Kassel (Blackbird of the Gallows, 2017, etc.) expands on the world of harbingers, beekeepers, and Strawmen in this paranormal romance sequel.
A young-looking man named Dresden is the victim of an ancient curse. Hundreds of years ago, sorcerers transformed him into an immortal weapon. His insides crawl with bees, and their sting can turn the darkness in a person’s mind into full-blown psychosis. His appearance ceaselessly shifts to display the faces of the people whom he’s killed. He’s compelled to wander the world in pursuit of victims, and he accomplishes this mission by following “harbingers of death”—shape-shifting humans who are attracted to the sites of impending tragedy. This dreary routine leads him to Essie Roane, a 17-year-old girl who struggles with a curse of her own. But Dresden surprises himself by sparing her—even though she’s someone whom the bees want him to target. This anomaly draws the attention of a Strawman, a creature of immense power and opaque motivations. Against his instincts, Dresden finds himself fighting to protect Essie from a tragic event that the harbingers sense, the attentions of the Strawman, and the ill will of another ominous stranger—all while struggling with feelings that he thought had died long ago. Meanwhile, Essie suffers from vivid hallucinations that doctors can’t diagnose; however, she finds Dresden to be uncommonly comforting. Kassel starts with a grim premise and isn’t afraid to take the story to some very dark places, requiring more morbid fascination from her readers than most paranormal YA stories do. The main characters deal with fantastic circumstances that set them far apart from most teenagers, creating opportunities for offbeat but realistic characterization. The supporting cast also provides some wonderful texture, such as Dresden’s begrudging friendship with a lighthearted harbinger and Essie’s compassionate relationship with her Aunt Bel as they navigate Essie’s illness together. The events of the previous book are eventually drawn into the fold of this narrative, but this latest story can easily be read as a stand-alone.
An inventive novel for readers who enjoy slightly macabre and unabashedly romantic tales.