Two Books About Death… and Also About Life

Still-Life with a Skull by Philippe de Champaigne
By Bahia Simons-Lane
©2012 Bahia Portfolio

It’s hard to write a book about death that is not also about life.  Though it is easy to write a book about life that is not about death.  Books that deal with death, whether in conventional ways or in more unconventional ones, make us examine our lives and appreciate what we have.  I recently read two books, both in the fantasy/horror genre, both YA novels, that both dealt with the concept of death in different ways.

The first was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

The Graveyard Book

Plot Summary

A boy’s whole family is killed and he manages to crawl away and find himself in a graveyard where he is raised by the inhabitants – mostly ghosts.

Review

A book about growing up, the story is unique in that is almost entirely takes place in a graveyard.  Like most of Neil Gaiman’s books, the fantasy of the setting doesn’t detract from the very human experiences the characters have.  Even Bod (short for Nobody) growing up in a graveyard with ghosts for family captures the inquisitiveness of growing and the frustrations of being shackled by adult rules that you don’t understand.  In some ways it is a predictable story, one in which the kids at the end overcome their adversary.  However, the feeling of death and loss pervades the entire story.  While ghosts may live forever, Bod does not and it’s unsurprising that there comes a time when his life must change.  The story deals with growth and loss; of losing friends, of losing family.  Bod is no stranger to death, since he lives with it, but he must come to understand that for some people death is forever.  Yet after death and loss new things come.

Written for a young audience, the book continues to have Gaiman’s signature style that is both simplistic and evocative.  With the exception of a somewhat unclear subplot, this book was excellent and I would highly recommend it, especially to those who generally enjoy Gaiman’s work.

Genre – Fantasy/Horror/YA

Rating – 4/5

Buy It – Amazon.com

The second was a two book series starting with Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (followed by the sequel Girl of Nightmares).

Anna Dressed in Blood

Plot Summary

A young man with a mystical knife must hunt down violent ghosts left on this world and send them to where they belong.  He leaves alone those who harm no one.  After his father’s death, this job passed on to him and he and is mother travel around looking for those spirits who do the most harm.

Review

This is both a book about death and a book about friendship.  Since his father’s death, Cas has been focused on becoming better and better at sending ghosts back to where they belong with the hope of becoming better than his father and someday tracking down the spirit that killed him.  Cas hasn’t had time for friendship or for love, until he arrives in a small Canadian town looking for a ghost called “Anna Dressed in Blood.”  When he finds her, he finds out that there is more to the violence she commits – she is propelled by a sadness and cannot seem to stop even though she really doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  Cas, with the help of the first friends he’s ever really had, must unravel the story behind Anna and either kill her or save her – a choice he struggles with.

The book handles Cas’s relationship with death through how he is still dealing with the loss of his father and those questions we all have of what is on the other side.  He begins to question where he is sending the ghosts he kills when he is forced to consider killing Anna. Though in the horror genre, the violence is fairly tame.  This isn’t a truly frightening book, though it is suspenseful.  The characters are likeable and the first person perspective is believable.

The book is competently written and very enjoyable.  This is for lovers of the horror genre and would make great beach reading.  I went on to read the next book, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as this one it concluded the story nicely.

Genre – Fantasy/Horror/YA

Rating – 3.5/5

Buy It – Amazon.com

All content is the sole property of Bahia Simons-Lane and Bahia Portfolio, if you are reading this blog on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA. © 2012 Bahia Portfolio

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