Written by: Laura Anne Gilman
Published by: Luna
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
I picked up Staying Dead, by Laura Anne Gilman, because it met my usually infallible criteria for a good read: In short, it looked offbeat and interesting. But sadly, while the former was true, the latter was not. Staying Dead was offbeat, almost disastrously so, skirting the edge of complete implausibility, but never actually falling off.
The book—the first full length fiction novel by Gilman—centers around Wren Valere, a Retriever and a lonejack, who basically works as a contract thief, obtaining items for her clients. She is also a Talent (Gilman’s version of magician), and as such has access to all forms of special tricks that help make her job much easier and much more fun. Wren’s partner, father figure, boss, and pseudo-boyfriend, Sergei Didier, is a mysterious older man with a silent past, and very powerful friends.
A cornerstone has been stolen from a very high class building, right under everyone’s noses, and Wren has been hired to find the stone and return it to its rightful place. Of course magic—or as Gilman puts it, Current—is involved, and so naturally magic is needed to return it.
The obligatory catch? The cornerstone itself was sealed with a very unique, very dangerous spell that protected the building and everyone inside it from all forms of harm. The spell used to seal the stone had required a human sacrifice and a human soul, that just happened to be released when Wren finally returned to the stone to its owner. With a mad ghost on the loose, a supernatural-hating organization in her own neighborhood, a mage council at her heels, and her own partner’s past sneaking up on her, a simple job has become a fight for survival that she was not prepared to handle.
I really wish that I could say I liked this book, because it was Gilman’s first novel—though she had written several short stories, co-written a couple of books for the Buffy series and done three non-fiction books. Unfortunately, I did not like this book at all. I guess it had to happen eventually. I can’t like everything I read.
I did like aspects of the story, like how Gilman brought the character Wren to life—for me at least—by giving her little quirks, like talking to herself at odd times without realizing it. And I liked how Gilman spun the old magic yarn in a new direction by relating it to electricity (Current), which can be drawn and siphoned and redirected, boosted, and even addictive.
Sadly, that’s where the uniqueness and originality of it ends. The rest of the story is littered with words like mages, demons, angels, and a highly secretive supernatural organization called—get ready for this—Cosa Nostradamus. Gilman tries to depict a world in which New York City has demons that look like polar bears walking around the street without getting noticed, and girls with hoofed feet work behind a counter at an ice cream shop. It just simply doesn’t work. And while the idea of a Talent becoming addicted to the electricity around them is interesting, naming these junkies, Wizzarts, just makes the whole thing sound foolish.
The writing is okay, but mostly bland and though the main character is fun and sort of interesting to read, the others are not and the love story Gilman tries to build is predictable and falls flat. If you have nothing else to read and are looking for anything to pass the time, then I guess you could pick up Staying Dead, but otherwise, I’d suggest rereading something or holding out for your favorite author’s next installment of whatever.