Saturday, October 13, 2012

Review: Here Lies Death by Harlan Vaughn

Here Lies DeathOn December 21, 2012, the processes of death and aging stop completely. Here Lies Death is the story of Kelsey and April, sisters who are forced to explore their own mortality because of unprecedented supernatural phenomena. As the world struggles to understand the psychological and sociological implications, Kelsey and April dive deeper into hopelessness and depravity. While the slow realization of life without death begins to burn itself into a new reality, the human race threatens to implode. 

What happens when there is no more death? 

Part fantasy, part science fiction, and part story of survival, read the acclaimed novel that sweeps across the human experience and digs into the darkest corners of the mind. 

Kindle Edition, 278 pages
Published August 2012 by Harlan Vaughn

(Summary grabbed from GoodReads)

I should probably change my blurb in the upper right corner as this is not a short review in any means. Not even short-ish. I have a lot to say and almost wish I had never signed up to do this review for Read it and Reap. But I did and here it is.

Here Lies Death is an examination of the human condition in the event that humanity has lost the ability to die. In an event called the Restoration, everyone on the planet is frozen in time. No one can age, get sick, or be physically harmed. Harlan Vaughn asks the question: how will this change humanity? He attempts to answer this by following two sisters, Kelsey and April. Kelsey, an artist in her late twenties living with her longtime boyfriend, has everything falling into place before the Restoration. She is in love, plans to start a family, and is doing exactly what she wants to do with her life. April also has her life falling into place. She has a great job in NYC, a perfect boyfriend, and is beautiful. But it just doesn’t feel right for April, causing her to throw herself off a high rise in Midtown seconds before the Restoration.

In the events that unfold, we learn that the human condition is of debauchery and violence with the exit of Death.

To put it nicely, I did not enjoy this book. To put it truthfully, I was offended, disturbed, and was pulling my hair out to finish it. There were no feelings of authenticity; moreover, every character lacked depth and felt genuinely fake. We do not get the inner thoughts of characters going through the impossible. What we get occasionally is narration about what is going on, but it would have been better seeing it through the character’s eyes. In these narrations, a lot of interesting and different ideas are simply briefed over. There are no moments of deep speculation from these characters about the new world they find themselves in.

One idea explored through Kelsey is that in a world without dying, there is no new life. Kelsey soon discovered she can never have children. Live forever, no babies. Other options are not really addressed -- the idea of adoption was never touched upon. There are a lot of reasons women cannot conceive in the real world and most do not let themselves unravel because of it. The issue, though, is not so much that Kelsey is upset over this; the issue is that it was never fully explored. Is adoption outlawed? Does Kelsey consider what it would be like to have an infant forever as children do not age either? Can people conceive within the Dead Zone (a place where is it discovered the Restoration has no effect)? We never get a full glimpse into Kelsey’s (or any character’s) head.

Considering Kelsey is an artist, it could have been expressed through her art and how it changed after and during the Restoration. Art is an expression of feeling on canvas, photography, or whatever medium the artist wants. It was disappointing that this was not looked into during the novel.

Kelsey and Kes’s relationship is just plain unreal. People, no matter how in love they are, fight. Especially when stressed. I found myself begging for a disagreement. But no, Kes just stays sensitive Mr. Perfect. Granted, these aren’t normal circumstances, but my suspension of disbelief was pulled so thin, I could not ignore small things anymore.

 April was a hot mess of a character. One minute she is sad and wishing for true death and the next she is reckless and giving in to secret desires. Her relationship with perfect Michael is simply blah. There is no feeling in their conversation. April claims she cares for him, but there is nothing to show that. It feels shallow. Her double life that develops may have been the author’s attempt to show the duality of the character, but it was done terribly. April felt inconsistent, not confused. It does not make sense for April to go from truly wanting to die to jump to torturing herself. It does not add up. Death and torture are different things.

While we have these upstanding, strong visions of men in Kes and Michael, the female characters felt weak -- pathetic even. Both Kelsey and April give in to their doubts. Both of our female leads betray the men in their lives. Kelsey lies to Kes. Repeatedly. April lives another life temporarily but supposedly still cares about Michael. And all the while, these male characters do nothing short of being super. It felt extremely biased. I let it go until Kes meets Jack. Jack’s wife betrays him in a similar way that Kelsey does Kes. Jack was the straw that broke my inner feminist camel’s back.

 Furthermore on the issue of sex, men are simplified into either being perfect visions of man, rapists, or are gay. Sean, our gay character, has faults but nothing excessive, making him the most believable character. Kes and Michael have exactly zero faults described within the pages of this book. And then there are the rapists. Kelsey is raped, not once, but twice. TWICE. Both times served nothing to aid the plot. Both times were only glazed over. Rape is a big deal and to be written about so lightly was offensive.

Prose can save a novel. When reading Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, there were times when I was bored, but the fluidity of her prose spurred me on. However, the only times when the prose was done well in Here Lies Death were the over gratuitous scenes of gore at the death parties. Everywhere else, it was very much telling but not showing. In a novel where the meaning of humanity is explored, it is essential to feel and understand what character is experiencing. There was too much detachment from the character and the events to really feel anything from their perspective.

 I was very excited to read this story as it had a great premise: what the world would be like if everyone got to cheat death. It was a big let-down for me -- what could have been a great novel turned out disappointing. If the author had not just written on the surface and actually dug deep into the characters and ideas he presents, it would have been much better. I received a free copy of this book for reviewing purposes.

Final Thought: 0 toadstools 

Also posted on GoodReads


  1. Congratulations! You met your very own troll! It is bound to happen at one point or another. But glad that people banded together. Not everyone likes the same books. We are all unique thinkers, and we enjoy different things.

    Keep on doing your thing, and giving honest reviews. That's what us readers want!

    Many hugs,

    1. Thanks for your support! In the end, I guess it brought more good than bad. A troll was killed with memes!