After the barn fire Jesse Sullivan deliberately set to kill her abusive step-father Eddie, it was revealed that she was infected with the NRD virus and the angry young woman had two choices: become a licensed death replacement agent or go to prison for murder. It wasn’t much of a choice; however, when agents start showing up permanently dead and Jesse is attacked on an assignment, things get, well, complicated. When work was the only thing she could count on to run like it should, Jesse isn’t thrilled by the twist, especially when certain…visions make her fear she’s losing her marbles like her mentor, Rachel. Staying alive and finding some answers is just the tip of the iceberg, and this is one necronite who isn’t going down without putting up a serious fight.
Kory M. Shrum’s first work in her Jesse Sullivan series, Dying for a Living, is an addictive read for a variety of reasons. I could spend hours waxing on her new take on zombies, er, necronites (Zombie is a pejorative in this world as is psychic; they prefer A.M.P.), her unabashedly bisexual (and possibly poly) heroine, and the inclusion of an utterly useless but incredibly cute pug, Winston (The author owns a pug.); however, the most important to the plot is how Ms. Shrum chooses to adapt the popular zombie genre into something that works for her own purposes. The book doesn’t go into many details on NRD, the virus that causes zombies, but the important point is that necronites are essentially human beings; they just can come back from the dead, which is why they can be used as death replacement agents for those with enough money and the proper paperwork. Decapitation can kill a necronite permanently, and they need medical care after taking someone else’s death, so they’re not immortal. They just have a virus that reanimates them after apparent death, as long as the brain can still communicate with the rest of the body. Interestingly, NRD is not communicable from necronites to non-necronites, which means zombies will not be taking over the Earth. They’re just a new minority in a world where religion has been unified into the Church, and other diverse groups need someone new to identify as other.
When I realized that Jesse identified as bisexual (She doesn’t use the label, but she has taken both male and female lovers.), I was shocked and pleased. I don’t think I’ve run across a bisexual heroine who is so openly unashamed of her sexuality. Truthfully, Jesse’s bigger issue is a fear of intimacy, which is why neither Lane nor Ally has a more formal role in her life than friend/sex partner and assistant. None of the other characters act like Jesse’s sexuality is peculiar either; there’s jealousy between Ally and Lane, but they don’t shame Jesse for her choices. Lane’s maneuvering to become her one and only is a little manipulative but it does appear to come from a place of caring, not one of wanting absolute control, so it didn’t bother me too much. Jesse also seems to really love both Ally and Lane, which is why I think she could be read as poly. Trying to pick one over the other really hurts her, because both of them make her more whole in a non-disturbing way. Later books will have to fill in how the relationships play out over time though. No worries for more sensitive readers though; nothing is explicit.
Winston, Jesse’s pug, isn’t a major player in the story, but his presence helps emphasize how human the necronite heroine is. She loves her snuffly, heavy, food-focused pooch, and she worries about him when things go wrong. Heck, half of the cast tries to claim Winston for themselves when Jesse needs someone to take care of the pug loaf!
The plot of Dying for a Living starts to become a more complex story that will delve into Jesse’s past and where necronites fit in Shrum’s world. How is Jesse different from other necronites? Is it just because of her parentage? Will she ever be able to be the big sister she wants to become? Can Jesse really pick just one of her friends as a permanent lover? Is the Church really intensely anti-necronite, or is something more twisted going on? How corrupt is the FBRD? Dying for a Living is a light, fun read for those who love zombie tales with a twist. The dark humor will tickle many people’s funny bone, and I can’t wait to try the next installment.
4.5 Mismatched Shoes out of 5