Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reaper (e-novella) by Mina Carter

If you don't count the author info and the extra stuff that Samhain puts at the back of its e-books, this novella is 77 pages long.

Synopsis:

Ten years prior to the beginning of this novella, some kind of war happened. During that war, bombs were dropped that somehow fundamentally changed the DNA of some, but not all, people on the planet. Those who were changed became paranormals: vampires, werewolves, ghouls, etc. Those who stayed human tried to survive in the midst of paranormals whose instincts often drove them to eat humans.

Mason used to be a soldier. Now, he helps the inhabitants of Sanctuary, a small town, defend themselves against whatever paranormals might come to bring them harm. When Andy arrives, Mason and the others aren't quite sure what to make of her. She seems human, but she knows a lot more about paranormals and ways to defend against them than the average human.

Andy is something the people of Sanctuary have never encountered before - a Reaper, a being who reaps the souls of those who have died or are about to die. Andy and Mason may be the best chance Sanctuary's residents have of surviving when werewolves descend upon the town.

Review:

I saw this novella when it still brand-new and had a reduced price on the Samhain Publishing website. I read the description, got excited when I saw that it was a post-apocalyptic story starring a woman who'd been turned into a Reaper, read the excerpt, and decided I had to buy it. Unfortunately, although there were aspects of it that I liked, this novella didn't quite work for me.

The world is an interesting one, wide open for whatever sequels Ms. Carter might want to write. This is one of those "everything and the kitchen sink" worlds that includes every imaginable supernatural being, which I know really turns some readers off, but I thought Carter handled things fairly well. Several beings were mentioned in passing, but the only ones that made extended appearances were Andy (the Reaper), a small group of ghouls (they were only around for a few pages, though), and some werewolves.

I thought the werewolves and ghouls were so so (information about them was limited to "here's how they'll try to kill you, and here's how they can be killed"), but Andy's Reaper abilities were as interesting as I had hoped they would be. I also loved all the details about the ways Sanctuary's residents protected themselves. Those people were very prepared and very deadly.

Unfortunately, one big failing of this novella was that so much was left unexplained, and several world-details were a bit confusing. The Reaper stuff, for instance, didn't always make sense. Andy indicated that she couldn't reap souls until the beings with the souls were dead or about to die. I couldn't understand why this was even a minor problem, since, as far as I could tell, Andy could decide to try to kill someone, thereby making them about to die, and thereby making their souls reap-able.

I had assumed that Andy's kick-butt fighting abilities were simply paranormal instincts, something she gained along with her Reaper abilities. However, on page 62 (according to my Nook) Andy mentions "a healthy dose of martial arts training" - when did she get this training, and who gave it to her? What was her life like, prior to gaining her Reaper abilities? The more I thought about it, the more I realized I barely knew anything about Andy, or about Mason. I at least finished the story knowing a few small details about Mason's life prior to the bombs being dropped, but Andy's life might as well have begun when she became a Reaper.

Not only did I feel like I barely knew the main characters, character behavior was also sometimes inconsistent. Tough, disciplined Mason knew that Andy wasn't quite human and that there was therefore a chance she could be dangerous to both him and Sanctuary...and yet he had sex with her, and even fell asleep with her afterward, before finding out what she was. I thought that seemed very out of character and difficult to believe. Also, Andy and Mason's romance moved extremely fast - I think they knew each other a grand total of maybe two days before they decided they were in love. The "we're the same" factor was probably supposed to make this easier to swallow, but it didn't quite work for me.

My suspension of disbelief was still badly stretched by the time the novella's ending came around, and so I was less forgiving of the ending than I might otherwise have been. I'm not a huge fan of stories that end with pregnancy or babies, although I'll put up with those kinds of endings in most romance subgenres. Reaper's pregnancy ending didn't work for me at all. All I could think was, "Okay, so does Andy still have her instinctual need to reap souls, and how's she supposed to do that while 6 months pregnant?" And, after almost 80 pages of Andy being kick-butt, this line was almost painful to read:
"Six months pregnant, Andy was starting to waddle but she still insisted on pulling her weight." (p. 77)
She's gone from being the scariest, deadliest person around to almost waddling.

I really did like the setup, and all that action was nice after reading lots of more sedate works, but the limited number of pages didn't give Carter a lot of room to clarify things. Plus, writing-wise, a few more commas here and there probably would have helped, and there were way too many "Jul-" names. Thankfully, Julian (some guy who died early in the novella - see page 25), Julie/Julia (probably the same person, a resident of Sanctuary), and Julietta (an ex-girlfriend of Mason's) were all minor characters, or the problem would have been much worse.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Bleach (manga) by Tite Kubo; Bleach (anime TV series) - If you'd like another action-packed story filled with beings who reap the souls of others, you might like this. Just be warned, it's very, very long, and I don't think there's an end in sight yet. The series stars a high school student who can see spirits and suddenly gains shinigami (death god) abilities. I've written about volumes 22-24 of the manga.
  • Dead Like Me (live action TV series) - The tone of this show is completely different from Reaper - it's more introspective and funny (often in a kind of sad/dark way). If you like that, you might like this series, which focuses on George, a college dropout who dies while on her way back from her first day at her temp job. George becomes a grim reaper and must come to terms with her own death, leaving her family behind, and the things her new job requires her to do.
  • Rising Stars Compendium (graphic novel) by J. Michael Straczynski and others - It's been a while since I read this. From what I remember, a strange light or comet or something appears in the sky, and, years later, some or all of the people born when that light appeared turn out to have superpowers. Superpowers don't necessarily make these people's lives better, and I think that one of the people is killing the others.
  • Urban Shaman (book) by C.E. Murphy - Those who'd like something else in which a seemingly ordinary person ends up with new powers might want to try this. The main character is a mechanic who has to figure out how to use her shamanic powers in order to save the world from the Wild Hunt. There is action, fantasy, and a smidgen of romance (I'm not sure if the romance ever goes anywhere, unfortunately).
  • Soul Eater (anime TV series) - Another action-packed series with Reaper characters. In the world of this series, pairs composed of a weapon and a Meister go after evil beings and reap their souls. The main characters are Soul (a weapon - his weapon form is a scythe) and Maka (a Meister), although there are lots of other characters to fall in love with. Of the Meisters, my personal favorite is the obsessive-compulsive Death the Kid, whose love of symmetry almost gets him killed from time to time. This series began as a manga, but I haven't read it yet and don't know how it compares. I've written about the anime.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (live action TV series) - Another series with lots of action, supernatural beings, and a kick-butt female main character.
  • The Walking Dead (live action TV series) - I've only watched a couple episodes of this one so far, but I think it might appeal to those who enjoyed the survival aspects of Reaper. The main character wakes up in a hospital after having mostly recovered from a gunshot wound. Some sort of crisis appears to have happened, but it's not until later that he learns that the dead have begun turning into zombies. His primary goal is to find out if his wife and child are still alive and safe.
  • Night Pleasures (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - Something about Andy's "voice" made me think of Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter and Were Hunter novels. If you'd like something else with lots of action, set in a supernatural being-filled world, you might want to try one of Kenyon's books. Night Pleasures is the first of her Dark Hunter books, but if you don't like the sound of that one, you might take a look at some of the other books and see which hero-heroine pair suits you better.

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