Review: Scorch by Gina Damico

Scorch (Croak #2)
Gina Damico

Graphia
Releases September 25, 2012
322 pages
YA / Fantasy

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Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home.

To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

Croak was a pleasant surprise earlier this year. It had tons of humor, heart and action while creating characters that, despite their numerous flaws, were full developed as hormonal, emotional teenagers, who make bad decisions and have to live with the consequences. It just so happened that these teens were living in a town full of people who collect the souls of the dead as a full-time job, calling themselves  Grims. It was a fun world to set a mystery in and Damico aced the tone and pacing of her original story so that I could barely put it down. Then it left me stunned as the dark humor suddenly turned into tragedy in a way that was surprising and yet fit so perfectly within the framework Damico had created.

SPOILERS FOR CROAK BELOW

Croak left our main character, Lex, in the midst of tragedy after her twin sister is killed tragically due to a series of mistakes Lex had made as she developed as a new reaper. She’d dropped out of school to move to Croak permanently to live with her uncle and attempt to hunt down Zara for revenge. Upon returning with her uncle from the newest recruits, she’s faced with a backlash from the other, older citizens of her new home, who blame her for the dangers that have befallen not only their town, but the greater realm of Grims. For most of the book, she and her other junior Grims try to continue their training and live their lives in an increasingly hostile environment while also trying to resolve the situation of the murderous and maniacal Zara.

Damico increases the stakes of Lex’s journey, making everyone around her a potential enemy, while also enlarging the world she inhabits. She introduces DeMyse, the glitzy Vegas-like city of Grims, who seem to spend more time shopping than actually working. While Lex doesn’t spend a lot of time in DeMyse, it’s a really compelling setting that I wish Damico would explore further, perhaps in a series of short stories involving characters who live in this crazy, colorful, bombastic city. It was a great contrast to the agrarian small town of Croak.

Through Lex’s sister, we get a further glimpse of the afterlife, which I love. Damico’s version is really interesting and left me wondering what sort of odd pair-ups might occur if this particular afterlife actually existed. Would Edgar Allen Poe have any friends? Would all the president really spend their time harassing each other? Is there a separate little corner where all the Hollywood stars who died young gather? In a series full of interesting and fun ideas, I think her afterlife concept is one of the best and in this second book, it’s no different.

Despite all the hardships, Lex doesn’t drastically change from the sullen, potentially violent hooligan who arrived in the first book, but she does start to care more for the people around her and their well-being. Some of the most compelling scenes involve Lex contemplating how to best save her friends or her encounters with her dead sister in the afterlife. I didn’t mind spending the entire book, hanging out from Lex’s point of view because she’s growing despite her emo demeanor. Now that she has the power to Damn souls and the majority of her adopted hometown finds her repulsive and possibly a murderous vigilante, she remains a strong character as she discovers the extent of her new powers and the emotional maturity to go along with them. Plus it’s pretty cool to see her Damning inanimate objects when her rage towards certain ignorant adults causes her natural gift to flare up. I mean, who hasn’t wanted to damn an inanimate object when it didn’t cooperate?

So this book was zooming along, making me happy and leaving me concerned for the well-being of certain characters when the last 50 pages or so started running off the rails. I don’t mean this necessarily in a bad way, just that I thought the book was going right and instead it took a sharp left. A fair amount of info dumping is subtly and not so subtly developed amidst a blur of plot resolutions. I had a hard time catching my breath as the action all came to a crashing end while all this new information was provided, I’m guessing as set up for the third book in the series. There were just a few moments of feeling a little jarred and knocked partly out of the story as I pieced everything together. Maybe I didn’t pick up on Damico’s foreshadowing as much as I should have.

But overall Scorch is a solid follow up to the original and hilarious Croak. Spending time in this quirky world is always a joy, even when things turn dark and dangerous for Lex and her friends. In a town full of reapers, it’s no wonder that everyone doesn’t make it out alive. I’m excited to see how things wrap up.

 

I received an early copy of this book via the Around the World ARC Tours in return for an honest review.