(I got a copy courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)
Interesting premise and world (Death Wardens vs. Soul Hunters), but characters that turned out too difficult to stand, at least for me.
The story reads fast, and getting into it was quite easy. We're quickly introduced to what being a Warden entails, and to what Soul Hunters do. Granted, their names kind of make it obvious; still, it's good to see such things explained through active scenes, and not just in passing. Even though this could have become an info-dump, it didn't (or if it did, not in a way that felt like I was having tons of information dumped on me).
However, I had the constant, nagging feeling that something was off. I suspected that the "something" was the characters. Some two thirds in, it just didn't work anymore at all.
Nora is almost sixty: she died at eighteen, then spent fourty years as a Warden. Despite her long experience, though, she behaves like a teenager in more than one way, from moping about her mysterious death (understandable if it's just happened, less interesting if it was ages ago) to letting her "hormones" lead the ball (she's dead, by the way, so why would she still have hormones anyway?). That's a specific pet peeve of mine, but I think it's a justified one: when using characters that are older than they look, they must also act older, otherwise we might as well be shown a regular 18-year-old heroine.
While it seems that she's going to be a leading character, the one with experience, compared to the younger one she has to teach, she actually becomes rather passive. Sure, she trains to fight. Sure, she's given a charge of her own. Then she turns into the girl who has to be protected. You'd think that fourty years later, she wouldn't need that so much. I wanted to see her actually teaching things to Jason; I got Jason jumping in front of her to save her.
Jason: nice character at first sight, a soldier who actually enlisted because he wanted to become a medic and thought he'd learn useful things in that regard in the army. Yet also a cliché (cowboy, ranch, manly man of manliness).
Then came the testosterone and jealousy contests. Apart from a couple of Elders, the few other female characters are, of course, girls who intend on seducing Jason:
A pretty, young girl with bright red hair and matching lips jumped forward. Her eagerness irritated me even though it shouldn’t. She stepped into the circle, eyeing Jason like a piece of chocolate cake with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Biting her bottom lip seductively, I rolled my eyes.
Ensue staring, dark glares, fighting in as revealing clothing as possible to grab the guy's attention, and bodies getting too close to each other during training. Slut shaming wasn't 100% in the open, but it definitely kept swimming under the surface. (Also dangling participles here and there, as you can see from the quote.)
This is one of those instances in which the romance clearly ruined the game for me. I'm not fond of love triangles in general, but that's because they're usually cliché, and tend to take over the actual plot. While the stakes could have been alluring here, after a while, it was very difficult for me to go past the typical "bad guy in black vs. manly soldier ex-cowboy"—complete with jealous, passive-aggressive domineering attitude:
He paused, something else balancing on the tip of his tongue. “Did you say Sani and Theron saved you?”
I shivered with the memory, and Jason held me tighter. His heavy arm felt like an iron clamp, gluing me to his side forever.
Guys, there's a bigger problem looming on the horizon, and actually the horizon is getting very, very close because the book's ending soon. Can we focus?
Add a bit of ain't-telling-you-nothing (as in, some characters definitely know a lot more, yet refuse to spit the information out until, obviously, it's much too late for that). I just don't like that, since it creates an artificial delay in readers getting said information, while we all know we won't get it anyway due to the character-rendered-unable-to-speak trope. (I swear, I can feel that one coming from miles away.)
In short: a good idea for a story, with themes that usually grab my interest (death, reapers), yet characters that grated on my nerves too much for me to enjoy it, and probably also a plot dealt with too quickly (there would have been more room for it without the girls competing over the guy, for sure).