SERIES: Hellfire Universe Historicals, #1
Bright Young DEAD Things
Have Clara Woodsen's attempts to save her silent film idol from an untimely death unleashed a zombie plague? Or are her speakeasy customers just really bad at dancing the Charleston?
Speakeasy manager Clara Woodsen will do anything to save her silent film idol from an untimely death. Even summon a demon. Even bet her soul she can teach his half-human/half-cheetah assistant to foxtrot. But people around town are acting strange. Have Clara's efforts unleashed a zombie plague? Or are her customers just really bad at dancing the Charleston? And can Clara find true happiness with the man of her dreams if she uses her...brains?
A warlock, a demon, and a zombie walk into a speakeasy... stop me if you've heard this one.
I read the sample for this book not because I needed to but because I wanted to. It was calling to me because I wanted to visit the Hellfire Universe again. I had already read Keys to the Coven, which I really enjoyed and is set in the same world as this prequel so I already had some familiarity with this world. I was also a little curious about the zombie element of the story. Zombies are not a favorite of mine, but based on my previous experience with this author’s work, I had a feeling these zombies would be the kind I wouldn’t mind reading about. So I thought I’d read the sample just for a taste to satisfy me until I could get back to it. Well, it was like trying to eat just one potato chip. I couldn’t stop and had to keep reading. So here I am. I didn’t mean to read this book right now, but I did and when it was over I wanted more potato chips, dammit!
Speakeasy Dead is a prequel story set in the same world as Keys to the Coven including the Falstaff Ninepin Fellowship (which also houses a coven). It is set in the past during the era of Prohibition. Clara Woodsen, who comes from a family of witches, tries to save her beloved Beau Beauregard, a famous film star, from an untimely death by summoning a demon to make a deal. Of course, as the Girl’s Guide to Demons clearly points out (from Keys to the Coven):
By now, if you’ve followed the instructions set out in this guide, you’ve formed a beneficial relationship with a demon. The question remains: whose benefit?
Thus starts this humorous and engaging romp involving an enterprising newbie warlock, a cousin prone to fainting, a dashing but devious demon, a somewhat narcissistic zombie film star, a formidable golem housekeeper, a genie with two left feet, and a Zorro-esque ghost. Throw in some mobsters, some hooch, and a speakeasy dance contest to round it all out.
I enjoyed all the characters in this story. There is quite a varied bunch of them. They all just jumped off the page for me and felt well-rounded. One of my favorite minor characters was a little boy who fancies himself a cub reporter and doesn’t quite get all his words right to humorous effect. Gladys the golem was interesting as well, but I wish her golem nature was more prevalent in the story. I would like to have seen what she could really do considering even a warlock is hesitant to tangle with a golem. The one disappointment I had with a character was Ned Aimsley, but not because I didn’t like him. It was because I did like him even though he had very little page time in the story. At one point there seemed to be some hint of romantic promise between Ned and Clara but it ended up going nowhere.*sigh*
Speakeasy Dead is told through the alternating POVs of seventeen-year-old Clara Woodsen and her cousin Bernard “Bernie” Benjamin, who is a few years older than Clara but acts like Clara’s sidekick. The POV switches with each chapter. I actually really like dual POV that is done like this so it worked for me. Just like in Keys to the Coven, each chapter starts out with an epigraph, but given the dual male/female POV, Clara’s chapters start with a quote from The Girl’s Guide to Demons and Bernie’s chapters start with a quote from The Boy’s Book of Boggarts. I liked the epigraphs from Keys better, but I still enjoyed the ones in this book and looked forward to reading them at the beginning of each chapter.
Besides the characters, one of the things I really enjoyed about this book was the humor. I laughed out loud several times. Bernie’s dry wit was delivered with a style that – I think – is representative of the P.G. Wodehouse inspired element of the story. I haven’t read P.G. Wodehouse so I can’t say for sure if this is the case, though I believe I understand the gist of those books.
There were some aspects of the zombie plague that didn’t make sense to me and I thought a big plot hole was looming in the distance, but I had a feeling that everything would come together at some point and it did. On the other hand, there were a few other aspects of the story I questioned concerning what happens to the ankh that houses Luella’s swashbuckling spirit guide; something that Ruthie (the genie) says and does that seemed contradictory; and something that happens to Bernie. All of which I can’t discuss without giving away spoilers. Looking back on these scenes, I can probably see an explanation for some of it. The author’s writing style tends to lean toward letting the reader figure some things out on their own, but some of it was a stretch for me.
On a personal note, there is repeated reference to Narcisse Noir perfume, which is the signature sent of Luella, Clara’s best friend. This happens to be my mother’s favorite perfume. I was gobsmacked when I saw it mentioned. Maybe it was a popular scent back in the 1920s (it has been around since 1911) but it’s not exactly well known or easy to find off the shelf these days. I couldn’t believe it actually came up in the story. It gave my reading experience a little extra something that I could connect with on a personal level.
If you are looking for a classic zombie story with all the associated gore à la The Walking Dead, then this book probably isn’t for you, but if you want a zombie story that is more lighthearted with more humor and less braaaaiiiinnns, then you might be interested in this one. Though I think a reader might appreciate some elements of the story more if they read Keys to the Coven first, it is not completely necessary. How karma works and the relationship between warlocks and demons, etc. are touched on and I think it is explained enough for the story to make sense but there is also a glossary included that describes a lot of these things.
I found Speakeasy Dead to be a well written story with great characters and dialogue, good plotting, unexpected twists, and witty humor that kept me engaged and entertained. I didn’t want to put this book down and would have jumped into the next book if I hadn’t read it already. I’m really looking forward to the next story based in the Hellfire Universe. I just wish I knew when it was coming out and what it would be about...
Cover Art: Though I really like the cover art and it elicits the 1920s era, it doesn't really scream urban fantasy or humor. It looks more like a 1920s mystery.
Word Count: approx. 58,000 (Short Novel)
Kindle locations: 3311 (story text ends at 88%)
Print Length: 199 estimated pages
Ebook includes a Table of Contents, Glossary, and excerpt from Keys to the Coven
Source: Review Request from Author (but review copy obtained on my own from a free promo)
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