Courting Death

Courting Death

Courting Death was first published in 2014 and is Livia Hardy’s debut novel. It’s a short horror novella about a teenage adrenaline junkie. The book is a stand-alone story and is only 63 pages long in its paperback format so therefore makes a light, quick read for teenagers.

Alex has always been addicted to the thrill that comes from dodging traffic in the road but his need has grown worse since the death of his best friend, Jay. His parents have grown distant from him, believing him to be partially responsible for her accident, and now Alex only feels excited when he is cheating death. Unfortunately, Death has plans for him.

Seeing no challenge in taking someone who is suicidal, Death decides to find a way to give Alex the joy of life back. He knows that he needs to find something that Alex can’t live without – something that will make him rethink his actions and realise that death is something to be feared. Once that happens, Death will claim him.

But Alex will not be easy to convince. His lust for danger far outweighs his fear. In order to convince him, Death will need to call on favours from some of his most trusted allies…

Sorry for posting up another unscheduled review. I needed something to read in the bath and this one’s been sitting on my “to read” pile for quite some time now so I thought I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the novella for me. While the blurb did leave me curious to find out more, the story unfortunately failed to deliver on almost every level.

My primary issue with the novella was its structure. Although the book was very short, the story really seemed to drag. This is entirely down to Hardy’s written style. It is really heavy in pronouns, with sentences often following the structure of “Alex did this…and then Alex did this…”. The story would also have been half as long if it hadn’t devoted whole paragraphs to describing Alex’s actions. Take this passage for example:

“He jumped out of it a few lights away from his house and went to Neil’s. Neil let him in and gave him a very brief update on what had happened in school in exchange for details about Alex’s day. Then Alex left, asking Neil to tell his mother, if she phoned, that he was on his way home.”

These details are rather irrelevant. Neil is a bit of a non-entity in the book as he never speaks for himself and the fact that Alex went to Neil’s house before he went home doesn’t affect anything else in the story. This is how the entire novella is written – lots of long sentences which add nothing but unnecessary details. The clumsiness of the text is especially noticeable in the action scenes. This style of writing isn’t kinetic enough to express the excitement that Alex feels when he’s dodging cars and, due to this, the novel has no sense of tension. I never shared the rush of Alex’s hobby. It just came across as being a little flat and uninteresting.

The characters in the story were also incredibly shallow. This is a common problem with novellas as authors do have to be sparing with details as there just isn’t enough room to fully flesh out the cast but in Courting Death it posed a rather large problem. The whole point of the story is that the reader is supposed to relate to Alex but it’s impossible to do so because he’s such a jerk.

Alex is completely self-absorbed. To a degree, that’s understandable. He’s lost someone special to him and is struggling to cope. However, this doesn’t give him carte blanche to be a budding sociopath. Alex is on a really self-destructive path but he doesn’t just want to hurt himself. At one point in the novella, he tries to concoct a poison to kill himself. Unsure if it’ll work, he instead decides to give it to a classmate to see what it does. This classmate hasn’t done anything to him, let us note, other than have a slight crush on him. Really, how can you empathise with that? Alex’s complete disregard for others made me hate him. I honestly didn’t care if he lived or died and, because of this, the novel didn’t really move me at all.

The most interesting character in the story is Death. Although having Death as a major character in the story is nothing new (see Diskworld and The Book Thief), his narratives were far more interesting than Alex’s. He was always following him, always manipulating events to try to force Alex to embrace life. The fact that he would kill him as soon as he did added a moral dilemma. While you generally want characters to find happiness, you are constantly aware while reading that Alex would die if he did. Yet Death’s motivation left me confused. We’re never told why he has such a fixation on Alex. The world is filled with thousands of suicidal people. What is it about Alex that makes him so irresistible?

Finally, there was the conclusion. I don’t want to spoil it for you but I will say that the ending of this story is incredibly bleak and left a bitter taste in my mouth. To make matters worse, the ending doesn’t carry any sense of catharsis. Alex never regrets his actions and he never fully explains what happened to Jay. We don’t even find out what Max’s deal is. The novel hints that she’s suffered some kind of abuse but we never get any real idea of just what happened to her. The story just kind of stopped and this left it feeling unfinished and utterly satisfying.

Due to the book’s length, I don’t have an awful lot more to say about this one. As you might have gathered, it’s not a story that I’d recommend. I felt obliged to read and review this story as I won it as part of the Goodreads First Reads programme but the price of buying it new on Amazon seems incredibly steep for a book that’s less than a hundred pages long. The writing was clumsy, the characters unlikable and the ending sudden. If you’re looking for a horror story, there are far better ones out there.

Courting Death can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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