Review: “Once Dead, Twice Shy” by Kim Harrison

My name is Madison Avery, and I’m here to tell you that there’s more out there than you can see, hear, or touch. Because I’m there. Seeing it. Touching it. Living it.

Madison’s prom was killer—literally. For some reason she’s been targeted by a dark reaper—yeah, that kind of reaper—intent on getting rid of her, body and soul. But before the reaper could finish the job, Madison was able to snag his strange, glowing amulet and get away.

Now she’s stuck on Earth—dead but not gone. Somehow the amulet gives her the illusion of a body, allowing her to toe the line between life and death. She still doesn’t know why the dark reaper is after her, but she’s not about to just sit around and let fate take its course.

With a little ingenuity, some light-bending, and the help of a light reaper (one of the good guys! Maybe…), her cute crush, and oh yeah, her guardian angel, Madison’s ready to take control of her own destiny once and for all, before it takes control of her.

Well, if she believed in that stuff.

I had high hopes for this book. I love Harrison’s The Hollows series (I reviewed the first book here if you want to see what that’s all about), and I was in the mood for some YA, so this seemed the perfect fit. It’s always a risk, going into a book with the bar set so high. And I did like it … but not as much as I wanted to.

The first chapter drops you in the middle of things to the point that I double-checked I hadn’t inadvertently bought the second book the series. It heavily references the events around prom night and Madison’s death (mentioned in the blurb), but in a “you should know this” way rather than a “here’s a drip feeding of backstory” way. I discovered when I looked at Goodreads afterwards that there is a short story in a previously published compilation, Prom Nights From Hell, which covered those events. Something to be aware of. I expect that, if you read the compilation first, the start of this book would be less discombobulating.

I didn’t mind Madison as a main character, though she felt a little underdone. Again, I think it was the lack of backstory. For example, one of the elements of character growth that became apparent by the end is that she realises she needs to forge a new life with her dad and stop rejecting new friends because they can’t compete with her best friend at her old school. But her only interaction with her old best friend was that she texted her selfies a couple of times, so I didn’t realise she was rejecting new friends etc till she decided not to do it anymore.

Still, Madison is a pastel goth who has skulls on her shoes and purple hair, and is an amateur photographer. I dug that, as well as her hard-headed determination to not be a damsel in distress.

Barnabas is the light reaper (think: specialised angel) who was meant to save Madison’s life and is now stuck with teaching her how to use the new powers she should be able to access by virtue of … not being dead, I guess? It’s unclear. He looks — and acts — like a broody seventeen year old boy. Ugh. The love interest, Josh, is actually seventeen, and is much more mature. Get it together, Barnabas.

Plot-wise, once I accepted that Madison had somehow managed to evade final death by swiping the amulet, the book wasn’t too bad. I guessed from the first description of the amulets what one of the plot twists was, which was kind of disappointing. But there was another one that I didn’t see coming, which meant the end of the book was more entertaining than the first half.

Once Dead, Twice Shy is a straightforward read that would suit a younger teen (especially one who has read the story that sets this book up!). I gather it’s the first book in a trilogy, but I’m not sure I’ll be reading any further. 

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