Just Don’t Call Her a Zombie: A Review of Dying For A Living

Several months ago author Kory M. Shrum wrote a post on this site as part of a blog tour to promote her second novel Dying By The Hour. Her first book in the Jesse Sullivan urban fantasy series, Dying For A Living, is now out on the Nook, so I was finally able to read it. And yes, I have a Nook not a Kindle; I am the Brooklyn hipster of e-book readers.

In the world of Dying For A Living, zombies (or Necronites, if you want to be politically correct) have become a known entity in the world. In fact, a whole industry has been born out of their ability to die and regenerate. Many Necronites work as Replacement Agents. Psychics, also called A.M.P.s, are a known entity in this world, and they can predict when people will die. The Replacement Agents are then sent to go die in their place.

This is how Jesse Sullivan, heroine of the story, makes her living. At least until she is called into a job where someone tries to really kill her. In this setting, a Necronite cannot survive without its head, and she is narrowly saved from decapitation. After that she is plunged into a quest to try and find out who tried to kill her and how it is connected to the deaths of other Replacement Agents across the country.

The story is written as a first person narration, and I really enjoyed Jesse as a narrator. She is sarcastic and witty and has entertaining insights about different situations she is in. She is also bisexual, which I thought was cool because #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I haven’t read very many stories with bisexual protagonists, but I feel that bisexual characters are often portrayed in a sort of inauthentic way. When I see them I often feel like the writer just wanted to write a hetero relationship but add some interesting spice to one of the character’s backgrounds, but in this instance I thought the character’s sexuality felt incredibly natural and authentic.

It also played out nicely in the love triangle aspect of the book, as the competing love interests are a man and a woman. I thought Shrum did a great job with this, as the way each of these characters interacts with Jesse feels distinct to their sex, and she is able to capture all of the subtle differences between the way that men and women act in a relationship. She also creates a believable reason for the love triangle to exist, as Jesse is hesitant to be involved with anyone. Replacement Agents often go crazy after doing their job for too long, and she doesn’t want to be in a committed relationship with anyone due to this dreaded future and the complex nature of her work.

Unfortunately, I think the same problem every love triangle faces starts to rise towards the end of the book. My feeling with love triangles, and one of the reasons they are so difficult to write, is that more often than not there really is only one good choice. And while in real life that choice can be difficult to determine, as a reader who is detached from the action it is easy to spot the correct course, which makes it frustrating to follow the protagonist when he or she chooses wrong or even just waffles with indecision. I’ll be curious to see how Shrum handles this moving forward.

In terms of plot, the story is fun and fast-paced. I will also warn you that it is not episodic. While the novel ends with the most immediate of Jesse’s problems being solved, it does leave many many questions unanswered for later books in the series.

If you’re a fan of urban fantasy, then I would definitely recommend this book. It is a fun read, and I’ll be curious to see how Shrum develops the series and where Jesse’s adventures lead next.

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