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Max Shaw is dead.
Well, sort of.
After dying on prom night, Max was recruited by a mysterious tattooed angel named Slade to join a group of teenage reapers. Cocky and sarcastic, Max thinks he has his afterlife together, but the moment Slade assigns him to his first suicide case, everything changes.
Christian college student Kody Michaels is struggling to make sense of his life and his faith. After a failed suicide attempt at an antigay camp, Kody is determined not to fail again. Tired of disappointing his family and God, he is going to end his life once and for all.
But in a split-second decision, Max saves Kody—defying the rules of a reaper.
Max believes his only concern is convincing Kody that God loves him just the way he is, so he can save him from a hellish afterlife as a shade. Little does Max know, some shades have found a way to walk among the living as wraiths. These evil wraiths know Kody has been slated for death, and they have another, darker purpose for him.
Max has only one night to save Kody before one of Slade’s team finishes the job Max lacked the courage to complete.
I think my reading experience with this book is what I call a “case of wrong expectations”.
You see, when I asked for an ARC of this book, I was intrigued by the idea of “teenage reapers” and “evil wraiths”. I am a huge fan of urban fantasy/paranormal series, although most of them are from the non MM variety. I thought stories about harbingers of Death were far and between. I was expecting an action-driven supernatural/fantasy story with gay young adult lead. Unfortunately, THAT I didn’t get.
This book was more about Max and Kody and the message about “loving yourself for who you are”. Max is a young Grim reaper who gets his first suicide case when he is assigned with Kody, an eighteen year old young man who is so conflicted with his sexuality that he wants to jump from the bridge to end his life. In those short moments, however, Max can’t do what he needs to do and he ends up saving Kody instead.
Okay, let me get through the ‘dislike’ portion of my review first…
Like I said, I was expecting a supernatural/fantasy book. Here, the supernatural element – the ‘mysterious’ wraiths, Max’s newfound supernatural ability, Max being called “the protector” as well as clues about “war coming” was set aside to the background. It was mentioned but never really fleshed out. I honestly got bored in the middle.
I don’t know if there is a second book – maybe there is, but at this moment, there is no information whatsoever from the publishers or the Goodreads book page that it is the start of a series – so I admit that I was disappointed. I was expecting a stand alone story, and not somehow a set-up of a series … and if it IS a set-up of a new series, I can’t help to think that the supernatural element is a bit flimsy.
In addition, this book is quite heavy in the PSA message as well. The thing is, while I appreciate the message behind this book, I can’t help to think that the hard-sell approach is like preaching to the wrong choir. I mean, the readers of this book – or any MM romance from MM romance publishers – are already those who are accepting homosexuality somewhat. I don’t see bigots and anti-gay reading this book anytime soon. So the readers will already figure out the message somehow – that being gay is not an option, that God loves all of His creations, and so on. Thus, reading this message over and over again, from both Max and his boss-angel Slade, made me feel like I was being lectured about a topic that I already know by heart. This is why, if a book is talking about religion, I tend to avoid it, or I prefer a more subtle approach.
Now on to what I enjoyed …
Overall, I did like this book. I especially loved Max as a character. I fell for him that first moment where he realized that he was dead and then Slade came to him. I loved his voice – he was quite funny and charming and special. I loved his determination to help Kody, to reassure Kody that his life is worthy, and that there is nothing wrong with his beautiful self, that he is not broken.
And of course, despite my preference about the approach of the PSA factor, this book does carry an important message. I especially liked how Slade compared the Bible with a cookbook (I thought, that was new! *lol*)
We are all made in His image. If you have it in your heart to forgive your parents for what they did to you, what makes you think God is so vengeful that He would despise you for how you were born? What makes you think He didn’t want you to be this way? …. A real Christian preaches with deeds and discussion, not accusations and condemnations. You should never listen to the person shouting the loudest in anything
The ending might not be a traditional HEA, but I honestly couldn’t think of any other way to end it without making it unrealistically right for this kind of story. Now, with this ending, I could see that the author might intend to make this a series. I can go for that – it can be developed to an interesting young adult fantasy series with gay lead characters.
Note: considering this is marketed as Teen Fiction, despite the romance between Max and Kody, the steam level of this book is quite low. Oh, and K.D. Worth is not exactly a new author in this genre, she has written several MM adult titles under the name Deanna Wadsworth…