Genre: YA Paranormal (Horror-Comedy)
Pages: 352 pages
Rating: 5 stars
Read in January 2011
Summary (from Goodreads): Sam leads a pretty normal life. He may not have the most exciting job in the world, but he’s doing all right—until a fast food prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a creepy guy with an intense violent streak. Turns out Douglas is a necromancer who raises the dead for cash and sees potential in Sam. Then Sam discovers he’s a necromancer too, but with strangely latent powers. And his worst nightmare wants to join forces . . . or else.
With only a week to figure things out, Sam needs all the help he can get. Luckily he lives in Seattle, which has nearly as many paranormal types as it does coffee places. But even with newfound friends, will Sam be able to save his skin?
My thoughts: I had the hardest time writing this review, and I just decided to go ahead and post it knowing that I would never do the awesomeness of this book justice.
This hysterical, scary, offbeat story about a slacker discovering his necromancer powers feels tailor-made for my tastes. For weird elements, it is a veritable cornucopia. It contains: a talking head, a (benign) zombie panda, a talking cat (who is actually a mini-dragon), homicidal lawn ornaments, sassy ghosts who love waffles, witches, weres, and an evil necromancer who makes his revenants do calisthenics just to prove a point. The book could have been a disaster, with too many quirky elements to succeed, but it has such heart that it works.
I know this is terrible, but I often think of books in relation to television and movies. Probably because the only thing I do more than read is watch stuff. I think this is a mix of other witty but frightening and surprisingly touching horror-comedies, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Reaper, and Dead Like Me. I’m sure I could come up with more, but you get the point.
One minute Sam is deep-frying inappropriate things at Plumpy’s, the fast food joint where he works, and playing potato hockey with his co-workers and friends Ramon, Brooke, and Frank; the next, he’s being called out by a necromancer (Douglas, who Sam calls a “madman in pressed jeans”) and forced to deal with the fact that his mother has lied to him for years about his powers as a “death wrangler”.
Right from the outset, Sam was my kind of guy, when he wondered at how humankind spent thousands of years developing complex language systems only to create a cash register with pictures on it, “just in case the cashier didn’t finish second grade”. My feelings of love were cemented during the zoo scene, when he mentions that he never watches the news because “they just don’t make very good episodes of it anymore”. (Also, he doesn’t know what’s wrong with China, except maybe for some lead paint.) His deadpan, smart ass humor and pop culture references is what makes him so fun to read, but his underlying sweetness – his love for his friends and family – and his “why me?” plaintiveness is what makes him relatable. Also the fact that he gets the hell beat out of him countless times – that really makes you feel for the guy, too.
The other characters are equally awesome and likable, even when they’re not in the story much (like hand-wringing Frank and nosy Mrs. W). A couple of them have their own viewpoint chapters (in the third-person; Sam’s are always first), and while it’s a way for McBride to tell more of the story than we can see from Sam’s perspective, it doesn’t feel like a cop-out. Sam’s relationships matter the most to him, so it stands to reason that the other characters have presence. I found myself really worrying about a couple of them during the story, which has its scary, gory moments in spades. Brid’s chapters, the were-hybrid captured by Douglas, are the most compelling outside of Sam’s, and I love the casual but caring turn their relationship takes (yes, I am talking about the sex). The only exception is Douglas, who is not supposed to be likable at all; it might have been more interesting if he had even one redeeming feature. The initial chapter from his viewpoint, where we learn his backstory, felt awkward, but none of the other third-person chapters from his viewpoint bothered me.
The ending makes it clear that there will be (or at least, should be) sequels, which fills my heart with glee. I’m hoping for more Sam/Brid, for Uncle Nick to appear, for Sam to learn more about his powers (especially as they appear to cause him some mental anguish), for Ramon to be okay after his “transition”, and for Sam’s half-sisters to make an appearance. I can't wait for more!