Book Review: Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison

Once Dead Twice ShyKim Harrison’s new young adult supernatural fantasy, Once Dead, Twice Shy, will be released at the end of the this month.  Harrison is the author of the New York Times bestselling urban fantasy series featuring witch and private detective, Rachel Morgan.  Once Dead, Twice Shy marks her first full-length novel geraed toward the young adult audience, though the prequel to the book can be found in the short story collection Prom Nights From Hell.

In addition to its target audience age-range, the other distinguishing feature that sets this novel apart from Harrison’s Hollows series is that the characters are all new.  Rather than witches, vampires, and pixies as main characters, Once Dead, Twice Shy revolves around angels, reapers, and timekeepers.  The characters serve as a cutting edge variant in the paranormal fiction genre, a refreshing introduction to mystical beings far different from the vampires and witches we’ve come to consider commonplace in fantasy novels these days.

As an interesting twist, the story opens with main character, Madison Avery, already dead.  In addition to being the new kid in her high school, she had the unfortunate luck of getting scythed by a reaper at her junior prom.  Though being dead might slow down most girls, Avery still manages to snag the loyalty of a new friend and potential romantic interest while battling some of the most powerful forces in the universe and still remaining true to who she is as an individual.  As far as heroines in young adult novels go, Madison Avery is much more like-able and inspiring than most with her punk rock style and strong sense of self.  She is also able to navigate some rather grey areas in the battle between good and evil.

Harrison masterfully creates imagery and symbolism that enhances both the story and the character development.  Some examples of this can be found in the layers of angel hierarchy, the guardian angels with their affection for bells, and the deathly blackwings being perceived as crows to the average human eye.  As always, Harrison manages to build tension and suspense amidst the action and fast-paced plot.

“My illusionary pulse quickened.  The more anxious I became, the more my mind relied on memories of being alive.  Something was about to happen, and I didn’t know what to do.  What if that beautiful girl at the wheel was the reaper?”

There were moments, however brief, where I wondered if I had met some of these characters before.  The light and dark angels brandishing their colorful swords made me flashback to a scene from the book and TV miniseries, The Fallen.  The guardian angel character, Grace, with her sassy limerick humor and small yet forbidding persona reminded me slightly of Jenks from Harrison’s Hollows series.

Despite these momentary distractions, Harrison remained true to her proven ability, crafting a world in which it is believable that these characters would really walk amongst us.  Furthermore, she convincingly developed the main character, Madison Avery, who faces many of the same  real-life issues that any teenage girl would face, while learning that the fate of the world literally lies with her.

For true bibliophiles, the hard cover version with its lilac angel wing engraving hidden under the dust sleeve is a must have.

6 comments

  1. So I have to know… is she decomposing day by day, or is she “charmed” to look alive somehow, so that she is not immediately scorned and ostracized at school and possibly burned by an angry mob of zombie-fearing townsfolk???

  2. Ah, good question. I know how you like those zombie stories, Liz. I guess I should have been more specific. She’s not a decomposing corpse, but rather more like a soul (or a solid ghost) held together by the combination of her own talent, determined will, and the power of a magical amulet that she swiped from her would-be assassin.

  3. I read this in one day over the weekend and I must admit it was pretty good. I’ve not seen The Fallen but this seemed a little bit of an expansion of some of the ideas in Dead Like Me.

    I read Dead Witch Walking and Once Dead, Twice Shy so close together that I noticed both Jenks and Grace mention Nair. That stuff never worked on my legs which is why I remembered it. 🙂

    It’s great to read a teenage female character that has her head on straight and doesn’t seem older or younger than her character.

  4. Hi Im Ivy 13 Years old… i have to do a essay on this in 2 days!!! i cant do that my teacher gave it to me today i must bring it saturday morning or ill fail…. can someone please help… please

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