BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Carlos Delacruz is an inbetweener, stuck between life and death. A simple job for the New York City Council of the Dead turns into a massive war between the spirit world and the human world with Carlos caught in the middle. Everything rests on Carlos’ shoulders, which is a problem because he can barely remember who he is.
PROS: Engaging and diverse characters; interesting villain; good use of a new urban fantasy trope; fantastic writing and great dialog.
CONS: Underwhelming and unbelievable romantic subplot; muddled action; could have used more world building.
BOTTOM LINE: Urban fantasy noir fans will dig this new series and appreciate the cast of colorful characters that Older has created.
Half-Resurrection Blues introduces readers to Carlos Delacruz, a man caught between life and death in New York City. He doesn’t remember his past or how he was resurrected, but still makes do with his new half-life. He works for the New York City Council of the Dead, taking out ghosts who cause problems and keeping humans from getting too close. As far as he knows, he is the only one of his kind, until he stumbles upon another inbetweener and is forced to kill him. This sets off a chain of events that nearly kills Carlos and everyone he cares about.
Being a fan of urban noir, my expectations for Half-Resurrection Blues were set very high, particularly related to the ghost angle — and this book deals primarily with ghosts. Everyone is either dead or half-dead or working with the dead. Despite this, a lot of the ghosts are ill-defined, and the world building around them was a little weak. I would have loved more information about what the Council actually does (besides annoy Carlos) or how it’s structured. The ghosts are able to do things like drink, hold weapons and become injured but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to their abilities. Despite being half-dead, Carlos doesn’t seem to have many problems besides a grayish tint to his skin and no pulse. He can eat, drink, sleep, feel pain, procreate, etc. with no issue whatsoever. It was more like was 10% dead, not half. People and plots tend to lurch forward with little to no explanation.
That said, Carlos is an instantly likable character. He doesn’t hold anything back and his skillful swearing was delightful. He was both a thoughtful bookworm and a take-no-prisoners agent for the Council. He knows his limitations but he isn’t defined by them. No matter how down Carlos is, Older makes you want him to succeed. His two best friends, Dro and Riley, are ghosts and they’re often together at a local bar trying to work out solutions to whatever sticky situation they find themselves in. One of the most fascinating ghosts is a mothering spirit called Mama Esther who took Carlos in and nursed him back to health when he was first discovered. She haunts a building full of books and acts as a friendly port in the storm for Carlos. Sarco, an undead sorcerer, is also a great character, a charming villain who is nasty enough to make you really hate him, even if, at times, his motivations aren’t clearly defined. However, the cast is incredibly diverse, and this is a good thing. A large chunk of the characters are Hispanic and Carlos himself is disabled and walks with a limp. Good call depicting a Hispanic part of New York instead of the touristy kind most people see. You can’t help but care about the fates of even the most minor characters, and Carlos is fantastic, but I just wish the world around him had been more fleshed out.
The story rollicks along at a good clip, though the timing of the story is a little hazy. It could unfurl over a month or half a year; it’s never really defined. Additionally, Carlos displays a surprising lack of curiosity when it comes to some major plot points. In the beginning of the novel he is sent to stop a man who reveals himself to be another inbetweener like Carlos, and instead of being floored that he isn’t the only half-dead guy around, Carlos simply kills him and doesn’t really give it another thought. He then goes on to seek out the man’s half-dead sister, Sasha, and sleep with her. It’s a little bizarre.
The romance between Carlos and Sasha was the story element that worked least in Half-Resurrection Blues. It felt hollow and shoehorned into the overall story, and didn’t add much to the plot. The events that Sasha causes could just as easily have happened even if she wasn’t sleeping with him. The end of the novel really made me sour on the romance and I found it a bit implausible especially since both characters are supposed to be half-dead. I enjoy a good romantic subplot but this one felt a bit forced.
Half-Resurrection Blues is bursting with potential, but didn’t entirely live up to my admittedly high hopes and I found some parts a bit muddled or just plain underwhelming. But, ultimately, the best parts of Half-Resurrection Blues — like Older’s lyrical, jangly writing style — makes you forgive some of its missteps. Older’s storytelling is like a story spontaneously spun while sitting on a stoop in Bed-Stuy. It’s gritty and doesn’t pull any punches. His writing bounces around great little turns of phrase that just make you grin. The end of the book is left open for a sequel and I hope Older delivers. Who can say no to ghosts fighting the forces of darkness in Brooklyn? I’d be more than willing to take another trip down to Older’s Brooklyn. You might consider a visit too.