BOOK REVIEW: “All That Lives Must Die”
After a painful near year-and-a-half wait, the second book in Eric Nylund’s “Mortal Coils” series finally hit stores a couple weeks ago, chronicling the further adventures of the teenage son and daughter of Lucifer and the goddess Atropos. I was sidetracked by going on vacation, but managed to power through this 700-page beast of a novel fairly quickly, all things considered. Having finished reading yesterday afternoon, I wanted to write this review while the book was fresh in my mind, since at 700-pages and several dozen characters, things can get a bit complicated. And given the content of this story, I’ve slightly modified my sectional headings for this review…
- Like all stories that I find truly great, “All That Lives Must Die” is very much a character-driven novel and not a plot-driven story. Oh, the plots are there, and they are tremendous ones. The many plot threads layer and weave and intertwine and grow broader and more complicated the further you go into the book. But the plot is never overwhelming because it’s always told through the eyes of one of several well-written characters. The focus in this book is squarely on the characters and their feelings and motivations for acting as they do. This method simultaneously drives the plot while building remarkably human characters. And when your main characters are gods and infernals, that’s quite a feat.
- I’m not usually a villains person. I don’t like Heath Ledger as the Joker. I don’t buy Darth Vader merchandise though I have thousands of Star Wars items. I have double or triple as many Autobots as Decepticons. And yet, in the “Mortal Coils” series, the villains constantly capture my attention as some of the most fascinating, irresistible characters. Louis is the clever, charismatic villain that I so rarely see pulled off perfectly. I was astonished by how smoothly and convincingly Mephistopheles was portrayed and developed. And Jezebel, as in the first book, is the scene-stealer who captivates non-stop every time she appears. These are truly excellent villains, the likes of which are becoming far too rare in modern fiction.
- I was prepared to favor the major characters from the first book over any new characters, but most of the newcomers are handled so expertly that I found myself rooting for them to have more page time and plot involvement. New character Mitch Stephenson started off seeming a little generic, but I was eventually totally won over by his natural charm and chemistry with Fiona. That character is a truly great one and certainly the breakout character of this installment of “Mortal Coils“.
- Nylund performed a minor miracle by crafting Robert Farmington, who I found dull and lifeless in “Mortal Coils“, into one of the most compelling characters in this series by book’s end. The idea that I would be anticipating reading more about this particularly character would have seemed bizarre to me after reading “Mortal Coils“, but the development and transformation of Robert in this book is one of the high points of the story.
- The footnotes from fictional books and references sprinkled throughout the book are as delightful and informative as they were in the first novel. I absolutely love the usage of these for giving expository information without cluttering the narrative itself, and the content in these footnotes really fleshes out the history and mythology of the “Mortal Coils” world.
- This is a 700-page book. Let that sink in for a second. Now, with that in mind, let me make a statement: this book is so engrossing that I read it faster than most 300-page books I buy. While reading this book, I become oblivious to all things around me (except when forced back to reality by errors… more on that later). Those 700 pages may as well be 70 pages, because I am so transfixed by the intricacies of this universe that I never once became bored for even a minute while reading. I only wish that this book was longer so that I could read more about this great cast of characters.
- The notion of having a secondary school for magical young adults that exists in the regular world but which normal people don’t know how to access came off as being too derivative to me. For the sake of the setting and the plot I understand why this had to be the way it is, but even so it feels like an echo of the Harry Potter books to me. I don’t have any ideas myself about how this could (or whether it should) have been done differently, but the parallels with Hogwarts just didn’t seem right to me.
- There are a few characters (Jeremy Covington, this means you) that came off as totally flat and static to me. It’s not for lack of page time, but Jeremy never quite goes far enough to make you intrigued about his motivations or make you think that there might be more to him than being an elitist, braggart jerk. I feel like there should be more to Jeremy beyond his surface, but if there is, I just don’t ‘get’ it. There are a couple other minor characters who feel likewise , but Jeremy is the most glaring. These aren’t necessarily bad characters, but they certainly irritated me when surrounded by such an assortment of deep, engaging characters.
- I’m sorry to say that this may be the most poorly-edited book I’ve ever read. I expect any novel to have a couple of mechanical issues or misspellings or what-not, but this book steps over the line. There are literally dozens of mistakes in this novel where words are missing, a similarly-spelled word is used in place of the right word, punctuation is missing or misused, and so forth. If this was a minor novel from an unknown author it’d be one thing, but this is a major novel from a New York Times best-selling author, published by TOR. I don’t know how this slipped out the door as-is, but all of the errors really pulled me out of the story and hurt my experience reading this book. I hope that these mistakes are going to be fixed for a later reprint of this novel, because I really want a better copy for my next read-through.
Overall: This is certainly the best book I’ve read this year, and it was a total blast to read. I love the characters and mythology of this series, and will continue to await the next book impatiently. There are a couple issues that prevent me from giving this an “A+”, but I cannot grade it any lower than I am for complaints that amount to trivialities.
[If you’re interested in buying these books, I cannot recommend them enough. You can click the links below to order them from Amazon, where they’re available at a great price. I have no affiliation with Amazon in any way so I make absolutely nothing if you buy the books or click the links–I just want to promote this series, because it really is fantastic. Order these books and you won’t regret it.]