Jesse is a Necronite – one of those few people capable of returning from the dead. And, as a Death Replacement Agent, her job is to die often so others do not – all for a hefty fee.
But not everyone is happy with the revelation of the Necronites, especially not the military who used to control them or the united church that condemns them. Both of which have considerable power
So when she is murdered by someone who is trying to kill her for real – and it’s clear that there’s some severe problems with the agency she works for (and who is doing the investigating) – Jesse has to find the truth behind the attempted murder herself. Or her next death could be her last.
The concept of this book is excellently original and drew me right in; we have people who, if their heads are intact, come back from the dead. More, they can prevent other people from dying, working with predictions, if they’re on hand at the time of death they can save that person – at the cost of dying (and returning) themselves. That’s already a fascinating concept but it’s also built into the world building in some really interesting ways – like the idea that having a death replacement appointment can reduce your health insurance. Or that Necronites have become Death Replacement Agents - a whole profession but with added concerns from the military that studied them and controlled them to the church that hates them.
The church is a major element in this society - and it is “the church” because the various Christian sects have united, preserving their unique elements while at the same time being unified in purpose and leadership. This has a lot of great world building elements of part of it – with Christians often praising the unified church as proof of co-operation, love and hope as these long warring factions have come together. On the flip side we have non-Christians and minorities who have been frequently persecuted by Christians duly wary of a now much more powerful and influential church flexing its muscles and expanding its influence. The church also came together, apparently, in opposition to the Necronites which has some interesting parallels with the real world where we’ve seen disparate, and often antagonistic, religious groups unite in opposition to, for example, LGBT rights.
The oppression, persecution and fear of the Necronites is well maintained and presented in many parts of the story and Jesse’s life as well as the wider world building. Unlike a lot of supernatural prejudice tropes, this one works better because (at this stage in the series – I suspect it will change) Jesse and her fellow Necronites don’t have a great deal of power. They have no super powers beyond their ability to come back from the dead – it’s not a typical story of predatory, hyper-able monsters filling in for marginalised people. It’s generally well done but there are someunfortunate comparisons and appropriation of actual marginalised groups
The world building has a lot of nice touches in fitting the Necronites into greater society – including expanded roles for coroners, new government agents and even the description of coming back from the dead – which is really unpleasant with such horrible things to deal with like rigor mortis.
Jesse’s character is an interesting one – in some ways she’s a very frustrating rebel-without-a-clue. She wisecracks all the time, she has no patience, she’s scathing without cause, harsh without provocation and generally makes me want to smack her with some social skills. But as the book progresses there’s some more reasons provided behind her character for her behaviour – including attitudes from her boss, her clients and the sheer enormity of what she does – dying for other people. It also works really well with the way this book explores oppression: with more and more legal and public opposition to the Necronites, including physical attack and murder, her boss wants her to play nice for good PR. This also involves going to educational seminars to explain Necronites to an often hostile and prejudiced crowd. In other words, Jesse has a whole lot to be pissed off about and is being fed the line of “you have to play nice if you don’t want to be brutally murdered” which is not a game anyone wants to play. It doesn’t make her more likeable, but it does make her behaviour more understandable.