Everybody knows that every now and then, certain sub-genres become popular and everybody and their brother tries to write within it. Of course, this usually leads to a lot of novels that sound more or less alike and that have so many elements in common that it’s tough to keep them straight. Occasionally, though, you get one that doesn’t fall into those traps and tells an original story. Dead Harvest brings a breath of fresh air to the paranormal genre with a tale of a damned soul moved to try to do the right thing no matter the cost.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Meet Sam Thornton, Collector of Souls.
Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure their souls are dispatched to the appropriate destination.
But when he’s dispatched to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before.
This novel was one of the more pleasant surprises that I’ve had lately. If you’ve read even a few novels in the paranormal genre, you know that one of the staple elements has come to be a love interest. While there are books that do this kind of plot justice, there are so many of them around that they don’t stand out from the crowd. Dead Harvest avoids this problem by simply not having a love interest. It was more refreshing than I expected. Once I realized that the main character and the girl he was sent to collect weren’t going to head down the path of romance, I was able to relax and quit anticipating when it would happen, which allowed me to focus more on the plot. It also let the author develop the two characters independent of each other.
Holm’s plotting is tight and fast-paced. Thankfully, the novel isn’t all action—that would get kind of monotonous to read. The author balances the breakneck pace that is used through most of the novel with some strategically placed periods of calm. During these moments, the characters get their chance to develop and become more fleshed out. There’s also a sub-plot inserted into the narrative that explains how Sam became a Collector to begin with. The two major stories play off against each other really well and they kept my interest high.
Even though Sam is a damned soul, and even though readers get ample examples of what he will (and won’t) do in pursuit of his duty, he’s a lot more likeable than you might expect. I usually don’t like anti-heroes—or heroes who are at least walking the shady side of morality—but Sam is an exception. While some of his actions are questionable, the reader always gets the reasoning behind it, and it’s enough to make you care about him.
The worldbuilding is quite good for a debut novelist. The author uses all of those characters, plus the flashbacks to Sam’s mortal life, to paint a well-rounded picture of the mechanics of Heaven and Hell. There is obviously more to find out—I wouldn’t expect the author to give everything away in one novel, especially not since there are more on the way—but what’s given here is a good foundation and is delivered without the feel of an infodump or details being awkwardly worked in.
I found this novel difficult to put down (and frustrated when I needed to recharge my Nook in order to keep reading it), and that’s one of the best compliments that I can give a book. For those who are tired of the same old thing in urban fantasy, Dead Harvest should be the next title on your reading list. It is engaging, original, and sets a high standard for storytelling. I’ll be waiting eagerly for the next installment.
Also by this author: The Wrong Goodbye
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on March 5, 2012.