Half-Resurrection Blues: This urban fantasy brings a city and a hero to life

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Reposting to include Jana’s new review.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsHalf-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older fantasy book reviewsHalf-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

I love the world Daniel José Older creates in his urban fantasy Half-Resurrection Blues. I love the feel of Brooklyn; the sounds, the sights, the sensibilities; the descriptions of the smell of cigar smoke, booze, and food from the bodegas, sushi bars and food carts. This Brooklyn is full of life — and full of ghosts, which is where our protagonist, Carlos Delacruz, comes in.

Carlos is a half-alive; a person who has died but not completely. He “passes” for living even if his skin is a bit gray; he has a slow heartbeat, he breathes, eats, drinks (and smokes). Because of his half-dead condition, though, Carlos can see and interact with ghosts. He works for the intensely bureaucratic Council of the Dead, staffed entirely by ghosts, who have assigned themselves the task of keeping other ghosts in line. They distrust Carlos but he is useful because he can communicate with both the living and the dead. When Carlos finds another half-alive person who is trying to open a portal to the underworld, and kills him, he uncovers an elaborate plot with consequences for the whole city. He and his ghost “boss” and friend Riley must figure out what’s going on, but Carlos is soon distracted when he falls in love with the half-alive sister of the man he killed.

Older packs a lot into a book just over 300 pages; there is the grand scheme of the villain Sarco, Carlos’s star-crossed romance, and the mystery of Carlos’s own past (he remembers nothing from before he “woke up” from being dead). He and Riley are also dealing with an infestation of mischievous spirits called “ngks,” which I insist on pronouncing “ing-iks,” because thanks for the consonants, Mr. Older! In this world, things are more connected than they seem on the surface, and Carlos and Riley must sort out what matters and what is coincidental. To help with this, Carlos relies on a network of allies: santero Baba Eddie, his snarky teenaged assistant Kia, and the “house ghost” Mama Esther, among others. Carlos’s magical Brooklyn is filled with Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Dominicans, African Americans, Native Americans and Irish Americans, a rich and realistic portrayal of a vibrant city, living and dead.

The idea of the “half-alive” presented in this particular way was new to me, and the concept of “grounded ghosts” like Mama Esther and another ghost we meet later was fascinating. Older plays with the idea of “life” and “death” in unusual ways. He also plays with language, ranging from inventive use of f-bombs to passages that are sentimental and lyrical. Throughout, the sparkle and snap of the city is palpable. It’s also nice to read an urban fantasy where not everyone is white, skinny, middle class and saying “OMG,” every other minute.

Carlos is a good character. Kia, the teen counter-worker at Bab Eddie’s is mostly window dressing and Sasha the girlfriend is pretty much The Girlfriend, although we see a whole different side to her later in the book. Riley and Dro, Carlos’s ghost partners, are more rounded. The book has a plot that held my interest — I did believe that characters were in danger — and also lavished us with the hustle, the cockiness and the sentimental melancholy of a certain kind of guy. Carlos Delacruz (which means “from the cross,”) is a character at a crossroads, torn between choices, and convincingly written. This is a new kind of urban fantasy for me, and I’m liking it.

~Marion Deeds


Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older fantasy book reviewsCan my review just say, “Marion’s totally right?”

Because, really, she is. Older creates a vibrant, wholly alive world in Half-Resurrection Blues, which is hilarious to me since most of the characters are experiencing some degree of death. But it’s all so sensuous and fully present, and brought back so many wonderful memories of wandering around New York City when I lived on the East Coast. (Forgive me for getting a little misty-eyed when I think about how long it’s been since I had a decent slice of pizza or fresh-off-the-cart falafel.)

Beyond that, Older’s ear is impeccable. He knows how to write internal monologues and dialogue in ways that make it seem as though people are actually speaking (to themselves, to the reader, to one another) and, more difficult than that, he writes about music in a way which makes it accessible to the reader without including a single note. I firmly believe that this skill can’t be taught — either an author can translate what they hear to the reader, or they can’t, and Older absolutely has a talent for it.

I’m not normally a fan of the “urban paranormal fantasy” genre; I find that too often it focuses on the werewolf-vampire-faerie trifecta, and that just isn’t appealing to me. However, I will gladly make exceptions for ghosts and demons and whatever ngks are. Highly recommended.

~Jana Nyman

Published January 6, 2015. “Because I’m an inbetweener—and the only one anyone knows of at that—the dead turn to me when something is askew between them and the living. Usually, it’s something mundane like a suicide gone wrong or someone revived that shouldn’ta been.” Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death. One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead. But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death.…

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but recently settled in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are Bradbury, James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, and Philip Pullman.

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One comment

  1. Yeah, this is a good book. :D

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