The Book Thief / Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
There is no grim skeletal figure with a scythe.
And that quote works nicely for both books – since both deal with death in various shapes, forms, sizes and amusing dispositions.
About The Book Thief there seems to be a whole discussion as to whether it’s more for adults, or more for children. Or maybe not a discussion per se, but I’ve seen the topic mentioned in a couple of reviews and it was odd enough to stick. Personally, I’ve no idea how Mr. Zusak targeted it (or if he even did at all), but I just think I’d appreciate it more if I saw it as YA; there are bits that are too patronizing and too gimmicky to work for an adult and the story itself feels…thin. As far as the gimmicks go, I’d compare it with Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely loud and incredibly close – only less saccharine. The book is narrated by Death (who inserts personal asides and comments in the narration, some of them witty, some of them terribly trite) and has as a central figure young Liesel, the book thief. It’s WWII in Munich, so you know what that means – poverty, bombs, oppression, guilt, Jews being herded through the streets like cattle, sorrow and dust. But Liesel has a childhood to live – and she does, as best she can, together with Mama and Papa (the foster parents she’s sent to after her brother’s death and her mother’s associations with Communism), Rudy (the boy next door) and Max (the Jew hidden in their basement for a few months). It is, of course, a quirky coming of age story with colorful characters – but it feels like it tries too hard. The horrors of war partially understood by a very astute 12-year-old, the kindnesses surrounding her from unlikely sources (Mama – who uses swearwords as endearments, but whose heart really is in the right place or the Mayor’s wife, who’s walked through life like a zombie ever since her son died or even Frau Holtzapfel) – it all fits the script perfectly and that’s why it spoils the experience a bit. A fun book, but nothing more profound than that.
And speaking of fun books, here’s another: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer (A Devilishly Thrilling Comic Fantasy). Johannes Cabal is a necromancer (wouldn’t have guessed it, would you?) of a sullen, yet sarcastic disposition who’s given his soul to the devil in an attempt to unveil all the secrets of necromancy. Turns out though that his research actually could benefit from the existence of said soul; and now he wants it back so he challenges the devil to a wager: 100 souls in the span of a year in exchange for his own. And to make things interesting, the devil gives him a carnival to help with the task, our hero being obviously unsuited for it (luckily he has his vampire brother and other undead sidekicks to help). While occasionally long-winded Jonathan Howard’s book is mostly sharp and witty and with such a straightforward plot I’d say makes for a great beach read (but then again, don’t take my word for it, I haven’t actually been to the beach in years 😀 ).