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Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Author:  Amber Benson 
Plot Type: Paranormal ChickLit (CH)
Ratings:  V3-4; S2-3; H5
Publisher and Titles:  Ace
          Death's Daughter (2009)
          Cat's Claw (2010)
          Serpent's Storm (2011)
          How to Be Death (2012)
          The Golden Age of Death (2013) (FINAL)

     This post was revised and updated on 4/6/13  to include a review of the fifth and FINAL book in the series: The Golden Age of Death. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building, brief summaries of the first three books, and full reviews of books 4 and 5: 

          BOOK 5:  The Golden Age of Death         
     As the series comes to an end, Callie's position as Death is challenged by her old nemesis, Frank, who is in league with a few of Callie's enemies. The author uses a chaotic approach to her plot-building, with the action jumping all over the place (and back and forth from one point in time to another) with absolutely no transitions between scenes and with each chapter coming from a different character's point of view. The first few pages are given over to detailed expositional information to remind the reader of who's who and what's what in Callie's world. Callie and Daniel are back together, but they haven't seen much of each other lately. Daniel and Cerberus have been working hard to get Hell working more efficiently, and Callie is busy preparing for her to-the-death battle with Marcel, the Ender of Death.

     The basic conflict in the book comes when Uriah Drood teams up with Watatsumi, the Water God, to create a parallel realm in which Frank is Death and Callie doesn't exist. If that realm melds with the real human world, Calliope will disappear and Frank will become the real Death and will serve as a front for Uriah and Watatsumi. As Callie summarizes the situation, "the two worlds [fuse] together...I cease to exist, the Golden Age doesn't happen, and humanity lives in the dark for a long, long, time." (p. 86) As the plot bounces around from one person's viewpoint to the next, each characters' motives become murkier and murkier, and it's tough to figure out just what is going on. By the end, even Judas Iscariot gets involved, along with the mysterious Man in Gray (aka Enoch).

     Callie disappears very early in the story, and her friends and allies scurry around trying to find her while under constant attack by various demonic creatures who pop out of wormholes. Eventually, of course, the major characters meet in the huge requisite showdown, where the plot is resolved once and for all. Be aware that several long-term characters don't survive their battles, so the ending is bittersweet.

     This is by far the weakest novel in this series, and the ending is not at all satisfying. Frankly, I had a very hard time finishing the book. (I kept finding other things to do—straightening out the silverware drawer, cleaning out a closet—anything I could find.) Although the chaotic structure is the worst part, there are also problems with tone. The scenes go from slapstick comedy to extremely graphic violence with head-spinning speed. For example, one scene begins with Kali "Caked in hot red gore," marching "through the carnage, stepping on as many body parts as she could, enjoying  the feel of crunching bones and matted fur under her feet." (p. 211). That scene follows Kali as she threatens the single survivor of her brutality and then ends as she searches for transportation: "She crossed the garage, making a beeline for the drop-cloth covered hot pink thing...her heart did a little flip-flop...'So. Damn. Hot.' Kali breathed as she stared, in utter fascination, at the hot pink Segway standing before her. It looked as though the Goddess of Death and Destruction had found her mode of transportation." (p. 213) The story is larded with snippets of gratuitous violence that have no real connection with the plot. For example, when Callie and her allies are in Purgatory, we get detailed, stomach-turning descriptions of what they see as they pass through the various hellish "neighborhoods" (e.g., a woman "guzzling down...excrement," a man vomiting up force-fed raw hamburger). These disgusting snapshots serve absolutely no purpose, so why include them?

     There are also a few inconsistencies in the plot. For example, at one point, Daniel says that he called Caoimhe to tell her that Callie has disappeared, but at the point that he supposedly made the call, he hadn't yet learned of Callie's disappearance. Daniel's actions are strange all through this story. I can't go into detail for fear of a spoiler, but I will say that I had trouble figuring out just what he was doing, particularly in the final scene. All in all, I have to say that I'm glad this series is finally over, but I wish that its ending had been better conceived.

