Book Review: Dead Things

Something occurs to me.

Considering how long I’ve been experimenting with new novels, new series, and new authors, and considering how much I’m a fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, one would think that a slightly larger chunk of my time and attention would have gone to urban fantasy. Instead, I’ve thus far read (and reviewed) what, two, maybe three of them? Perhaps somewhere along my way through Skinwalker, Sweet Blood of Mine, and… ok, I don’t really count The Rest of Us Just Live Here as urban fantasy so much as a terrible parody of such… anyway, perhaps I was subconsciously turned off the genre by these works?

It is a sad thing, indeed, that there is so much urban fantasy out there, and it seems so little of it is actually worth our time.

Alas, it seems cruelly inevitable: when one gets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one also gets Twilight.

Dead Things, by Stephen Blackmoore, falls more into the latter category, unfortunately. It’s a step up from Skinwalker, perhaps, but that doesn’t really say much.

As the first novel in a series following the adventures of Eric Carter, it’s small wonder that it gets compared to Dresden Files. Butcher’s work is something of the standard to match these days, at least when it comes to stories featuring lone-wolf wizards for hire in the modern world.

Picture this: a wizard/mystic of some sort, who hires out their services, with some sort of distinguishing feature and a tragic past which often leaves them brooding, is given a life-or-death mission which has certain personal stakes, while greater powers lure, tempt, and seek to turn the wizard in question to their own agenda, and if the wizard both wins the day and survives this hellish ordeal, there is very little they can hope to truly gain from it, and at great cost.

That seems to be the template which is currently in widespread use. Harry Dresden, Dante Valentine, Jane Yellowrock, etc. and now I can add Eric Carter to that pile.

Eric was born into a family and small community of wizards, which mostly consists of people who are born with a talent and this determines the course of their life. In Eric’s case, he can see and interact with the dead, so he is a necromancer. That’s what grabbed my attention, at first. Most of these brooding wizard types might deal with dark magic at some point, but necromancers are still relatively uncommon as main characters. So, his magic itself is his distinguishing feature.

His tragic past involves his parents being burnt alive when they refused to pay protection money to the local crime lord of the magical community. He then killed the man, and fled the wrath of his number two, who took over the business. Eric ran and ran and never stopped running. Needing to make his way in the world, he became much stronger and hired out his services. He has taken out some pretty nasty things, acting much like an agent of justice on behalf of the dead.

I will say, here, I liked how Eric saw his job and calling in life. He has a relationship with the dead, the victims of evil beings, large and small, and he cares about them. At the same time, though, he could care a little bit more about living people. If he gave as much consideration to living, breathing people as he does to hungry, vengeful ghosts, then he’d be a freaking saint. For instance, he does more for his own sister after she is murdered than he did in the fifteen years since he ran away.

That, by the way, is the driving plot: Eric is going about business as usual, then he learns that his sister has been murdered, and he goes home to find her killer. And there we have the life-or-death mission with personal stakes.

As for the greater power trying to turn Eric to its service, that would be a Mayan goddess of the dead, now called Santa Muerta by her modern-day followers. She has heard of him, followed his storied career of destruction, and become infatuated. I can assure you, if it’s bad to be in love with death, it is infinitely worse to have death be in love with you. While I did enjoy having this story’s “greater being” be interested in a mortal because of what he’s done, instead of what he is prophesied to do (Dresden) or because she’s hot (Yellowrock), it felt like he gave in to her allure far too quickly and easily. Especially when the entire situation turns out to be a trap designed specifically to drive Eric to Santa Muerta, and I saw it coming.

That last is a particular point against this novel: it was predictable. The mild romantic drama, the casual hook-up with a gorgeous girl who turns out to be a mole, the old enemy returning, the part where pretty much everyone dies… really, the only surprise was at the end, when Eric decided to stay in town instead of leaving again. Why, exactly, did he do that? I didn’t follow.

In summary: Dead Things really was entertaining in some parts, but by and large it was just kind of… “meh.” I’m hoping the next few urban fantasy books in my “to read” pile are a bit more well crafted than this.

Rating: 6 stars out of 10, just barely this side of neutral, and that much only because I liked the magic system.

Grade: D-Minus.

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One Response to Book Review: Dead Things

  1. Pingback: Where Did All the Quality Urban Fantasy Books Go? | Merlin's Musings

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