Reviewed by Debi Moore
Written by Amber Benson
Published by Ace Books
Amber Benson is a familiar name to most horror fans thanks to her role as Tara on the popular “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” series, but what many might not realize is that she has other talents as well, having co-created and co-written the animated Web series Ghosts of Albion along with Christopher Golden, which they have followed up with several jointly penned novels and novellas. Benson is now branching out on her own with Death’s Daughter, the story of Calliope Reaper-Jones, who appears to be a typical young woman trying to make a name for herself in New York City. In truth, however, Calliope is anything but typical. She is, as the book’s title implies, Death’s daughter, and now that her father and older sister Thalia have been kidnapped along with the 12 members of the Executive Board of Death, Inc., it has fallen on her shoulders to leave her mortal life behind (at least temporarily), take over the company, and get to the bottom of things.
It’s no simple undertaking, however. In order for Calliope to claim the title of Death, she must first complete the three tasks outlined in the ancient scroll given to her by the trio of elder gods who sit on Hell’s Board: Wodin, Persephone, and Kali. The only person (well, not really a person per se, but rather a faun, or goat-man) who is the slightest bit interested in helping her is Jarvis, her father’s Executive Assistant, who is now bound by obligation to perform the same duties for Calliope, but he only does so begrudgingly. Added into the mix are her remaining family members, a mother who is a direct descendent of Helen of Troy and is too distraught to be any support at all and a younger sister, Clio, who has no compunction about breaking the family rule of “no magic in the house” to aid Calliope in her mission; the elderly Father McGee, aka Death’s human attorney; the enigmatic Detective Davenport from the Psychical Bureau of Investigations; and finally, Daniel, the Devil’s much too handsome protégé and the object of Calliope’s fantasies throughout the course of the narrative. Daniel manages to pop up at various points to either help or hinder Calliope. His character’s motives and intentions are the biggest mystery of the book, and his interactions with Calliope provide the greatest enjoyment for the reader. Is he friend or foe? Is he destined to become Death instead of her? And is the sexual tension between them ever going to be resolved?
One of the most compelling parts of Death’s Daughter is the hierarchy of Heaven and Hell that Benson has created. Along with the Devil and God (with a capital “G”) are all the other gods and goddesses who have formed the basis of the world’s various religions over the course of history (i.e., the three Board members mentioned previously along with others such as the Egyptian Anubis Brothers). Some work upstairs with the Big Man while others lend a hand downstairs to keep the flow of souls moving along their respective paths. In some ways this aspect of the book reminds me of Heinlein’s Job wherein the world and the afterlife are overseen via a teamwork structure utilizing all the deities known to mankind.
Death’s Daughter is written in the first person with a snappy, conversational tone. It’s light and bright overall with an almost Bridget Jones-ish flavor, but it does dabble in a more serious examination of immortality and its ramifications. Calliope can be occasionally infuriating, but by the time she reaches the end of her story arc, I found her quite endearing. Those looking for a dark, bloody adventure won’t find it here, but there are enough skirmishes and evilness lurking in the shadows of Hell to give Calliope a run for her money and the reader a good bit of bang for his buck. Actually, I should say “her buck” because the target audience is undoubtedly female. Not that men wouldn’t enjoy it, but women are certainly more likely to relate to Calliope and be understanding of her thought processes. The conversations she has with herself as well as those with Kali in which the goddess taunts her with the nickname “White Girl” are downright hilarious at times and ultimately very entertaining.
Which is exactly how I would describe Death’s Daughter — an entertaining romp through the Netherworld told from the eyes of someone just like you and me. Benson shows a great deal of promise and range with this novel — not many others could include such diverse references as the Dog Whisperer, the Incredible Hulk, Lisa Rinna’s lips, Keith Richards’ wardrobe, and a Bollywood production number and pull it off so well. She’s already at work on another Calliope Reaper-Jones tale, and I can’t wait to see where she takes us — and her feisty heroine — next.
3 1/2 out of 5
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