itself.”
“No, you cannot kill Death, only shape it’s form. And no, you do not rule the sea.”
Harry Potter for Grownups? Really?
Really. I was in a state of childlike wonder reading most of the book at not only the humor with which it was told, but the sheer magic of the thing. Self-healing buildings and magical powers aside, The whole underworld and death mythology that Jamieson has created is so well-built up, so layered, so deep. He takes us to an entirely new, incredibly creative world in which nothing is quite what you expect. He takes known mythologies like the character of Death and the classical underworld concept and bends and twists them in the most fascinating ways. His writing also reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman, especially his Anansi Boys for the dark, timeless myth. Throw in some Zombies, more than a little magic and a stellar cast of characters and you’ve got something really great.
Err…No. It is indeed something I would consider an adult book. I do think it’s a touch too scary for the younger set. There’s a bit of adult humor and language, which serve to really hammer in the humanity of the main character. It’s also on the gorier side of my reading list. Without giving away too much about the book, I’ll just say that it does contain a fair amount of blood. But one of the things I appreciated about it is that it didn’t feel at all gratuitous. It was mostly essential to the storyline, to the job description, to the pain & growth of the characters. I never felt like it was just there for shock value. There are, though some very creative ways that people manage to die in this book. We’ll just leave it at that. The twelve-year-old me would have had plenty of nightmares.
“Sometimes I would like a job that involved less stabbing.”
Scones in Brisbane
Most of the characters in this book were so well-developed. I know it was a sequel so a few of them carry over from the first book, but there were plenty of new additions, and each one was interesting, complex and intriguing. I especially liked some of the more fantastic creatures that he created like the fatally flawed Aunt Neti, spidery guardian of the Underworld, who bakes the best damn scones around. I also enjoyed the morally ambiguous other RM’s who made up the Orcus. Trying to figure out what they were after was great fun. They all pulled at my imagination.
I would have liked to have seen a bit more from the love interest Lissa in this book, because I felt I didn’t get to know her that well…but I suppose that is my fault for not having read the first book, where I get the idea she has more than her share of page-space.
The setting of this book was fun for me too. Not only have I never been to Brisbane, I’ve never read a single book set there. (Crazy!) So, it was fun for me to get to know a bit about that city (and the Underworld below)
I was afraid I would be lost in this book, by once again jumping in mid-series. I wasn’t. Simply because Jamieson writes a series as a series truly should be, each book is capable of standing alone, and yet together they form an epic arc. Having finished Managing Death, I can’t wait to get my hands on Death Most Definite, the first book in the series and am happily awaiting the September US release of The Business of Death (book #3). I’d still suggest reading them in order, simply because some of the necessary back story that seeps into Managing, gives away what are I’m sure major plot points of Definite.
Even though this is only his second novel, Trent Jamieson is hardly new to this fiction thing. He has published over 60 short stories in the past decade, 2 of which were winners of Aurealis Awards. (No, not from us silly!) He also works as a bookseller, fiction editor and creative writing teacher. Now, why am I telling you all of this? Because it absolutely shows. The writing is quite good.
Cover Story: B
The good news is: I just received confirmation from the author that the cover on display on Goodreads and Amazon is wrong. The correct US cover is above. Although I do like this version better, I still want something a bit more from a book that’s hitting Best Urban Fantasy lists left and right. Still, it’s kinda growing on me, especially alongside the cover for the first book. It’s also the kind of cover you really need to see close up for the detail. Check out the author’s website for a closeup view.
Okay, that’s more than enough from me on the subject. Go. Read the book, and I’d love to know what you think of it.
Series: Death Works #2
Genre: Adult, Urban Fantasy
Format: 352, Mass Market Paperback
Publisher: Orbit (Jan 3, 2011)
Review Copy: courtesy of Publisher (Orbit) (via NetGalley)