Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things
by Martina McAtee
It’s no secret that I enjoy the twists and turns of a good YA fantasy story. I like a gritty, layered series even more. If I can combine the two and add in a certain amount of drama, then I’m as happy as a clam. I’d never touched the paranormal genre until I picked up the first Sookie Stackhouse novel about ten years ago. Immediately sucked into the cheeky characters and their exploits, I dug down deep and stayed awhile amongst the affectionate nods to my own Louisiana heritage, watching Sookie’s life play out in a mixture of feverish passion and harrowing complications. There was a certain degree of humor and humility that appealed to me, and an overall feel of the sweaty, sticky honeysuckle-scented air of a little country town was all too familiar. Deep woods and thick, damp grass. Cool earth just waiting for your toes to sink in. Moonshine that makes your chest burn and ache in a way only it can. That particular series was wrought with grotesque and bloody gore, intimate meetings in darkened hallways, and thirsty (hot-sexy-salacious) vampires.
I, of course, loved every minute of Sookie’s ride. Pun intended.
Martina McAtte‘s debut novel, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, took me back to that place. Instead of the backwoods of Louisiana, the playground was the beloved city of New Orleans, a setting fit for any number of creatures of the night and their counterparts and familiars. Again, I found myself sinking into a world saturated with the heady sent of death and destruction; my imagination felt full of the thickness of magic and mystique. And much like another series I’d read and adored, I was captivated once again by a fiery redhead intent upon her own evolution and independence. I was intrigued, and was not disappointed.
Ember Lonergan knows nothing of who – or what – she truly is. Growing up in New Orleans is normally every teenager’s dream; the scent of alcohol lingers upon every inch of Bourbon Street and debauchery is to be readily found at every street corner. But instead of living the high life and making the most of her formidable years in The Big Easy, Ember has lived a life of regret and hardship. Her father is a professor specializing in the occult at the local college, but is more often than not to be found at the bottom of a bottle. Their apartment is a mess and a travesty, the space dirty and void of anything even remotely considered cozy or homey. She took the job at the funeral parlor in part to earn wages so she could eventually strike out on her own, but also because of her boss; he’s a man she looks upon as the only reliable adult in her life, a veritable father-figure. Among the dead, Ember can release her frustrations and her fears, never worrying about their judgements or any carefully tailored advice they might push upon her. They are dead, passed on to the afterlife and all its quiet peacefulness, and Ember cannot deny her jealousy. As a frequent visitor to the numerous and expansive cemeteries that litter New Orleans and its outskirts like museums, Ember is able to find some modicum of her own version peace in the chaos that is her existence.
It should have come as no surprise when her father died. He was a drunk and a coward. He was abusive and cruel, selfish and a disgrace of a human being. Ember has no room in her heart to find mourning; the only feeling she has about her father’s demise is one of annoyance, as she knows she will now be dumped into the system for underage orphaned and abandoned kids. It all seems like a badly tuned joke; her 17th birthday gift from her only parent is his releasing of her via the misery his company brought, only to send her into another dead-end of a trapped life.
But perhaps there is another way out.
The man who watches her looks like a teenager on the surface, but he is in fact, centuries old. Not a vampire, as the city likes to breed in its essence, but something else entirely. Having walked the earth for many lifetimes and seen it all, Mace finds it hard to be interested in the mundane world around him. But this girl with the ruby-red hair and startlingly violet eyes is leaving an indelible mark as the days slowly pass by. Not upon his soul of course – he doesn’t have one – but upon his utmost curiosity. He was asked to watch her and nothing more, but there is something about her that draws him uncomfortably closer.
Across state lines there is another teenager, or rather, a pair of them. Kai and Tristin are a matching twin-set of reapers, each with their own particular skill set – or perhaps and much to digress, a lack there of. Kai collects the souls of the dead, helping them to cross to the other side and into the afterlife with peace and integrity. Each soul leaves its mark upon his skin, a tattoo of his life’s work embedded in black ink weaves its way up his arm. Tristin is a banshee, but a rather useless one; one who hasn’t screamed in over a decade . . . until the afternoon the name November Lonergan appears upon her brother’s arm.
The request to collect their cousin’s soul is a riddle, given the fact that November has been dead since they were children. Something happened in the quiet Floridian town they reside in and countless paranormal entities were wiped out – gone in a flash of magic and turmoil. Their parents, their families, all gone in an instant, and no one can remember why or how. Kai and Tristin were absorbed by a wolf pack led by a compact alpha named Isa and her mate, Wren. The pack is a haphazard group of misfits; a colored motley crew of outcasts – an outsider, a forgotten witch with a genius mind, a faery, a group of shifting wolves in the omega and beta sensibility.
Saving Ember from imminent death was the mission, no matter the cost. Kai has been marked with not only saving a charge intended for Death’s Door, but also with bringing her back to the city she’d been previously banished from. Unbeknownst to the cousins, there is a string of dark magic threading its way into the fabric of their lives, all laced with nefarious undertones and mistaken allegiances. Separating friend from foe from family does not come easy, and alliances thought to have been impossible to break will be tested as complications arise.
Ember is wanted by a coven for her power, but for what purpose? She can bring things back from the dead, but can she control them? What did she do as a child to be sent away, cloaked under the protection of powerful witches and hidden away like a terrible secret? And how does the soul-eater fit into all of this?
Can Kai figure out why her name was imprinted upon him in the first place, and can Tristin finally learn how to harness her own powers? Or are they destined to watch as an evil covers their makeshift pack with all its dirt and grime, destroying everything they have fought so hard to create?
Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things is book one of the Dead Things saga, of which there are currently three novels and one prequel. Perfect for young adults and new-adult readers looking for a tamer extension of the supernatural genre, readers will love the mash-up of creatures and species. Recognizable entities such as faeries, werewolves and shifters, necromancers and powerful wishes weave themselves into a delicate tapestry of the paranormal, all converging in one town to try and establish order and regulation.
Those who crave the angsty romance typical of the world of young adult literature will not be disappointed. I was most thoroughly impressed with the inclusion portrayed; same sex relationships are at the forefront of the romantic spectrum in this novel, and I was almost giddy as things came to their beautiful conclusion between two such characters. The canny way with which the author slipped into the minds and actions of a teenage boy was inspiring, and I applaud McTee for her honest showcasing of subjects that most young adult authors tend to shy away from.
While the main protagonist is Ember Lonergan, readers will be able to see themselves in any of the multitude of richly drawn characters provided. From the insecure and surly Tristin to the gawky but charming brains possessed by Quinn, the basis of the supporting characters’ descriptions are relatable and believable. Different points of view throughout the novel help to tie them all together in a way that might otherwise be lost. As the story ramps up and the reader becomes more accustomed to and comfortable in the world carefully built by McAtee, pages will turn as fast as they can be read – the ending leaving an acute ache for more.
I snagged this book off Amazon for a rockbottom price, and I can’t wait to read more! If you’re interested in some amazingly complex and gorgeous companion artwork, I encourage you to check out the author’s website.
4 out of 5 stars for me, and I am anxious for more.