When I read Trent Jamieson’s deliciously dark Death Most Definite last year, I was instantly taken with its concept–death as a corporation–its pitch-black sense of humor, its extremely clever melding of the modern and the mythological, and most importantly, its protagonist, Steven DeSelby, who would be an everyday Australian bloke except for the fact that he also happens a Grim Reaper, or Pomp, a job into which he was born.
Death Most Definite told the story of how Steven, the reluctant worker bee, came to save Australia from a Regional Apocalypse™. The new sequel in the Death Works series, Managing Death (both of which made my best of 2010 list), tells the story of how Steven, the new manager, learns how to be boss, and it’s even better than the first installment–sharper, smarter, more exciting, and with even higher stakes. Not only is the truly terrifying threat from the brewing Big Bad on a more global scale than in Death Most Definite, but Jamieson expands on the first book’s mythology, unveiling revelations in a manner that completely jives with the rules of the universe he previously established, but dialed up a few dozen notches, thus making the situation all the more epic and heart-stopping.
Most importantly, however, no matter how huge and earth-shattering the world situation gets, Jamieson always maintains focus on Steven and his closest loved ones–his girlfriend, Lissa, and cousin, Tim, both exceptionally well-drawn and likable characters in their own rights. As in the first novel, the story is told in first-person, present tense, by Steven himself, so we experience all of the novel’s events from his immediate perspective. Whereas last time he was breathlessly staving off a zombiepocalypse of sorts, this novel eases up on the tension a bit–the threat is certainly looming but not as in-his-face as before–allowing us to observe the fallout from those events and the consequences of Steven’s previous actions and decisions. What makes Steven such a compelling protagonist is that he’s flawed and he makes serious mistakes at times, and neither he nor his author encourage the reader to blindly forgive that. He struggles to do the right thing, but despite his supernatural powers, he’s also strikingly human at heart, and his behavior is constantly informed by who he loves, what and who he has lost, his griefs, his regrets. He isn’t some badass, hard-bitten noir superhero. He’s just a guy who, through circumstances beyond his control, has become Death Itself and is now trying to cope with the pressures of a new job, a new relationship, and a new life that constantly seems to be spinning out of his control.
Over the course of this enormously entertaining novel, Steven is tested even further than he ever has been in the past, grows even more, and is set to embark on the next stage of his gradual evolution from corporate drone to hero. And I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.