A spoiler free endorsement.
Daniel José Older is the type of writer that forces you to reevaluate your likes and dislikes for particular (sub)-genres. Up until I read Half-Resurrection Blues, I declared a moratorium on anything even resembling urban fantasy. Most urban fantasy almost supernaturally privileges European myth/folk/legend and leaves zero room for stories or influences from other cultures. Fairy court intrigues, battles amongst the Sidhe, and some kind of blonde or “flowing raven haired” chosen one or outcast or bi-species offspring rule the urban fantasy space to such a degree that reading these books feels like looking at a “No Melanin Allowed” billboard written in fairy dust. With Half-Resurrection Blues, though, Older makes a very bold departure.
Older’s voice is the voice of a writer who is both talented and accomplished, but still enamored of language and how it can be used. While there may be too much profanity for some, there is a playfulness and curiosity to Older’s words that illustrates the author’s dedication to his craft, his narratives, this world.
For more thorough example of what I mentioned, check this out.
Our setting: Brooklyn, NYC. Our hero: Carlos Delacruz. Older’s Brooklyn is contemporary and ancient. It is holding tightly to its multi-cultural past, as it manages the growing pains of rampant gentrification. But amongst the artisanal mayonnaise, handlebar mustaches, and neo-filthy faux dive bars stalks Delacruz — an inbetweener. He straddles the liminal space between life and death, just like the Brooklyn he inhabits.Carlos is a newly resurrected agent for New York’s Council of the Dead. The Council is a spectral bureaucracy tasked with managing the affairs of the dead — and Delacruz is their instrument. Armed with a bravado and recklessness that is both admirable and maddening — not to mention his trusty cane sword — Delacruz dispatches the dead whom the Council deems unfit for the afterlife. Older describes the permanent death of the dead in ways that invited me to think more about death, undeath, halfdeath, and any and every position on the death spectrum — this lead to me really seeing the genuine creepiness and unease beneath the alpha-male testosterone bravado of Half-Resurrection Blues. Underneath the action and adventure, Daniel José Older is asking some of the Big Questions, and presenting some unsettling answers.
The story itself isn’t anything new or revolutionary (the setting and characters are), but it is written in such a way that you cannot help but become engrossed. Carlos, who thinks he is the only inbetweener, is ordered to kill another of his kind. This assassination is the trigger point to a tale that works in multiple genres: urban fantasy, horror, action/adventure, detective, and a love story that is lightweight twisted. The villain, Sarco, who Delacruz and the other inbetweeners are connected to, is what a villain should be. While I had some initial doubts about how Sarco was first introduced, once I saw how he set his plans in motion, I was convinced that he was what Carlos needed to test his resolve. It is easy to show the villain as histrionic, over-the-top, and have them descend into a central bad guy-casting archetype. But Sarco was believable to a point where I almost started to root for him. He was charismatic, brutal, and convicted — like the best villains are. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a scene with Sarco, a Hasidic Jew, Carlos, and these little demon things called Ngks that made me not ever want to step into another basement.
My only complaint is that Carlos’ love/lust interest, Sasha, is a tad underdeveloped. There is so much to her that I felt cheated that I wasn’t allowed to get to know her better. She was strong, fierce, sexy, and smarter and more connected to the world that Carlos had to play the one down position whenever they shared a scene. Their relationship, as I stated earlier, is twisted. There is one scene that made me say, “damn!” out loud. And there is a revelation near the end of the book that demands a sequel. Hell, the characters and the readers deserve a sequel. There is just too much flavor and WTFs for this to be one book.
But from what I hear, Half-Resurrection Blues is just the beginning of Daniel José Older’s Bone Street Rumba. Whether this is the name of the interconnecting stories of Spectral Brooklyn, or the name of a new urban fantasy movement, us readers will be the better for having more books in this series.
I whole-heartedly endorse Half-Resurrection Blues. Get your copy today.