March 4, 2014

Casting Some Starlight on Kory M. Shrum: Dying for a Living [review time]

Dying for a Living by KORY M. SHRUM: 4/5 STARS (Get it on Amazon)

"On the morning before her 67th death, it is business as usual for Jesse Sullivan: meet with the mortician, counsel soon-to-be-dead clients, and have coffee while reading the latest regeneration theory. Jesse dies for a living, literally. As a Necronite, she is one of the population’s rare 2% who can serve as a death replacement agent, dying so others don’t have to. Although each death is different, the result is the same: a life is saved, and Jesse resurrects days later with sore muscles, new scars, and another hole in her memory.

But when Jesse is murdered and becomes the sole suspect in a federal investigation, more than her freedom and sanity are at stake. She must catch the killer herself—or die trying."

Set in a world where ‘Necronites’ die (for a hefty sum) in a profession called death replacement, Dying for a Living is gripping, and sexier than it sounds. Jesse is a death replacement agent — don't call her a zombie, it's rude — which means she temporarily sacrifices her life to bring back the rich from the clutches of death itself.

I really appreciate a great beginning, and Dying for a Living could write the textbook for how to subtly intertwine good exposition into real time action. The setting isn't very different from present day; there’s no distracting new tech or flashy devices, just the present reality of Jesse’s work, and its broader social implications.

The writing is impressive: the right balance of modern (complete with swearing and slang) and literary without falling into overly formal or lyrical crap. You can expect me to tweet the best quotations in future; some of Kory's wording is pristine — totally tweet material.

Where it loses stars: I wanted it to be shorter, and the extra words delving into Jesse’s thoughts and emotions could have been instead devoted to a plot that was brilliant, but hard to keep track of. I was really into the suspenseful mystery that arises when someone tries to kill Jesse for good, and the deeper conspiracy that thousands of death replacement agents across the country have been (permanently) murdered, but I wasn’t pulled in to the love triangle even a little bit. The romance side-plot was nowhere near as interesting as the main story, which was what kept me reading. The story was original, well-planned, and nice and suspenseful.

I recommend Dying for a Living as a read; it’s worth a couple dollars and a few hours of your time, especially if you’re enticed by the premise, like I was. There’s a right way to craft a modern fantasy, and Kory Shrum shows us how it’s done. Dying for a Living isn’t just good for a debut novel, it’s a straight up good read for the escape and the breathlessness it’ll give you over the gripping climax (sexual innuendo intended).

To new and indie writers: While I have a fair supply of books to get me started, I am in the market for review copies of independently published fiction, with a preference for science fiction and fantasy. It won't be the first time I've accepted a book as payment for labor. I will feature your book on Musings by Starlight, first come first serve, and post the review to Amazon (and wherever else you please). While I can't promise five stars, I can promise a promotion that is thought out, fair and honest.

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