In Jackson’s (The Adventures of my Grandpa Bert, 2013; etc.) afterlife fantasy, a recently deceased man must learn the rules and secrets of the spirit world to save a little girl and fight a great evil.
Taven begins, like many heroes, confused by the world around him. For unexplained reasons, people ignore him and memories assault him. He eventually realizes that he’s dead, and he soon meets several other spectral inhabitants, including an unhelpful suicide, dead smokers obsessed with getting their nicotine fixes and a gang of ghostly gamblers. After Taven gets hit by a truck (in a moment of Looney Tunes–like comedy), he finds a series of spirits willing to teach him, but each has his or her own view of the afterlife and how to spend it. Aunt Sophie, for example, tells him to never stop growing; Fiona tells him that happiness is the most important thing in life (and death) and takes him diving into a young girl’s dreams; and his late brother Finn spends all his time helping people. Taven eventually learns that everything is not as it seems; it turns out that Fiona and her “dream junkies” are dangerous and that Taven has been unknowingly threatening his relationship with his family—and, soon, an even more dangerous power is revealed. This propels him on a fast-paced, high-stakes quest that contrasts with his earlier, slow-paced wandering. Although readers will likely welcome this transition, later revelations make the second half feel almost like a different book, as the sentimental lessons of the first half are replaced by action set pieces in people’s dreams. The inconsistent pacing and tone hamper the reading experience, as do occasional typos (“waived” instead of “waved”; “titled” instead of “tilted”) and awkward phrasing (“A woman had torn up a dripping with juices, perfectly cooked, hamburger”).
An intriguing, if uneven, contemporary fantasy that veers from the personal to the epic.