Seeing the dead is not all it’s cracked up to be.
In fact, it’s really kind of soul sucking.
And it’s life as usual for Jordan Amador.
[Before I go any further, in the interests of disclaimers, this review is a bit biased because this novel was written by a friend of mine, and I’d like to see it do well for her sake as much as because it’s a fun book.]
The Black Parade opens with Jordan Amador trying desperately to make up for a mistake she made two years previous by helping 100 souls cross over to the other side of the dividing line between death and life. If she can’t make that quota, her soul gets a one-way ticket to the smoking-only section.
As you can imagine this is a rather difficult position to be in. So when just days before the deadline she gets saddled with a poltergeist named Michael, who can’t remember anything about himself, things get immensely stressful for her. Once he eventually uncovers his identity, things somehow manage to get even more insane for poor Jordan.
The basic premise of this book involves taking the war between Heaven and Hell (think Paradise Lost) to literal extremes, in which there’s combat and weapons and strategy, with each side conducting quite literal battles, on both small and large scales. Normally I would gripe about this war being conducted on very human terms, rather than strictly celestial or spiritual ones, but unfortunately that’s a standard pitfall in writing about things like this (for the record, I think Milton fell into it too when he wrote Paradise Lost). But wonky warfare aside, I enjoyed the touch that demons almost always had to use humans to further their handiwork, with angels being forced to respond on those terms for the sake of humans themselves. So I could let it slide.
The strength of this book lies primarily in more intimate settings, and for that reason, I found the beginning of the book to be the strongest. I really appreciated watching Jordan go about the process of helping souls cross over to the other side, and I especially liked that it was really a kind of drudgery. In a lot of urban fantasy, whenever the protagonist has a supernatural job, there’s often an attempt to make the job seem cool or somehow glamorous. Which can be fun to read about, but it’s not very emotionally accurate. Jordan’s work is a huge drain on her, especially when combined with her deadline, and not once did I get the sense that she found the job cool. It’s a dead weight (sorry, I had to) on her shoulders and one that she doesn’t enjoy carrying at all. I really appreciated that her work was work, and that it was eating away at her.
The intimate setting also proved the best one for conflict- for example, Jordan’s conversation and fight with the demon Belial was a pretty raw moment, and it was one of the few times that I felt I was actually allowed to see the character, just her. Because one of the problems of this novel, unfortunately, is that there is a LOT going on, and that sometimes hinders us getting to know the characters just as characters.
As before, the biggest strength of the novel lay in the intimate moments and plots. However the problem is that for something like a celestial war, the story has to move toward the epic scale eventually. While the writing of the big-picture aspects of this universe wasn’t necessarily bad, it didn’t ring quite as true, especially in contrast with the more intimate aspects of the story.
The other problem with the epic side of this setting is that due to the course of events as they fell out in the story, I felt like I’d only gotten to know Jordan halfway before the plot began to overtake things. Now I do tend to favor slow burns over quicker reads, but towards the end of the story I felt like I- and the characters- were just getting hit with information without sufficient time to digest it. And as a result, a lot of things happen that feel like they’re coming out of left field entirely. The ending in particular got hit bad with this problem.
Essentially, there’s a romantic dilemma, and while the romance itself didn’t bug me, the way it was resolved did. Because given what the solution to the dilemma was- I didn’t feel like the characters had earned it. Yes, I know they had gone through a gigantic final battle, but given that the solution was one that hadn’t been allowed for literally millennia, I felt like one book was not enough to show that Jordan and Michael could reasonably get this kind of chance. The ending of this first novel felt like something that would better cap off the end of a series.
Truthfully I think a slower pace would have served this book better. I would have been fine if the bulk of the book had been spent on Jordan trying to meet her deadline and uncovering Michael’s identity at the end. It would have given Jordan more time to confront her issues, of which there are many, and would have given us more time to see her work and where her place was in the cosmos of this world. There is a lot of ground to cover in a world like this, and a bit more grounding in both the earthly and celestial aspects would have been invaluable.
Overall, though, these are problems that I think can improve over time, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next installment. Don’t get me wrong, this was still a fun book to read, and I had a really good time with it. It’s just a shame that The Black Parade got stuck at fun when with a little tweaking, it could have been mind-blowing.