Title: School of Deaths (The Scythe Wielder's Secret #1)
Author: Christopher Mannino
Year of publishing: 2014
Publisher: Muse it up Publishing
I received this book from Book Publicity Services in exchange for an honest review.
Thrust into a world of men, can a timid girl find bravery as the first female Death?
Thirteen-year-old Suzie Sarnio always believed the Grim Reaper was a fairy tale image of a skeleton with a scythe. Now, forced to enter the College of Deaths, she finds herself training to bring souls from the Living World to the Hereafter. The task is demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male College, she quickly becomes a target. Attacked by both classmates and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers want her to fail.
Scythes hungry for souls, Deaths who subjugate a race of mysterious magicians, and echoes of an ancient war with Dragons.
As her year progresses, Suzie suspects her presence isn't an accident. She uncovers a plot to overthrow the World of Deaths. Now she must also discover the reason she's been brought there: the first female Death in a million years.
With this YA/middle grade fantasy I literally didn't know what to expect. The last middle grade fantasy I read was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was over a decade ago. So, naturally, I was curious. I wanted to see how the author would tell a story about grim reapers to this particular target audience. And what themes and issues he would explore. And if the book would appeal to an older demographic.
Without giving away too much, I loved this book. I was so engrossed in the story with all its mysteries and conspiracies, I couldn't put down my e-reader. I loved being in this fantastic world with rich history just waiting to be discovered, and with a complicated hierarchy between human Deaths and its more supernatural inhabitants.
The book's premise is original and mind-boggling. Mannino creates a college where children are being trained to be the next grim reapers. At first, this concept may seem too dark and too "out there". But in this world, being a grim reaper, that is transporting souls to the afterlife, is a job that has to be done. And somebody needs to be trained to do the job right. And by the end of the day, all these Deaths are just humans, with all the flaws and weaknesses that come with being a human.
Mannino does a really great job building this college that hasn't had a female student for one million years, and that has a very misogynist policy. It's basically like any other major institution that is forced to break with its traditions by accepting a member that is different, be it a girl or a person of colour. Naturally, there's going to be a lot of hate and prejudice and fear. And it all comes crashing down on this young girl who doesn't even want to be there in the first place.
So the heroine gets to deal with loneliness, social isolation, while trying to find her place in the world. Not to mention, puberty, her first romantic feelings and all the school work. Basically, she gets the "teenage life starter pack" with some supernatural overtones. Looking back, I think the thirteen-year-old me would relate to Susie on more than one level.
Mannino makes both the story and the characters very accessible, but he doesn't dumb it down for his target audience. It's nice to know that there are authors who write for children and teens who respect the intelligence of their audience. As a result, this book does appeal to an older demographic.
Now to the part that I nag about in all my reviews: the characters. They're probably not the strongest part of the book. They do what is required from them. Susie's friends are loyal and protective of her. Her enemies are prejudice against girls and are genuinely afraid of her. The secondary characters all have potential to grow and to evolve and I think they will do just that in the other two books.
The strongest characters here are definitely Susan and the main villain. Now this is a villain whose motivations you can understand and, maybe, if I were in their shoes, I would have made similar choices.
And Susan is a strong protagonist, who can be a very good role model for young girls. She's gutsy and loyal to her friends, and she isn't afraid to speak her mind. When she first arrives in this world, she doesn't know what to do with herself, but she soon assumes an active role and immediately starts changing the world around her. She doesn't just let things happen to her. Instead, she takes it upon herself to solve the mysteries that surround her.
Since this is the first part in a trilogy, there are some arcs that don't really get resolved, but they don't make the story feel unfinished or incomplete. Instead, they serve as teasers for the later instalments.
In conclusion, School of Deaths is a fantastic book, and it sets up a strong foundation for the rest of the series.
I definitely recommend this book for any fan of fantasy, and books with strong female protagonists.
My rating: 4,5 stars
Labels: Christopher Mannino, fantasy, middle grade, School of Deaths, YA