Review: Dying for a Living

Necronites are just like you and me, except they can take someone’s place when they die. The stiff limbs, creaking joints, angry mobs and the conspiracies to end your kind are a pain in the ass, but it’s what you get when you’re Dying for a Living.

Genre(s): Urban Fantasy

Author: Kory M. Shrum

Publisher: Timberlane Press

Release Date: March 2013

Purchase At: Amazon

Good:

  • Interesting concept and world.

  • Brinkley.

  • Likeable and relatable protagonist.

Bad:

  • Shoehorned romantic moments.

  • Strange Love Triangle dynamic.

  • Conversational Narrative Dissonance.

Review

In Jesse’s world, a small percentage of the population possesses NDR, making them Necronites, those who die and come back to life. The military rounded up the first of their kind and kept them for “their own protection” while secretly experimenting on them, at least until public pressure and activists forced them to release their “wards.” But on the way they discovered the Necronites could take other people’s place when they died, shifting causality to take them instead of the intended victim. So of course, the Death Replacement industry was born and quickly regulated.

But much like anything new in our world, not everyone was happy about these resurrecting people. The church, now a body composed of all organised religion under the banner of the United Church, hates and calls them anything from monsters to deviants. Yet beyond protests and the occasional nutjob, there’s very little they can do. At least that’s what Jesse and everyone else thought.

Jesse Sullivan’s story begins with a day like any other, with her assistant and close friend Ally on the way to replace a surly gentleman from his appointment with the Reaper. Things go exactly as planned but Jesse’s attitude with the clients puts her at odds with her boss, Brinkley. He threatens to send her to prison, for a crime he buried for her continued service, unless she gets a glowing review on her next job.

To her luck, one lands on her lap, but it’s an odd one and Brinkley isn’t answering his phone to confirm if it was he who set it up or not. Sensing this all to be a test, Jesse takes the job, to replace as prostitute. Things seems to be going right on track until the prostitute takes a massive knife and tries to decapitate Jesse, nearly succeeding. When she wakes up in the hospital she’s put under observation and investigation by her superiors. Her boss is missing, and to make matters worse, she discovers she’s just another in a long list of victims for a serial Necronite killer.

Jesse’s world is intriguing. In terms of the supernatural, there are only Necronites and AMPs, those born from experimentation based on the tests performed by the military during the internment camp days. AMPs can read current events and predict future ones. They can see the future and are essential on some police investigations and for the death replacement industry.

Every time the Necronites die, they lose a bit of their minds, until they finally go crazy. But maybe that isn’t true, and maybe the Angels Jesse and others start seeing aren’t a hallucination but part of their ever expanding power repertoire, such as conducting electricity or exploding every toilet in the vicinity.

As someone who often complains about Urban Fantasy settings, I found the author’s world to be compelling, one I’d like to know more of in the future.

The beginning for Dying for a Living is a bit slow. Kory M. Shrum takes her time introducing you to her Urban Fantasy world, to know the ins and outs of the Death Replacement business, how they work and how Necronites deal with waking up after rigor mortis. In many cases I would complain about the intro not having enough punch or not having a clear conflict, but in Dying for a Living these introductory chapters are essential if you want to keep track of everything that happens after Jesse’s murder attempt.

Kory’s prose makes it easy to connect and relate with Jesse, the narrator for the story. She’s honest but also devious at times, loyal but indecisive, in love with two very important people to her but unable to choose. She wants and needs family, to replace the one that pushed her aside. Jesse is very detailed oriented, making notes of people’s appearances and even her own dressing, often commenting on her constantly mismatched shoes.

Yet, the prose itself has a few recurring problems. The descriptions mentioned above quickly start to feel like a checklist: hair, eyes, cheeks, body and dress, etc. especially as the characters and notes pile up. Secondly, it suffers from something I like to call Conversational Narrative Dissonance–yes I made that up–which means the vocabulary the character uses in conversations doesn’t match up with the one she uses when narrating. Jesse, at times, can be highly poetic when describing events, but never does she express herself in the same way while talking to others. These moments break that connection I mentioned before, making you feel as if there were two narrators, two Jesses.

The novel’s at its strongest with the characters. Beyond Jesse, the secondary characters are very well defined, each with their own quirks and mannerisms that make them feel like real people. My favourite in the entire novel is Brinkley, the gruff but overprotective boss. He’ll do anything to help but won’t reveal a single thing, much to everyone’s frustration. He’s a strong character, central to the plot and integral to Jesse’s growth. Their scenes together are a joy to read. Gloria, the AMP, is another strong character, part friend and part guide. She often knows more than she’s telling, but never holds back if it can harm her friends.

While I certainly enjoy Lane and Ally, part of Dying for a Living’s love triangle, I hate the relationship between the two of them. It’s understandable they might not like each other but they reach irrational levels, often taking actions or making comments no sane person would ever make. It’s especially bad as there is never a clear explanation as to why they feel that way about each other. It’s clear they feel the other isn’t worthy of Jesse, but why?

This makes for a very strange love dynamic and one I’ve seen before: “We hate each other…because…but we both love you.” There is one instance where Ally snaps at Lane, saying something like, “of course you’d want me dead!” And neither Jesse nor Lane turn around and call her out on this, tacitly agreeing with her. Really? You’d want the other person to die a horrible death?

The love triangle, and Jesse’s attraction towards Ally and Lane, leads to some jarring moments in the storytelling. In the middle of an investigation, with people hunting her and the fear of death ever present, Jesse muses on how gorgeous Ally or Lane are, and on her desire to kiss them or be with them. I’m sorry, but stress and fear tend to override any romantic feeling ever. I’ve been madly in love but I’ve also been scared and stressed and in those circumstances, the last thing on my mind was how beautiful the other person was. The problem is there’s never enough downtime for these moments to come naturally, forcing the author to add them in when she can, resulting in scenes that don’t match the overall tone.

The plot itself follows Jesse and Co.’s investigation into the attempted murder and the people behind it, all while trying to stay alive and protect each other. Jesse manages to grow as a character, forced to face her fears of prison, her father’s death at early age, her bad relationship with her mother and the feeling of guilt at never seeing her brother again. The conspiracy itself is intriguing, as is the mystery of the Angels the Necronites keeps seeing, some of them meaning them well and others wishing them harm. Jesse’s angel, Gabriel, is one of the good ones, but Cindy—one of Jesse’s Necronite friends—has Raphael, one of the bad ones. The villains themselves are a bit anticlimactic, but the serve the plot well enough, especially since it’s clear they are nothing but minions for the main bad, of whom we learn more than I expected.

Conclusion

Dying for a Living is an interesting story set in an intriguing world, with a fantastic character and a conspiracy that is sure to take us through many more novels. The romance elements make it stumble a bit, but not enough to detract from this fun ride.

TMA SCORE:

4/5 – Exceptional

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