An unflinching but introspective tale of what happens after death.

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In Spencer’s debut novel, a deceased man’s spirit helps souls escape their expiring bodies.

Williams may be dead but his soul lives on. Another spirit named Henreich, who appears to be a teenage boy, is there to tutor him on his new afterlife profession. Williams and Henreich are Sadeiests—a title that’s a portmanteau of the words sadist and poltergeist. They help trapped souls depart bodies that are on the verge of death; if a soul doesn’t manage to do so before the body’s demise, then it dies, as well. The job can be a harrowing ordeal, as when they aid victims of a vicious serial killer named Sinclair. Henreich quickly grasps that Williams is special when one woman’s soul shows him the life that she lived with her ailing husband—an apparently unprecedented occurrence. In a concurrent story, Death meets 12-year-old John, who can see precisely when and how people will die. He tells the boy, whom he calls “Harbinger,” about the Seven Horsemen of the Apocalypse; Death is one of them, of course, but it’s the other six who wish to battle one another until only two remain, with mortals as “collateral damage.” Spencer’s dense narrative also sublimely addresses abstract notions, such as redemption—each saved soul lessens the Sadeiests’ accumulated sin, which gradually makes them look younger. The novel can be cheeky at times, but it’s more often profound, as Williams develops growing empathy for the dying. The deaths themselves tend to be brutal, however, in part due to Sinclair’s regular appearances. The author’s concise prose ably introduces myriad characters but keeps some of them mysterious. As a result, questions linger at the end, although Spencer may be saving the answers for a planned sequel. Dyer’s crisp, black-and-white line art concludes each chapter—a remnant of the book’s genesis as an unrealized graphic novel. Although the events in the text and illustrations don’t match up, the wordless panels reveal early incarnations of Williams and Henreich.

An unflinching but introspective tale of what happens after death.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-69-100788-0

Page Count: 327

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021


This is the stuff of fairy tales—red shoes, ballrooms, mirrors, and thorns but also sincerity, poignancy, and terror.

A woman tangles with a cultlike spa and her own obsession with physical beauty in the wake of her mother’s death in this hypnotic tour de force.

Mirabelle Nour hasn’t lived with her mother in years, but she’s built a life that nevertheless feels like both a reflection and rejection of Noelle Des Jardins. She works in a dress shop, but not the one her mother co-owns in Southern California. She goes by Mira as an adult instead of Belle, the nickname Noelle always preferred. She puts a high premium on her appearance, just like her mother, but in a way Noelle struggles to understand: prioritizing elaborate skin care routines and collagen shakes over red lipstick and sun hats. When Noelle dies in a supposed accident, Mirabelle must come home to La Jolla and confront their disconnect. In the process, she finds her way to La Maison de Méduse, the home of the titular Rouge, which offers otherworldly spa treatments to clients in pursuit of their “Most Magnificent Self,” and uncovers long-suppressed childhood memories of a man who resembled Hollywood royalty. Awad approaches the increasingly well-trod ground of sinister wellness gurus with aplomb, creating an atmosphere of creeping discomfort and surreality right from the start. There is a lot to skewer about the beauty industry at large, but Awad smartly grounds her critique in the corrosive envy and misunderstandings that spring up between biracial Mirabelle and her white mother. Mirabelle is a singularly unreliable narrator, but readers who stick with her throughout bouts of confusion and peril will be richly rewarded.

This is the stuff of fairy tales—red shoes, ballrooms, mirrors, and thorns but also sincerity, poignancy, and terror.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982169695

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Marysue Rucci Books

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023


A reasonably charming urban fantasy that could have used a more rigorous edit before primetime.

The latest in a series of rereleases from a prolific fantasist’s previously self-published works is a contemporary spin on the fairytale “Godfather Death.”

Viola Marek is an aswang, a shapeshifting vampire from Filipino folklore. She’s also a Chicago real estate agent trying to sell a mansion even while the ghost of its last owner, Thomas Edward Parker IV, is doing his supernatural best to block the sale.  In a desperate attempt to earn her commission, she hires Fox D’Mora, Death’s mortal godson, to use his connection to get the ghost to leave. Unfortunately, Death is unavailable: He’s been kidnapped, and to get him back and prevent a worlds-spanning catastrophe, Fox, Vi, the ghost, and assorted other supernatural creatures will have to enter a high-stakes gambling game that usually only immortals can play…but rarely win. The story begins with an unusual blend of myth, fairy tale, and cosmology and inevitably descends to an almost unbearable level of sentimentality, which is simultaneously a refreshing change from Blake’s usual tableau of self-involved, selfish characters who seem driven toward tragedies of their own making. Blake could definitely do a better job at showing the love between characters rather than merely telling the reader that they’re in love. She also has an unfortunate tendency to skip potentially intriguing bits of backstory if they don’t immediately drive the plot along, which is why readers never learn anything about Fox’s childhood and what it was actually like having Death as a parent. Nor does she explain why only two of the four archangels, Gabriel and Raphael, play outsize roles in determining the order of the cosmos, while Uriel and Michael are nowhere to be seen. Bits of anachronism—like the use of a rubber band as aversion therapy 200 years ago or the presence of a magical wristwatch from a time long before watches were common—might be intended to be Pratchett-style humor or chalked up to magic? It’s hard to tell what’s intentional and what is simply careless. Now that Blake has a traditional publisher, perhaps the editors of her future novels will guide the author to address these issues when they arise.

A reasonably charming urban fantasy that could have used a more rigorous edit before primetime.

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023

ISBN: 9781250892461

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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