     The heroine of the series is Calliope (Callie) Reaper-Jones, who is Death's Daughter. She lives on the family estate, Sea Verge, with her family, which comprises her parents, her older (evil and greedy) sister, Thalia, and her younger (sweeter) sister, Clio. Callie's mother is a Siren who eventually gives in to her longing for the sea. Other continuing characters include Death's executive assistant, Jarvis (a faun); and Daniel, the devil's sexy protege (and Callie's ongoing love interest). A motley array  of goddesses and devil-related beings play smaller roles. There are few human characters.

     Callie is the typical wisecracking, fashion-loving, career-minded chick-lit heroine, with her big mouth always getting her into trouble. She approaches life's problems like a spoiled bratnever wanting to take much responsibility for her own actions and relying on others to help her out of bad situations. As one character sums it up for her in Serpent's Storm, "You are Death's Daughter....But you act like Death's idiot. What do you have against thinking for yourself?" (p. 121) Some segments of the stories are a bit far fetched, even for a paranormal series, and the humorous dialogue goes way over the top at times. Benson overloads her stories with details that have little or no effect on the plots and that have Callie jumping from one unlikely incident to another like a ball in a pinball machine.

Read-Alikes: Angela Fox's DEMON SLAYERS series; Candace Havens's CARUTHERS SISTERS series; Mark Henry's AMANDA FERAL series; Julie Kenner's SUPERHERO CENTRAL series; and Cara Lockwood's DEMON Series. All of these series are reviewed in my book, Fang-tastic Fiction: Twenty-First Century Paranormal Reads.

          BOOK 1: Death's Daughter         
     Callie's father (Death) is kidnapped, along with all of his key executives, and Calliope must pass a test to prove that she can take over his position and prevent her family from being made mortal.

          BOOK 2:  Cat's Claw           
     Callie must pay a debt she owes to Cerberus, the three-headed dog she met in book 1. This involves trips to Purgatory, Las Vegas, and ancient Egypt. By the end of the book, she has adopted a talking, sentient female Hellhound named Runt, who becomes her sidekick. 

          BOOK 3:  Serpent's Storm         
     This book  is darker than books 1 and 2, as Callie's sister, Thalia, escapes from Purgatory and makes a deal with the devil that will get rid of her family and put her in a position of power. Callie has to stop Thalia as well as elude the Ender of Death, who wants to kill her. This story is very violent, with graphic details of multiple deaths that include some people who are very close to Callie. Although there are two fairly graphic sexual scenes, they are not the focus of the plot, so I'm giving this book a sensuality rating of 3.

          BOOK 4:  How to Be Death         
     The reality of Callie's situation is beginning to dawn on her as she realizes the tremendous level of responsibility she now has as the head of Death, Inc. Here's how Callie describes herself at this point in her life: "While part of me is still a twentysomething girl who possesses a hard-core fashion obsession and a propensity for getting into ridiculous scrapes that invariably involve my friendsand even casual acquaintances...there is another, more all-encompassing aspect of my personality that's a real stinger...I am, for lack of a better euphemism, Death...the Grim Reaper...or, just as aptly, the Girl Who Can Wish You Dead." (p. 1)

     The story begins as all of the Deathly vice presidents gather to socialize at the Death Dinner and All Hallows' Eve celebration, where they meet Callie officially for the first time in her new position as Deathor Ms. Death as some of them call her. As it turns out, these demonic VPs bicker and joust for power just like any bunch of bureaucrats you've ever seen. The conflict kicks off when Daniel shows up at the party with a pretty girlfriend who is later found murdered (decapitated) in Callie's room. (Just to review: Daniel broke up with Callie in the previous book when she cheated on him, but Callie still loves him and she's devastated to see him with someone else.) To get some help in solving the crime, Jarvis calls in Detective Inspector Edgar Freezay from the Psychical Bureau of Investigations (PBI), who turns out to be a supernatural Sherlock Holmes. Callie tags along as his Watson-esque partner. As Freezay works his way deductively through a plethora of clues, the story almost turns into a game of Cluethis person was in the library, that one was in the kitchen, someone else was in the garden, and so on. Although the plot has some implausible holes, the story plays out in a complex series of hard-to-predict circumstances. Callie is still her usual immature, clueless self (at one point, she attacks a recalcitrant VP with butter and croissants), but she isn't quite as annoying as she's been in the previous books. Perhaps our girl is finally growing up. The ending provides new information about Callie's parentage as well as a cliff-hanger on which to suspend the next book.

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