Thursday, March 14, 2013

What we’re reading: Re-told fairy tales with an edge

Why would Death choose a human as his apprentice, and invest him with all Death’s powers and skills? How would Death choose that apprentice? And, more to the point, for what purpose, since Death cannot die? These are some of the intriguing questions answered in Death’s Apprentice, by K.W. Jeter and Gareth Jefferson Jones.

Ever since his father made a deal with Death to take on his son as an apprentice, seventeen-year-old Nathaniel has followed Death, learning all of the “tricks of the trade.” But while Nathaniel has seen countless lives end, he feels his own is in limbo. He is a human existing in the land of the dead, his only interactions with the living limited to the short moments before they “cross over.” He feels that his “life” serves little purpose, and a development during his latest “gathering” with Death may curtail his involvement even more….

Blake is an American soldier who, like Nathaniel, is also of two worlds. He is a wraith, neither living nor dead, due to a deal he made while serving in Afghanistan. He has travelled the world in search of a way to end his torment….

At seven feet tall, giant Hank is the go-to guy when someone needs a hit man. Hank is a formidable foe, not only because of his size and strength but because Hank does not experience fear, making him capable of deeds no one else will consider. But Hank wonders what it would be like, just once, to be afraid….

These three strangers have all been drawn to Grimm City, an urban nightmare built directly above the gates of Hell. All three figure prominently in an ancient prophecy that will forever change Grimm City and, quite possibly, the world.

In Death’s Apprentice, authors K.W. Jeter and Gareth Jefferson Jones take their inspiration from 13 (of course the number of tales is 13!) of the original tales gathered and published by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (i.e., the Brothers Grimm). Jeter and Jones have taken the basic story elements and reworked them, weaving them together and adding both vintage and contemporary pulp fiction elements to create a compelling dark fantasy. The result is something extraordinary, with a story that is mysterious yet familiar, comfortable yet unsettling. While most of the Grimm Brothers’ stories dealt in absolutes (heroes are heroes, villains are villains), Jeter and Jones have added a bit of the noir “anti-hero” sensibility, where even a hardened professional hit man can be moved to risk his life to save an innocent because it is the right thing to do.

According to K.W. Jeter, the plan is for Death’s Apprentice to be the first of a new fairy tale-based series of stories set in Grimm City. Let’s hope we get to read more!

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