Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

Summoned to Thirteenth Grave by Darynda Jones

Charley Davidson, Darynda Jones’ brilliant urban fantasy series of a grim reaper slash goddess comes to an end with the thirteenth book, and it does it well. Summoned to Thirteenth Grave managed to be both upbeat and very final; there is no room for wistful thinking that the series would return any time soon. Yet the ending managed to leave me happy instead of sad to see it go.

The story had high stakes of the world ending in only a few days, unless Charley manages to find a way to close the hell dimension she’s accidentally opened. Despite the tight time-frame, she nonetheless has time to investigate her mother’s death, which had taken place when Charley was born, a case of an abducted girl, and a mystery of a man who carves names to his body. All this is done with the customary Charley attention span, though her ADHD didn’t act up as badly as it used to do. Perhaps a century spent in her own hell dimension had cured her of the worst. The book was consequently thin on laugh-out-funny moments usually caused by her short attention span.

Since this was the last book, a lot of time was spent in tying up loose ends and saying goodbye to regular characters, many of whom were ghosts and who were now given their chance to pass through Charley to their final rest. Everything was made perhaps a little too tidy, but it created a few teary moments. There were a couple of unnecessary deaths too, which seemed to take place solely so that the characters could be mentioned in the book and be given an ending too.

All this meant that there was a lot going on in the book that had nothing to do with the ultimate battle. That took place at the very end, and was over before I could blink. The big twist that ended the battle was foreshadowed well, and worked as intended.

The same can’t be said about the two other big twists concerning Charley’s family. (This here is a RELATIVELY SPOILER FREE review. If you’ve already read the book, there’s a version with spoilers at the end of the review.) Both were sprung on the reader out of the blue, and failed to have any emotional impact they no doubt were supposed to have; at least this reader was both unamused and unmoved by them. Both twists were unnecessary too, and as the latter completely changed how I view a beloved character, I found it singularly upsetting twist for the author to make in the last book. It should’ve been dealt withor at least hinted atfor several books already to have a proper impact. Now it just came out as Deus ex machina, and not a very good one as that.

It wasn’t a perfect book, but it was a perfect ending. When the ending manages to leave you happy with how things turned out instead of sad or confused, it’s worth all the stars I can give.

***

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS


Here’s the review of the twists for those who have already read the bookor those who never intend to read or just don’t care. The first twist concerns Charley’s sister Gemma. The two of them had a difficult relationship throughout the series, but they’d grown closer in the last couple of books. And then she dies. Only, the reader isn’t told about it until several chapters later when it’s suddenly sprung on them after been given to understand she’d survived the attack that killed her. All this time, Charley doesn’t seem to care.

To handle Gemma’s death like it never took place was immensely upsetting, and robbed me of a chance to mourn her properly. There are no hints of her fate, no foreshadowing, and in fact she’s treated by all characters like she’s still alive, because she appears as a ghost. And when the truth is finally revealed, Charlie’s reaction is lacklustre to say the least, even if we are given to understand that she’s in a bit of a denial. She—and with her the reader—grieves the passing of Rocket, her ghost friend, much more. Charley’s more interested in how Gemma can help her understand their mother’s death. But Gemma didn’t need to die for that. She was a psychiatrist; she could’ve been made to remember with her skills, not Charley’s. If the reader had been told the truth from the start, we could’ve grieved with Charley, and then found solace in the fact that Gemma could still help. Now it becomes more a means to an end. All in all, a severe let-down in a very good book.

The other major twist concerns Charley’s uncle Robert, who has been her stalwart companion throughout the series. Charley has helped him to solve crimes, and during the most of the series he was in the dark about how she did it. And now, we’re told that not only has he always known the truth, he was in her life solely because of what she is. Because, it turned out, out of the blue, Uncle Robert was an angel.

This annoyed me even more than Gemma’s death, mostly because I didn’t care for her much, whereas I loved Ubie. It’s of course nice that he had a greater role in Charley’s life than she believed, but the way it was handled, in the last book and mainly as Deus ex machina, so that he could fight in the last battle, was just lazy writing. And that’s not worst. I liked Uncle Ubie with his weaknesses, as a human who did his best even against greater odds in a world he didn’t quite understand. Now all that became a lie. The character I’d loved never existed. And that was truly upsetting.

There was a minor twist at the end too, but it was passed with barely a notice. Reyes tells at the beginning that they have three days to conquer the hell dimension until it takes over the world. But in three days, it barely covers the town where they live. The timeline is in fact for him, because he’s made a deal with Archangel Michael to get Charley out of the hell dimension. They have three days together and then he has to leave with Michael. It passes without notice. But this could have a proper emotional impact too, if both Charley and the reader had been made aware of it from the beginning. Now it made me feel like I’d been rooting for the wrong horse the whole time. The stakes would’ve been much higher if we all knew it was personal for Charley and Reyes, not just about saving the world. Which, in the end happened rather easily.

This ends my spoiler section of the review. Like I said, the book was still good, but it could’ve been better with some proper foreshadowing.

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