In Wolf’s (Nandia’s Children, 2017, etc.) fantasy novella, a “death mentor” writes a manual for students.
Bernard, or “Bearns” to his friends, has helped souls come to terms with the afterlife for more than 300 years. His beloved teacher, Miss Chin, convinces him to draft a guidebook for students who want the same career. In its pages, he explains that death mentors like himself are able to experience their clients’ psychological states, and that the newly dead tend to be confused in the “alcheringa” (or afterlife), because they can suddenly “read thoughts, see sounds, hear colors and feel energies.” They also sometimes create their own punishments; Bearns offers an example of a guilt-ridden cardinal who imagined that he was burning in a fiery hell for centuries. However, Bearns stresses that mentors shouldn’t excessively “meddle” in clients’ situations. If a mentor gets too close to a client, for instance, they may wish to take on his or her personal challenges, which impedes the clients’ learning process. Wolf’s book appropriately reads like a textbook at times, but he does make its rather abstract notions comprehensible, as when he describes an astral body residing inside a physical one. However, he also has Bearns recount his truly curious assignments in a traditional narrative style, addressing potential romances between mentors and clients and offering an account of mother/son serial killers, whose profound remorse drives them to meet their dead victims’ souls. Some aspects of the fictional universe feel unexplored, though; the book merely hints at what happens on planets other than Earth, for instance. There are also references to Bearns’ love, Nandia; they both appeared in Wolf’s earlier series, and readers unfamiliar with those works may not understand the callbacks. The function of the Galactic Grand Council, also repeatedly mentioned, may be unclear to new readers as well.
An intelligent and esoteric work that takes a philosophical approach to life after death.