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Review: Grave Intentions

Grave Intentions by Lori Sjoberg
Grave #1

Kensington Books, January 2013
I'm a sucker for books about death gods and grim reapers -- stemming, I'm sure, from my fascination with the myths of Hades and Persephone. So books like the Charley Davidson and Alex Craft series... I suck them down like candy. Thus did I have high hopes for Grave Intentions, a recent release from Lori Sjoberg. I'm delighted to report that those hopes were well met.

He’s handsome, reliable, and punctual—the perfect gentleman when you want him to be. But this dream man is Death’s best agent—and now he’s got more than his soul to lose…

One act of mercy before dying was all it took to turn soldier David Anderson into a reaper—an immortal who guides souls-of-untimely-death into the afterlife. But the closer he gets to atoning for his mortal sin and finally escaping merciless Fate, the more he feels his own humanity slipping away for good. Until he encounters Sarah Griffith. This skeptical scientist can’t be influenced by his powers—even though she has an unsuspected talent for sensing the dead. And her honesty and irreverent sense of humor reignite his reason for living—and a passion he can’t afford to feel. Now Fate has summoned David to make a devastating last harvest. And he’ll break every hellishly-strict netherworld rule to save Sarah…and gamble on a choice even an immortal can’t win.

It's a fun quirk of plot that David and the other reapers have to conduct their work without being seen or found out by regular people. I'm used to such characters being incorporeal and/or invisible with a wealth of secret superpowers. These reapers, in contrast, are remarkably mundane. Sure, they have a few upgrades, but upon first blush they come across as largely human. If one ignores the fact that they're dead. They bleed, eat, get their eyebrows singed off... er, you'll see when you read it. This approach is definitely different from its brethren out there in the world. In many ways, this is more fun. Instead of swooping in on a cloud of mysterious, inky shadows, David and crew have to creep about like repo men, taking care of business with none the wiser. Yes, definitely more fun.

The characters are another high point. For example, our leading lady Sarah has a nice, realistic feel to her. It makes her an appealing protagonist -- easy to relate to, to invest in. David, meanwhile, maintains a wonderfully grumpy demeanor that adds a bit of zing to the play. (I dislike affable heroes; Boy Next Door does not do it for me.)

The relationship between Sarah and David is remarkable in its lack of melodrama. There's an initial spark of attraction, a growing connection, the inevitable union... You can really feel the development of their feelings for one another. None of that improbable soul-mate-at-first-glance, flash-in-the-pan stuff, which gets a tad old sometimes. No, this is more like a real relationship that could happen to anyone. With, y'know, dead people and stuff.

The lack of melodrama does slow things down at times. And some of the dramatic parts could have used a little more oomph. I can't elaborate without landing in a spoiler, but I will say that there are a few angsty moments that just... well, weren't angsty enough for me. Maybe I'm just not being appropriately subtle. Regardless, the conflict of the story resolves in a satisfying conclusion that totally tugged at my heartstrings. It's a happily-ever-after that doesn't come too easily or too conveniently. Like I said before, there's a realistic vibe to this story that sets it apart from others of its ilk.

As the debut book to a new series, some groundwork is laid down for subsequent installments. Specifically, we're introduced to a number of side characters that are a hoot and a half in their own rights. Which bodes well for the success of future books. The second Grave book features one of the more memorable side characters from Intentions, but that's another story. This whole series is bound to be lots of fun, so I encourage everyone to give Grave Intentions a try.

To promote the release of this book, Lori Sjoberg has been doing a blog tour throughout the month. Go check it out:

January 9 

January 10 

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Book received courtesy of NetGalley and Kensington Books.

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