Title: Twice Dead
Author: Caitlin Seal
Publication Date: 18 September 2018
Favorite quote: “Sometimes, little bird, you have to bend to keep from breaking.”
I received an ARC on netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Twice Dead is the first installment in Caitlin Seal’s new series titled The Necromancer’s Song. Because this is a review for a book that has not yet been released, it will be spoiler and plot free. I was first drawn to the cover of this book, and although I usually tend to avoid paranormal fantasy, the description proved too tempting to pass up.
“Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered.
But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue.
She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.”
Let’s start with Naya – the main protagonist whom the story follows through her transition from living to her new “life” as one of the undead in a new and unfamiliar land. Naya is a young girl dedicated to her father and country to a fault. The battle that Naya wages against herself is fleshed out well throughout the course of the novel, but it took about halfway through the book for her to make a clear decision. While it seems a bit too long for this part of the main character’s internal storyline to be up in the air, the external events and conflicts really drive the story to keep the plot from sagging. Once Naya resolves her inner-conflict, the story soars.
Corten is the potential romantic figure in this book, and while I wasn’t really feeling their connection as strongly as I would’ve liked (at first), it was cute. Corten takes on an important role in Naya’s new undead life and it developed into a unique relationship that I loved. Maybe it’s because I don’t usually read paranormal stories, but Corten and Naya’s friendship was different from others that I’ve read because of the circumstances that their bond is built upon.
Corten and Naya are both those types of flawed, relatable characters that ground the reader in something that they can connect to. For me, it was Naya’s uncertainty and Corten’s sense of persistence despite his own perception of his artistry as inferior.
Really, a lot of the characters are relatable in some way or another. Seal writes characters that can stand apart from others within the text, though I’m not sure how I feel about them standing on their own outside of the text. If I take my favorite character from any book, I can predict how she’d react to any new situation with some surety; if I take any character from Twice Dead and place them in any scenario outside of the book’s parameters, I only have a slight sense of them and their decisions. That could possibly be because it’s only the first novel in the series so they haven’t been given the proper amount of story to fully-develop as people rather than just fictional characters, though. Hopefully as the series continues, the characters will come into themselves and break free from the pages.
Because this is a review being posted before release, I feel that if I discuss any other characters and their arcs in the depth that they deserve, I’ll be giving away too many details that the reader needs to experience for themselves going in without that foreknowledge. What I will say, though, is that the “bad guys” were a bit predictable from the beginning, which led to me predicting the twist before it came. There were too many hints dropped that led me to guess where the story was going. Although that sounds like it would ruin the book, I assure you that it doesn’t! This is one of those books that a reader can predict the ending of without spoiling the way that it leads to that point and the events that happen after. Really, there are completely unpredictable parts in the book that hold the reader’s interest.
There are a couple parts in the novel that really drew me out of the reading experience and had me questioning how likely those events/actions were. They were few and far between, but these instances were noticeable enough for me to bring it up in this review. If you, as a reader, can suspend your disbelief a bit further than I can, I think these points in the text shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you, like me, tend to question motives and the practicality of actions, maybe just try to glaze over these parts of the book and accept what happens for the sake of the plot, because I promise that to me, it was worth it to finish the novel and brush over the slight irregularities that popped up.
I really enjoy the world. The political tension and moral disagreements between countries create an interesting layer to the plot. While some history is given, it felt a bit too surface-based for me. The world was developed enough to give a sense of ties and tensions and betrayals to serve the purpose of the plot, but I’m really hoping that the world is more thoroughly developed (which the ending of Twice Dead suggests that it will be).
There is one part of the book that I do want to specifically discuss, but it will be as spoiler-free as I can manage. I want to talk about the inclusion of a homosexual couple in Twice Dead and the immediate acceptance the character receives from the person who asks about their relationship. It’s common in stories with similar worlds that feel older, more historical than modern, to treat homosexuality as it was treated in our own history. Although this scene is such a minor part in terms of the plot and its development, this was one of the parts that I most enjoyed because it gave insight into the different countries, their values, and their policies. Marriage, sexuality, and motherhood are discussed in this part of the book, and while it was short, I really loved it! It really developed the world in a way that I didn’t get in other parts, even those that directly described policies and values. The reason I loved this so much may have been because it was one of the major instances of “showing, not telling.” While I felt that there was a bit too much “telling” in the book, that’s a personal preference for everyone and not everyone will see it that way. Regardless, it wasn’t so overt as to interrupt the flow of the story.
While I like the characters and the world enough for me to comfortably recommend the novel to readers who gravitate toward the genre anyway, the plot (especially what takes place in the last 10% of the book) is the true praise-worthy factor that leads me to recommend this novel. From the beginning, the plot and its direction kept me hooked. I finished this novel within a couple days (while attending university full-time as a literature student with tons of other books to read for my classes), so that should give you an idea of how excited I was about the plot and seeing what the ending brought. Again, I mentioned briefly that it wasn’t until about halfway through that Naya settled into herself, so the second half of the book did pick up a bit – not to say that the first half was slow, because it definitely wasn’t. What I mean is that the second half of this novel flew by! The last 10% came and I didn’t even pause my reading to answer questions from people who came in to talk to me; this is how much the plot drew me in.
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys paranormal fantasy, “historical” fantasy, or these themes: political intrigue, the question of mortality, the individual’s meaning of life, and self-discovery.