Meet Sam Thornton. He collects souls.
Sam’s job is to collect the souls of the damned, and ensure they are dispatched to the appropriate destination. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a young woman he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime that’s doomed her to Hell, he says something no Collector has ever said before.
What is pulp fiction? I’m not talking about the movie but that genre of fiction where the rules of reality are skewed off centre, where the most sensational things happen without questioning their validity. Pulp fiction is the "just go with it" genre, the genre that makes all those armchair critics writhe uncomfortably every time the read something that could not possibly happen if you were to consider the facts. With Dead Harvest, Chris F. Holm attempts to make more of these armchair critics writhe by combining the pulp fiction genre with an urban fantasy story. It is a story of angels, of demons and reapers, of bodysnatching and helicopter snatching, and the result is certainly entertaining.
The story follows Sam, a collector of tainted souls whose latest collection does not go according to plan. When he goes against the wishes of the demons by not collecting this tainted soul, Sam sets in motion a chain of events which looks like starting a long overdue war between Heaven and Hell. This is a very open and direct mystery story, one that starts and finishes very strongly with a small lull in-between. Holm does a lot of work up front, setting up the tensions between Heaven and Hell, setting up Sam as the fall guy for a heinous crime, and making sure Sam knows that to clear his name will result in war between Heaven and Hell. We don't know why the tensions exist, we don't know why Sam was set up, and we don't know who is setting this all up or why they want this war to happen. This is a story about a bunch of critical decision points interspersed by consequence based events, and you get to watch Sam grow from the fumbling ill informed collector making poor decisions and suffering harsh consequences, to the well informed barely surviving collector who is one poor decision away from losing everything.
This is a book of decisions, and we get to see the characters grow based on the decisions they make. Sam is a very dead-pan serious guy, he fits well within the framework of the story, but in all honestly I didn't find him all that interesting to begin with. His back story is pretty good, I did like exploring the origins of him becoming a reaper, and I can see he is going to be a very good character in future instalments of the series, but for this book he came across as a beige man playing second fiddle to some awesome action and plot twists. Same goes for girl that Sam spends the whole book trying to save, and the faceless enemy which is made up from a random mix of angels and demons. This is not to say that the characters or the characterisation was bad, I just felt like Holm could have done a bit more to make the characters more compelling.
That said, the overall writing here is clean, fast paced and easy to read. The action scenes, especially the over-the-top action scenes, have been written as well as any I have seen in the last twelve months, and are full of unrealistic expectations, explosions flying in your face, and lots of fun. To quote Dr. Horrible - "What a crazy random happenstance". That is what I like about pulp fiction, the licence to just go and write the coolest things you can think of without worrying about how they make sense in the real world.
This is a fun book full of cool concepts and big action sequences. Mysteries are posed, answers that make sense are found, and characters are fundamentally changed in the process. Holm has created a fantastic world and I can't wait to see what happens next.
Review by Ryan Lawler
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