This review was requested by the Author.
Reading a book that isn’t a part of the genre you normally immerse yourself in can often lead to surprising revelations. For the most part, I delve into stories of epic fantasy worlds with heroes fighting for their lives while revealing very real human experiences. But to read a story where the entirety of the story is focused on very human experiences was definitely a new experience and one I never expected. A Touch of Death by Rebecca Crunden is a story that feels like it would be a very epic post-apocalyptic story but ends up being a tale of very real and heart breaking human experiences.
Despite the synopsis of the book focusing on Nate and Catherine, the story is told entirely through the perspective of Catherine Taenia. While the story is told through her view, Nate is still given a lot of time to grow alongside her. The two of them have fantastic chemistry and their interactions feel genuine and real, but separately the two feel rather strange. Catherine never really has much agency throughout the story and often her actions and decisions feel a bit lacking as a result. Though in all fairness, Catherine isn’t meant to be a strong and assertive character. She’s a very kind and thoughtful character. There’s a softness to her that, in a way, represents the softness you’d see in everyday people in the real world. In that respect, it’s hard not to feel for her as a character and as a person.
I expected more from Nate given the prologue and the strong-willed nature of his personality. His thoughts and feelings are dynamic and varied, the way he constantly is both pessimistic and optimistic feels very human rather than contradictory. His past experiences explains his pessimistic views of the world yet the small bits of hope fuel the slight optimism that shows itself from time to time. Unfortunately there are times throughout the story where it feels like the wisdom and intelligence he has through his experiences disappears to create moments of action and tension. There were moments that felt like they only happened because Nate forgot his experiences and, as a result, felt almost forced rather than natural.
The supporting cast of characters felt predictable and never really like real people themselves. Everyone feels like their given enough attention and detail so as Catherine and Nate have something to work off of and grow their own characters. The actions and fates of these characters never really grabbed me as dynamic or real as Catherine’s or Nate’s but that isn’t necessarily fair as Catherine and Nate are the protagonists and have the most time to develop. It just feels more like a missed opportunity than anything else.
The story is not at all what I expected from reading the synopsis and the prologue. It takes a very slow and methodical approach to it’s storytelling which really helped to flesh out and develop the characters. The characters feel very real and their decisions are motivated by their own choices and beliefs which makes it all the more believable. But it’s hard not to feel that the story has a really slow pace that makes it difficult to focus on the overall narrative progress of the story. It should be stated that this is a story focus more on the human experiences of Catherine and Nate. The two go through some very traumatic moments and the story doesn’t rush past these. The moments of pain and misery are allowed to develop so the characters can, in their own way, heal and acknowledge the trauma rather than rush into the next part. This is a really nice touch for character development, but the pacing of the story suffers as a result because at times it feels like it takes forever to move on to the next story beat.
Part of the slow nature of this story can be attributed to the fact that A Touch of Death is the first book in The Outlands Pentalogy which is establishing an overall narrative arc. It’s clear that after finishing A Touch of Death that a lot of worldbuilding and set up is established for series. The problem though is that book 1 of the series feels like it ends abruptly and on a rather unsatisfying note. Its something of an issue in series where a book needs to have its own internal plot resolved while allowing for an overarching narrative to continue throughout the series. There is an introduction, inciting incident, climax and falling action that feels like it leads into the next book in the series rather than resolving its own narrative arc even though it does technically conclude one of the narrative arcs. In A Touch of Death, it almost feels like the rising action never really reaches a climax and rather builds up for the next book in the series.
A post-apocalyptic setting often has a very stereotypical Mad Max feel to it where everyone is desperate for survival. It’s a really easy setting to showcase the humanity of the characters and the world. But to create a tyrannical empire in a post-apocalyptic setting offers a much more interesting and dynamic perspective of the world and its evolution. This is especially revealed through the dichotomy of Catherine and Nate’s views on the world and their society. It’s very well done but at times feels a bit too one-sided as one is portrayed to be correct while the other is just wrong and is slowly shown the reality of things. It feels as though there’s a missed opportunity to showcase a more nuanced look at authority and survival in a world that was devastated and then rebuilt.
The dialogue between Catherine and Nate is wonderfully done and really strengthens the reality of their differences and growth. The way in which Catherine describes her journey, revelations and trauma help to make her character feel more realistic. Things linger and persist in the minds of Catherine and Nate that help to develop and grow their characters in how their descriptions and interactions are written. Though there are a few scenes that are written in a confusing manner that made me question what exactly had happened, it is mostly well written.
The flow, however, feels a bit more clunky as there are “parts” but not “chapters”. There were many parts where I would have expected the chapter to end and the next to begin but the story just continued, making it very difficult to put down. But when I say “put down” I don’t mean in an excited manner to keep reading but more in the sense that there isn’t a concluding moment to the scene. In most books there are chapters that give readers an opportunity to put the book down and reflect on what happened and maybe take some time to return to it later when they’ve thought about it. But because A Touch of Death doesn’t have chapters to break apart the story, it feels very blurred in terms of when one part begins and another ends. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can be a bit jarring for readers who are more accustomed to traditional book formatting.
What Writers can Learn from this Book
Writing character interactions can be incredibly difficult. It’s very easy to have characters come off rather one note, stoic and devoid of personality. But Catherine and Nate in A Touch of Death have very real conversations that showcase their personalities and beliefs. But most importantly, these interactions throughout the story really help to showcase just how much each of them have grown since the beginning of the novel. It’s evident that Catherine and Nate are very different from how they started. Their journey, the traumatic moments and the revelations have gone through do so much to alter their views of the world that it’s evident how much it’s aged them.