Book Review: How to Be Death

How to Be Death is the latest book in Amber Benson’s fictional the Calliope Reaper-Jones series. Callie is Death, actually she is the President of Death, Inc. having inherited the position magically from her father. Callie didn’t want the job, all she wanted from life was to have a good enough job in NYC to afford designer clothing, shoes, and purses. She didn’t want to have to save the world from conniving sisters or deal with people trying to steal her job from her (which would be bad, because you know, it would be). Callie doesn’t particularly want the job, but now that she has it (and after three books of messing things up) she’s determined to do the best job she can possibly do, even if it means listening to her inherited right hand faun, Jarvis.

On All Hallows Eve, the magical world looses its ability to do magic. Plus, a magical book can be returned to Callie, but it has to be in her possession before midnight or bad things happen. Plusssss, Callie must host the end all, be all, ball the night before and have a staff meeting at a late night dinner. Callie, being a bit prudish, is turned off by the nights revelries which include orgies on the dance floor and masked sexual encounters. She promptly retires from the festivities at the earliest possible moment. The staff dinner doesn’t go much better, especially when her ex-lover, Daniel, who is in charge of Hell, shows up with a new girl on his arm. Eventually Callie retires to her room and takes a shower, but upon exiting the bathroom discovers that Daniel’s new girl has somehow ended up dead on the floor in her suite. So begins a day of no magic, many murders, and an ex-magiccop (it’s a thing) whose intuition takes over where his crime scene protocol fails. Plus, that magic book, yah, it has gone missing.

All in all a rather predictable continuation of the series. In fact, one of the characters in the books predicts all the deaths at the beginning of the novel, so they come as no surprise. What did come as a surprise was, despite saying to the contrary, Callie is still a weak character who barely begins to take her job seriously. If not for the fact that the other person who could have her job is crazy, Callie should be fired. She’s had plenty of time to come to grips with her new place in the world and she needs to start doing a much better job. Even her actions in this book are far more passive than aggressive. Her attempts to explain herself and repair her relationship with Daniel are all rather passive, and he makes the most moves, even though it was her actions that led to their break up in the first place. Actually, now that I think on it, it was her passive reaction to something that led to their break up. Again, Callie takes no action when she can just be lazy. Additionally, Callie never really explains herself, they never talk anything over, they never resolve their issues yet, with a look and an impassioned kiss, they are back together. Say what?

When the clock struck midnight and magic was gone from the world, I really expected Callie to shine. She is forever saying how much better she is at being human than using magic. Excellent, I thought, finally she can save the day with her wits and smarts and her non-magical ability. Yah, no. Instead she follows  the cop character around, mostly gets in the way, and figures out a few tangents almost by accident. What does she use her non-magical powers to fix? A boo boo. That is right, she bandages someone by tearing up precious cloth napkins instead of asking for bandages. Shouldn’t she be inflicting pain? Holding people responsible for their actions? Putting the smack down?

I understand an empathetic person. Someone who asks questions and takes the human condition into consideration before making judgments. Those are all excellent character traits that Callie exhibits. But often they work as her weaknesses, and everyone else rides in on a white horse to make the hard choices. Her hellhound pup is a stronger female character. I love the series for being new and exciting, for having interesting ideas and unique problems. I quite enjoy how Benson works in both Western and Eastern mythology, using characters from every religion to create a really cool universe for her readers. I’m pleased that Callie has grown, she has gone from a complete whining ninny to a sometimes whiny passive character. So, character growth- to a small degree. I was just hoping for a stronger spurt of growth and a stronger female protagonist.

Even though I have a problem with the portrayal of the female main character, this series is one I will continue to follow, hoping that Callie becomes the strong person I envision she can be. Overall, I think the series is good, it’s fun, witty, and interesting. And, OK, I know this is ticky tacky, but would a wanna be fashionista have helmet hair? I think not.

Read another review here, here, and here. I’m not the only one who is a little frustrated by Callie’s over-dependence on the male characters in her life.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Be Death

    • The concept is such a great one and I’m a little disappointed the characters don’t live up to the expectations. I think there will probably be two more books, which at this point I’ll probably read because I’ve invested in the series already, but I reserve judgement on recommending this series until that. It’s OK, but there are other series out there to spend time on. I’m actually really liking Maggie Stiefvater’s The Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy.

  1. This series sounds genuinely interesting, but the whiny character has me fleeing in the opposite direction. I really despise whiny characters, they grate on my nerves.

    Shame really because it sounds like it could be good!

    • I agree. And even if the character had just been whiny the first book and grew out of it, I would recommend this series with flying colors. But I find it disturbing that the character hardly grows at all. I do like the premise and the mystery story lines are always really good. I just keep hoping the character learns to stand up for herself a little more.

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