Death & Co.
by D. J. McCune
Published on 2013
by Hot Key Books
Genres: Action & Adventure
Adam is a Luman, and it runs in the family. Escorting the dead from life into light, Adam must act as guide to those taken before their time.
As his older brothers fall into their fate however, Adam clings to his life as a normal kid - one who likes girls, hates the Head and has a pile of homework to get through by Monday morning. When Adam gets a terrible premonition he realises that he must make a devastating choice, risking his life, his family and his destiny...
If this was American YA, Death and Co. would be a high-concept, big-budget, action-romance along the lines of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan or The Wolves of Mercy Falls byMaggie Stiefvater. Instead, it’s a suprisingly enjoyable, off-the-beaten-track read I hope to be able to recommend a lot more in future.
For generations, Adam’s family has been tasked with guiding the newly deceased into the afterlife. It’s a role his brothers are happy to fulfil. They, like their father Nathaniel, have a natural talent and a passion for bringing peace to the departed. Our hero Adam, on the other hand, has trouble even keeping his breakfast down when he’s faced with the prospect of coaxing souls into the light. He’d rather be in school than wandering in the wake of a natural disaster or cleaning up a warzone. But the Lumen rules are abundantly clear: follow in the family footsteps, or consider yourself no longer a part of the family at all.
Death and Co. may essentially appear be about a reluctant Grim Reaper – but in reality, it’s about so much more than that. Adam really is an ordinary teenager, with ordinary worries and a really relatable outlook on life. But he was born into a world in which he doesn’t fit and he struggles with the plans fate has lain out for him. Uncovering a conspiracy in the Lumen circle is the last thing he wants – yet as his Lumen abilities continue to deteriorate, he finds himself faced with a choice that may change his life for ever.
I really liked Adam as a character, but I absolutely loved his brothers and his extended family. They really care about each other despite their differences. His sophisticated French mother and his aunt Jo in particular are a huge source of comic relief. Jo’s eccentric personality and unashamed self-confidence are a great contrast to Adam’s uncertainty. Her obsession with toast becomes something of an inside joke througjout the book and I have no doubt it’s going to make further appearances in the sequels.
So far, so good, then – unfortunately, there are some downsides to Death and Co, and in the interest of giving an honest review I think it’s only fair they be addressed.
The writing style of this book creates something of a divide between Death and Co fans: some find it an ideal perspective on Adam’s journey, while others find it alienates the reader from Adam himself. I have to admit I didn’t think the writing style was anything spectacular; it reads like a thousand other books I’ve read, with little flair or texture. It’s here where I come closest to longing for the sleek, snarky style you might find in an American alternative, as much as I apprieciate the down-to-earth, grounded feeling that defines the book as you’ll find it today.
Another bone of contention is the use of subplots as an undercurrent to the main storyline. Adam is the first in his family to stay in high school – but it’s not easy juggling friends, homework and new crushes with the complexities of Lumen society. The school-related subplots don’t really go anywhere once the action takes over, though I have a feeling they might reappear in book two, especially as the ending of this first book is a little rushed.
In short: Death and Co is a solid read I’d happily recommend to readers of MG and lower YA. It’s not perfect, but it’s down to earth, with a great concept and some really memorable characters.
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