The first time I recall hearing the name Calliope Reaper-Jones was almost exactly one year ago when Amber Benson was being interviewed by Trent of Pink is the New Blog. After having an impromptu conversation about personal philosophies and spiritual beliefs, Amber brought up a forthcoming three book deal she had signed. Those books, a kind of modern Divine Comedy, would tell the tale of the reluctant heir to the throne of Death. Now, one year later, as the premiere story in this upcoming trilogy is about to be released, I finally had the chance to get my first glimpse of Miss Calliope Reaper-Jones herself in Death's Daughter.
Calliope Reaper-Jones (or Callie, for short) is just your average girl in an average world. While she dreams of the perfect job and the man to go with, Callie trudges through a seemingly never ending PA gig at Home and Garden bemoaning her uneventful life and inability to afford designer swag. Every mindless day she wakes up only by sheer force of will and the knowledge that, so long as she sticks to the plan, all of her wishes will come true.
Just like us though, Callie's life is not destined to turn out like the fairy tale ending of a Disney movie. Unlike us, however, her destiny takes a decidedly more bizarre track when she remembers, quite against her will, that she is a part of a far greater world, a world where nearly every god and goddess, demon and devil, Olympus and Hades is a reality. Not only that but, as the title suggests, Callie is daughter to none other than the Grim Reaper himself.
Callie's adventure begins when her father, elder sister, along with most of the board of Death Incorporated get kidnapped by forces unknown. Her quest to save them and take on the responsibilities of the Grim Reaper are the journey that both she and the reader take in Death's Daughter.
One of the greatest risks but ultimate triumphs of the novel stems from Benson's deft ability to take any myth or belief and make it her own. Bringing in such a rich tapestry of religions and philosophies to an original story could have potentially made it feel stale, heavy, even confusing but, through the eyes of our story's protagonist, Benson provides a devilish sense of humor and a modern pop culture sensibility that keeps the proceedings light and entertaining. This is a story that stretches from the dingy cubicles of a dead end office gig all the way to the hallowed halls of the lost city of Atlantis to everywhere in between and it all works.
High concepts and exciting locales are nothing without strong lead characters to light the way and it is here that Benson truly shines. Fiercely inventive characterization carries this story throughout. The supporting cast and even incidental characters all have their distinct and fun flavors.
It's with Callie though where we find our true every woman. Her reluctance to get into the family business, the obsession with designer labels, and her hypercritical attention to her own body image both help us identify with her and simultaneously adds a depth of humanity to these fantastical proceedings. Benson also never shies away from Callie's sexuality. This is no Donna Reed we have on our hands and, once again, Benson provides more realism in one of Callie's stray dirty thoughts than most of other writers can do in an entire novel.
Some readers might find the characters in the story to be perhaps a tad more clever than any one person ought to be. Think of writers like Diablo Cody and Kevin Smith and you'll get an understanding of what I mean. There were times when the snarky dialogue took me out of the moment and detracted from the innate drama of the story. Whenever an author creates truly original characters with their own voices, however, they run that risk.
In Death's Daughter, Benson provides a fun romp that defines the rules of an exciting new universe you'll be chomping at the bit to dive back into time and again. There's action, there's intrigue, redemption, an adorable hell puppy, and even a hot guy or two. What more could you ask for?
Death's Daughter will be availableon February 24th.