“Once Dead, Twice Shy” by Kim Harrison

26 Mar


Author Kim Harrison is well known for her paranormal fantasies for adults. "Once Dead, Twice Shy" is Harrison's first novel written specifically for a teen audience, and it's a total winner. Fast-paced and plot-driven — but with interesting mythology and plenty of snark — this quirky, amiable tale of reapers, timekeepers, and fate will grab teen girls everywhere.

Madison Avery is already dead when we meet her, having been killed on prom night by Kairos, the dark timekeeper. While lying in the morgue, some spirit-like part of Madison steals Kairos' enchanted amulet, whose charms allow her to survive. Well, not "survive" in the sense of breathing and blood flow, but as long as she wears the amulet, Madison's soul remains in what appears to others to be a corporeal form. She doesn't eat or sleep (because she's dead!), but she still has to go to school and work. A little memory wiping by light timekeeper Ron allows her dad and prom date Josh to mostly forget her gruesome death, and so Madison now spends her summer days with light reaper Barnabas learning to communicate by thoughts and preventing dark reapers from scything any more innocents.

This reaper business probably requires some explanation. Here goes. Dark reapers are angels who believe that fate governs all human behavior. If an otherwise good 17 year-old is fated to do horrible things 40 years from now, dark reapers would rather scythe the kid now and prevent the future harm. Light reapers, well, they believe in the power of choice, so their job is to follow the trail of creepy black wings (think shadowy, flying harbingers of death and horror) and thwart a dark reaper's attack. The timekeepers? They're like a kind of reaper overlord with the nifty ability to jiggle time and change memories.

Ok, so dark timekeeper Kairos is not happy to have lost his powerful amulet, and he's got dark reapers out to snatch it back from Madison and Barnabas. If Madison loses the amulet, her soul will vanish and her scything (well, death) will be complete. You can see how she'd like to hang onto it, right? So we get an engaging, fast story with plenty of self-deprecating humor and a touch of romance, as Madison, good guy Josh, and a tiny, annoying guardian angel named Grace try to beat Kairos at his own game, save Josh's life, and get Madison her body back.

If this plot synopsis doesn't make sense here, trust me, the story works. Harrison does a great job in explaining her mythology and sticking to it. There's even a larger question here about fate versus choice, and Madison's stand on that issue — as well as her allegiances — shift throughout the story. I loved how Madison, dead and fighting off all manner of baddies, still has to deal with snobby classmates and a nosey but well-meaning dad. Madison is as worried about appearing flat-out weird — she is, after all, talking to angels and testing powers of invisibility — as she is about facing Kairos. All this real-world angst grounds the story and makes Madison an authentic, relatable character. Her sharp sense of humor also lightens the mood and makes the novel lots of fun.

Harrison nicely resolves the central story here while setting her characters up for more adventures in future sequels. Yay! I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens to Madison, Josh, and Barnabas. Middle and high school readers looking for an entertaining, otherworldy book that doesn't take itself too seriously will love "Once Dead, Twice Shy." Look for it in late May.

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Posted by on March 26, 2009 in Uncategorized


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