Rating: 5/5 stars
From the award-winning and best-selling author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January comes a powerful short story called Mr. Death, published in January 2021 by Apex Magazine.
In just over five thousand words, Alix E. Harrow explored the everyday existence of a reaper named Sam Grayson, as he’s tasked to making the transition from life to a death a little easier, via the ferrying of souls. What I found most fascinating about Harrow’s narrative was the creativity and uniqueness of our reaper’s quest, which belied the typical death reaper scenario. For one, Sam actually cared about those on the cusp of death; they weren’t simply another number. That was so refreshing. By the end, I had a sense of who he was in life, the suffering he endured, but most of all, he had a lot of regret. It was through all that insight that his caring nature made perfect sense. Nothing felt contrived or idealistic.
Harrow’s worldbuilding was wonderfully crafted and well-thought-out. The mythology surrounding reapers was really cool and mesmerizing. She created many memorable scenes around Sam, Lawrence and his family, and they really buffeted my heart as well as my mind in unpredictable ways. Even the minor characters had distinct rolls to play, and I doubt that was an easy feat. Nothing was overdone.
The one area the author excelled in was, by far, her ability to dive deep into these gut-wrenching scenarios and deliver (time and again,) authentic and relatable emotions. In fact, I cannot remember the last time an author moved me to this extreme, and depicted such a firm grasp on the realities of death. Instead, the prose was clean, thorough and profound, and you rarely find that level of intentional stimuli (not masterfully executed, at least,) in an urban fantasy setting.
Gosh, I miss this world and these characters already.
If I had to give one critique, I’d say that the ending felt a little abrupt, but completely earned, and so I can’t really fault it. A short paragraph or two would have been nice, but Sam’s character arc was wonderful. The highest recommendation.
And although it’s available to read for free online, I’d glad pay the $4.99 price of admission: