Kim Harrison, best known for her Rachel Morgan fantasy series, jumps into the growing paranormal teen genre with Once Dead, Twice Shy, her first entry in her new Madison Avery series.
Just after bad-girl Madison Avery was killed in a car accident following her junior prom, she was able to snatch an amulet from one of the infamous "dark reapers" who was attempting to kill her and take her soul. Thanks to the power of the amulet, Madison didn't die — well, not exactly. Madison becomes stuck between life and death and must become one of the deadly reapers. She soon discovers that this is more of a curse than a blessing when she is thrown into an age-old war between good and evil. Just as Madison is learning to balance her new responsibilities as a reaper with light reaper Barnabas, the reaper whose amulet she stole comes to claim it. Madison must then team up with Barnabas to learn the ropes of her strange new profession, fight off the evil dark reapers after her amulet, and unravel the mysteries behind her unprecedented abilities and connections to the powerful talisman.
Though Harrison has a popular following in the adult paranormal romance arena thanks to her best-selling Hallows series, she seems have a little trouble moving into the teen/YA universe. This book is just about as confusing as it sounds. While the concept is very interesting and original, it simply is not presented very well. Even though Once Dead, Twice Shy is the first book in a series, it feels like the reader is expected to immediately understand the mechanics and vocabulary of the world. There were so many times that I found myself staring at the pages and wondering what on earth was happening. This book is actually my first exposure to Kim Harrison, and I found it to be somewhat disappointing.
Despite these shortcomings, the book wasn't a complete waste. The characters are fun, particularly the rebellious Madison, who has a strong edge and feisty personality. The world is very unique and filled with potential for great story. Even though this novel is short, at times it feels likes it takes forever to get anywhere and it lacks an adequate foundation to figure out just what is going on. Once I just gave up on that and just went along with the story, it became much more enjoyable. If readers stick with the book long enough, they are treated to an intense, compelling ending that points to even better stories in future installments.
While Once Dead, Twice Shy has its issues, it has a fascinating, unique urban world that has great potential for future stories. This novel is perfect for young girls (generally around age 14) who enjoy paranormal-style novels and spunky heroines, but some older audiences, particularly the target audience for the Hallows series, may have problems with it.