Titles: Here is a complete list of the short stories, novellas, and novels in MaryJanice Davidson's QUEEN BETSY (UNDEAD) series in reading order:
NOVEL 13: Undead and Unwary
O.K., with that out of the way, I'll move on to the story line, which actually has three branches: 1. Jess's twins keep disappearing; 2. Laura (the Antichrist) wants Betsy to keep her promise to help out in reorganizing Hell; and 3. Jessica claims to have seen Betsy's father in St. Paul—her supposedly dead father. The twins' story is played primarily for laughs, but the Hell story is much more serious (although it has more than its share of Davidson's trademark sarcastic humor). The story line involving Betsy's father smolders in the background (as Betsy refuses to discuss it) and then flares up and burns out quickly near the end of the book.
Betsy has been deliberately avoiding her Hellish responsibilities, just as she dodges other unpalatable responsibilities in her life. Although Betsy agreed to be the co-ruler of Hell, she keeps putting the chaotic events of her own life before her promise to her sister. Now, Laura is calling her on it, claiming that people are escaping from Hell and that Betsy has to help her fix the situation. In the process of reorganizing Hell, Betsy FINALLY shows some signs of maturity—for the very first time in the entire series.
Betsy spends the entire book moving back and forth between Hell and her weird and wild household. Several ongoing issues are resolved, including the whole situation with Nick/Dick's name and Betsy's rocky relationships with family members. If you haven't read the previous books in the series, you may find yourself a bit lost because there are many, many allusions and flashbacks to characters and events in previous books, with each one referenced in footnotes.
The final chapters are much better paced than the early ones, mostly because Betsy begins to pull herself together and doesn't let herself get as distracted. This is part of her maturation process: focusing on the task at hand instead of using the defense mechanism of constantly changing the subject to avoid unpleasant topics and tasks. By the end, I was really enjoying the story, especially the well-earned and highly satisfying comeuppances doled out to some deserving characters.
As the book draws to an end, Betsy realizes that she has learned a few valuable life lessons, and I don't think that giving you this quotation will be a spoiler: First, she says, "Okay, I've learned two things this week Be careful what you wish for, and also, I can't do this by myself." Later in this scene, she also realizes that her friends know her better than she knows herself, and she expresses her appreciation to them for standing up to her and for her throughout her chaotic adventures. That would include all of the quirky eccentrics who make up her household as well as a few characters you wouldn't expect to see on such a list. As issues are resolved, Betsy's family relationships undergo tremendous changes, but none that are set in stone—not yet anyway. To read an excerpt from Undead and Unwary, click HERE to go to the book's amazon.com page, where you should then click on the cover art at top left.
Novels 9, 10, and 11 form a trilogy within the series in which Betsy travels backward and forward in time, causes lots of trouble by changing history and events, and then returns to the present where she is forced to deal with the consequences of her well-meaning, but reckless, actions. For those who need a refresher course on Betsy's life, Davidson includes introductory sections in each book that summarize the major action in the series so far.
This book takes a much darker turn than the preceding books. One amazon.com reader compares it to Charles Dickens's Christmas Carol because Betsy is forced by supernatural events to examine her own life and her relationships with her closest friends, particularly Eric Sinclair.
The basic plot involves some time traveling as Betsy and Laura go back in time to alter events in both Eric's and Tina's lives. Then they take a trip to the future, where Betsy learns that she's not as nice a person as she'd always hoped to be. As Betsy and Laura visit past events, Betsy thoughtlessly makes some changes that will come back to haunt her.
NOVEL 12: Undead and Unsure
Much of the plot concerns Betsy's best friend, Jessica, who is hugely pregnant. The problem is that no one seems to know or care exactly when the baby (or babies) will be born. In fact, Jessica hasn't even been to a doctor. No one at the mansion knows Jessica's due date. Sometimes they think it well be in the spring, sometimes they say it's next week, sometimes they just shrug and admit that they just don't know—and why worry about it. My advice to the reader is not to be too concerned about this strange pregnancy situation because when you finally discover why Jessica's extended family is behaving this way, you'll find that the explanation is somewhat murky and improbable and that it is glossed over very quickly.
Betsy's primary adventure in this book involves her sister, Laura (aka the Antichrist). In the last book, Betsy killed Satan, who was Laura's real mother. (Satan was possessing Laura's biological mother when Laura was conceived and birthed.) During the adventures that climaxed the previous book, Satan attacked Betsy, and Betsy cut off her head. Now Laura is all sulky and snappy, blaming Betsy for Mom's death and disregarding the fact that Betsy was forced to kill Satan to save her own life. As usual, Laura behaves like a spoiled, self-centered adolescent, but the kick here is that she has the power of Hell at her disposal, so nobody wants to make her mad.
In her own self-centered manner, Betsy stumbles through the story trying to make up with Laura by sending balloon bouquets and singing telegrams to win her over and then inviting her for a late Thanksgiving dinner (in December) so that they can talk things over. That dinner doesn't end well for Betsy, but it does force her to come to some conclusions about how to use her newest powers to mend her relationship with Laura.
In the meantime, Sinclair is enjoying his new ability to walk in the sun by spending his time endlessly walking the streets with his puppies. In one early scene, he actually takes over the kitchen to bake Apple Crunch Pupcakes for them. Betsy thinks that he is going overboard with the puppies and his outdoor activities, but by the end of the story, she learns that Sinclair has included some sleuthing in his recreational activities.
The Epilogue scene between Sinclair and Laura was the first time that I really engaged with the story. If Davidson would just let Betsy grow up a bit—just a few tablespoons of maturity, please—that final scene could be developed into an outstanding novel that approaches urban fantasy. But, unfortunately, Betsy hasn't changed at all during this series, and her thoughtless actions, constant snarkiness, and frenzied stream-of-consciousness conversations with herself are just as immature and annoying in novel 12 as they were in novel 1. By now, they're not funny at all. If the next novel deals with the ramifications of the epilogue scene, we're in for a great Betsy adventure. Let's hope for the best.