A Death’s Awakening, by C.E. Wilson

It doesn’t take a lot of lurking throughout my reviews to see that I’m a big fan of indie-author C.E. Wilson. Maybe it’s because I know from following her on social media that like me, she’s a big fan of The Twilight Zone. That being said, she’s rolling out a clever series of books, which she calls her Somewhere in Between series. They’re standalone titles (somewhere between Young Adult and New Adult) that will ultimately comprise an anthology similar to The Twilight Zone in that the stories have a sci-fi or supernatural or paranormal or dystopian or just-plain-off-from-our-world vibe to them. And just like the best episodes of that classic show, she’s using this off-kilter world to hold a mirror up to certain aspects of our own society.

The first book, Untitled Beauty, was set in a dystopian world focused on outward appearances, yet it also had undercurrents of the evils of human trafficking, and thus was an excellent but uncomfortable read. The second book, Cruel and Unusual, focused on a convict in an isolated prison with one other inmate until a tiny feminine humanoid with metallic wings appeared. This exceptional tale covered themes of loneliness, atonement, redemption, along with the dangers of technology and political spying.

Well, here’s her third book in the series, and the book description—with the mention of a character literally working for Death—definitely conjured up memories of some classic Twilight Zone episodes. I thought of a young Robert Redford in Night Call, as Death personified trying to cajole an old woman into coming with him, and I thought of Ed Wynn in One for the Angels as a street vendor tantalizing Death into being too late to take a little girl. Here we have a story set in contemporary YA land, and I was intrigued to see how Wilson would personify Death and what theme(s) she’d explore.

Our narrator for this journey is Hadley, unfortunately chronically ill with an unnamed lung disease. She requires an inhaler, lozenges, cough syrup, and other medication; and her classmates often tease her for illness. One evening, she meets Hunter, the new kid at school—the brooding hunk of a guy that all the girls are drooling over. Flashes of Edward Cullen from Twilight went through my head as the other girls reacted to him, especially since they’re both paranormal characters. Though not the grim reaper himself, Hunter works for Death, and when Hadley learns this, there’s some question that Hunter’s there to claim her because she’s so sick.

This is a wonderful setup for a paranormal YA story. I had lots of questions at this point. Should Hunter be trusted? Will Hadley get sicker? Will she die? Will he go rogue and spare her? How long will it take for them to develop feelings for each other? (Come on, it’s YA paranormal, we know it’s gonna happen!) How did Hunter start working for Death?

Aren’t those awesome questions? I’m not going to spoil the book by answering them here, but know that the answers come. Hunter’s backstory is rolled out at more or less the right pace, and it certainly is interesting. I really liked the explanation for why he’s working for Death and the implication of how the afterlife works in the world of the story. And the themes—atonement and trusting that there are others out there to help get you through dark times—are also awesome.

But there’s something missing here for me. There’s a lot of talking in this book—more talking than action; more telling than showing. And a lot of the conversations, though progressing naturally through the plot, have similar feelings. Hadley wants to know more about Hunter’s job, but Hunter can’t/won’t tell, and Hadley assumes something bad about him. I understand that Hadley is sick and can’t be too physically active, and I understand that Hunter has his own limitations, but there could be more doing and a little less telling.

However, that narrative voice is solid and relatable, even if Hadley seems to be defined primarily by her illness. And the rules of Hunter’s job and existence are a new twist on the personification of Death, so that was fresh. So despite the shortcomings in execution, the strong concept and theme—as one would expect from C.E. Wilson—awaken A Death’s Awakening to FOUR STARS.

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A Death’s Awakening is available at Amazon.

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