The wrong goodbye / Chris F. Holm
Why do I keep reading Angry Robot books again?
I’m doing these two books as a two-fer ’cause that’s how I feel like doing them today.
Dead harvest and The wrong goodbye are a pair of contemporary fantasy novels about a noir-style hardboiled grim reaper. It’s an interesting premise, and the cover art is certainly eye-catching in that it evokes that old-school pulp style. Apparently there’s a third one now (The big wreap) but I haven’t read it and don’t really plan on reading it unless somebody asks me to do so for this blog.
Some background on the publisher
I’m going to end up reviewing more than a few books from Angry Robot and I feel like it’s worth mentioning something about them as a publishing house. Angry Robot is a relatively small UK-based publisher of weird fiction. They are supported by an extensive guerrilla marketing apparatus, and the library where I worked at the time seemed to acquire pretty much their entire catalog.
I’ve read close to a dozen books published by Angry Robot so far, and to be honest I haven’t generally been “wowed” by them. Still, their marketing is incredibly effective on me and I find myself continuously picking up books by this publisher. The only other publisher that markets to me as effectively is Orbit. Tor and Baen are probably tied for third but that’s chiefly because that’s where many of my favorite authors are.
Back to the books in question: plot
Sam Thornton was once a living human who sold his soul. Now he is a collector, a disembodied spirit that possesses the recently deceased in order to collect the souls of the damned and send them to Hell. Upon being tasked with collecting the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent, Thornton decides to rebel against his masters in an act that threatens the balance between Heaven and Hell.
How is it?
It’s only okay. Holm wears his influences a little too openly and the books become somewhat formulaic for it. I enjoyed them, but I had high hopes for the premise that didn’t ultimately pan out. Holm tries to combine urban fantasy and hardboiled crime fiction similarly to Jim Butcher, but unlike Butcher seems to take himself a little too seriously. I’m a fan of both the “reaper of souls is a normal dude” and the “human finds themselves fighting against the forces of Heaven and Hell” tropes, but the combination here didn’t really satisfy.
Part of the issue, for me, was that the books aren’t silly enough. Urban fantasy is a genre that can easily descend into self-parody, and a little goofiness can go a long way in preventing that. Holm played it a little too straight and so the books feel a little stuffy.
Still, Thornton is an interesting character with a past that, while revealed fairly gradually, credibly informs his actions. The worldbuilding is fairly solid, and he’s certainly an adequate writer. Still, there was something missing and I found myself rushing through the second half of Dead harvest so I could be done with it. I read The wrong goodbye out of a sense of obligation, having checked them both out together and not wanting the other book to feel left out. It wasn’t torturous, just less fun than I wanted it to be.
That’s the problem I have continuously with books from Angry Robot – they are well written and feature interesting plots, but they tend to be fairly dark and lack any sense of play or fun. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad, but I can only handle so much seriousness at a time.
It’s a classic premise that Holm handles well enough that it doesn’t seem too stale
The pacing is pretty good throughout
Despite having a premise that I normally find compelling, there was just something missing. It lacked a good “hook”
Holm’s influences are a little too visible
It’s a good read for fans of the Dresden files series looking for other books in that style. If the Dresden files have a few too many fairies and werewolves for your taste then Holm’s series should satisfy in ways that Butcher’s didn’t. Similarly, readers who almost liked Sandman Slim or John dies at the end but found them too flippant should try this one out.
Fans of the John Constantine character will see lots to like here, as Constantine has a lot in common thematically with Dead harvest and The wrong goodbye.
People who like an element of the supernatural in their books but don’t enjoy most of the traditional fantasy tropes should consider checking this series out. It’s possible that this series could be a decent one to introduce fans of hardboiled fiction to contemporary fantasy (かもしれない).
Rosemary and rue / Seanan McGuire
John Constantine, Hellblazer : original sins / Jamie Delano et al. (Apparently Constantine has been re-incorporated into the regular DC universe and has a New 52 series? I haven’t read it so I’m going to recommend the original.)