As a human family tussles against bitter seraphim in the underworld, misery runs constant—never waning, never tempered.
Waggener’s debut opens with a cryptic prologue by mother-of-three Erika. A car accident sends Erika to the underworld, accompanied by Jeremiah, an adult rogue (neither seraph nor human). Jeremiah refuses to explain anything, including whether Erika’s dead. He mutters arcane things and snaps when Erika doesn’t understand. That this motif, of a controlling male who keeps a woman in the dark, is common doesn't make it any less infuriating; that Erika falls for Jeremiah is predictable as well. What makes no sense is Erika’s demand that her children join her—as if people could travel to Limbo alive and unharmed. She visits them in dreams, unconcerned that those dream-visits are nightmares to them. Erika’s 17-year-old and 18-year-old sometimes narrate as the unrelentingly dismal plot moves through drowning, stabbings, metaphorical rape and breathless chases. The youngest child dies more than once. Generations-long sourness infuses both Erika’s family (alcoholism, abuse) and the seraphim (marital infidelity and a bastard child; black pages with white font tell Jeremiah’s parents’ thread). Limbo is a city slum. Moreover, although young-adult literature has no cemented definition, casting two of four protagonists as adults—Erika’s in her 30s—firmly removes this particular text from teen concerns.
Grim indeed, without respite, often without rhyme or reason. (Horror. 16 & up)