Saint Death’s Daughter – Straddling Humor And Drama

Saint Death’s Daughter, by C.S.E. Cooney, is a complicated book to review. It is a clunker of a story with an almost 700-page count, and it has a strange identity that is going to be very appealing to a small niche of people but will frustrate a broader audience. Ultimately, its biggest point of contention is the book is trying to straddle two foci: dark humor and family drama. If you like these two subjects then this book might be a real hidden gem, but I suspect many readers will leave these pages confused.

Lanie Stones, short for Miscellaneous, is the daughter of the royal assassins of a backwater court and a burgeoning necromancer. Her family lives in a realm beneath the notice of the surrounding powerhouse countries, but it has a lot of natural resources making political intrigue a daily matter. Lanie’s less-than-idyllic childhood is turned upside down when her parents get assassinated themselves and she and her reviled older sister try to step into their parents’ shoes to keep the house from being taken by the ultimate evil, bankers. The story bounces around from point to point unpredictably as plans and plots come and go, and we get to watch Lanie develop from a timid reclusive child to a powerful necromancer taking charge. It is a wild ride, but not made for everyone.

Something that was not immediately apparent to me when I first began my time with this book is that Saint Death’s Daughter feels like a dark comedy first and a narrative second. There is a plot, winding though it might be, but it is definitely second fiddle to the pervasive dark humor of the book. The humor takes the form of tons of little bells and whistles in the story that give it a clever atmosphere. Lanie has an allergy to death, despite being a necromancer, so anytime she sees someone experience physical harm or discomfort she gets terrifying and funny little echoes of the effect. There is a ton of lore dumping, but most of it is in the form of the family history of the ridiculously named Stones. All of Miscellaneous’ ancestors are named things like “Death Incarnate Stones, Apocalypse Stones, Sunday Delight Stones,” and as we learn their names we often get a poignant story about their hilarious demise as well. The book also launches into developing a robust map of cultures and people early and you will find yourself bogged down by seemingly “useless” information about other places not relevant to the plot.

Except, the little vignettes and colorful commentary about people near and far seem to be the actual core of the book. It all cohesively comes together, but the point is less setting up places for the cast to explore and more giving Cooney lots of opportunities to make witty observations about the human condition. To be clear, I think Cooney is good at this. There are tons of witty remarks and metaphors that made me smile. It’s just that Saint Death’s Daughter doesn’t have the breezy layout that something like Terry Pratchett’s work does and it can absolutely feel like being hit by a landslide of facts.

Added to this is the aforementioned plot that is competing for the spotlight. Lanie and her sister are drawn into a series of quests to try to save their home and escape death. All of this highlights the extremely tense relationship that Lanie had with her deceased parents, living relatives, and necromantic ancestors that still haunt her as a necromancer. We get to see Lanie’s very believable coming-of-age story and character development through key events in her childhood. The problem I found is that these events feel more like a skeleton draft of themes than a cohesive narrative. We jump from point to point and all I see are the themes Cooney was hoping to explore, not the meaty story to connect them like muscle on a skeleton. Lanie is a wonderful protagonist, with some very believable growth, but I have a hard time feeling invested in her when alternating between overwhelming info dumps and bare-bones story moments.

I am sure that Saint Death’s Daughter will be someone’s favorite book, it just wasn’t mine. Its unique blend of dark humor and coming-of-age necromancer family drama is very original and I had fun despite my difficulties. If you like a focus on observational humor about the human condition but also want a narrative north star to work towards, Saint Death’s Daughter might be your hidden gem.

Rating: Saint Death’s Daughter – 6.5/10

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An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.

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