As a rule, I’m not one for stories containing vampires, demons, or gods and goddesses, but Jennifer Felton’s Through Life and Death was a pleasant departure from what I view as the norm in those types of novels. Felton does a nice job of keeping her supernatural characters well grounded in the real world, and the reader has the sense that the events in this work of fiction could well occur in the real world.
Maya is the creator of The Council, a gathering of supernatural beings whose task it is to ensure the peaceful coexistence of humans and supernatural beings on earth. For too long, humans had blamed all manner of violence and riots on supernatural beings, resulting in the hunting of demons, witches, and others. The goal of the Council is to keep the supernatural aspect of these beings hidden from humans and to make humans believe that demons, vampires, and the like were either extinct or never existed in the first place. To do this, the Council has enlisted Enforcers who keep the supernatural beings in check and make sure they do nothing to call attention to themselves or their actions.
Maya and Sebastian, twin children of Katricne, Goddess of Time, and Tobias, King of Vampires/Hell, are more human than their supernatural parentage might suggest. Throughout the story, they struggle with the decisions they have to make and the actions they have to carry out as Goddess of the Unholy (Maya) and an Enforcer for the Council (Sebastian). These uncertainties help move the plot forward and make the characters believable and likable.
While much of the story seems to revolve around Sebastian and his duties with the Council, I was drawn to Maya’s personal struggle to belong. She especially seems to wrestle with who she is and what her place is, whether in the world of humans or in the heavens or Hell:
“Unfortunately, they [Maya and Sebastian] were half vampire and half god, so while they were too evil for the gods, the demons viewed them as too evil for hell. There had to be a happy medium, and living on earth amongst the humans was Maya’s solution.”
I really wish her struggle could have been developed further within this story, and I hope the author has a chance to do so in later sequels.
The main action of the story occurs as things in 19th Century England take a turn for the worse, and the tides of belief seem to be turning back to blaming supernatural beings for an increase in violence and rioting. This turn of events threatens the dual existence of the world of demons and the world of humans that Maya’s Council has worked so hard to achieve, and she realizes that she and Sebastian are no longer safe in England. Fearing for their safety and suspecting a traitor among them, she makes the decision that she, Sebastian, and Tobias must hastily leave England for the Americas.
One of the cleverest parts of this story for me happened when Sebastian set off to execute a woman believed to be a witch responsible for some gruesome murders. He and his manservant Watson arrive in the town where the accused witch is to be found, and he disguises himself as an officer of the law. He stops at a pub for a drink and to see if he can find out information about the accused, and he initiates conversation with doctor and would-be writer Mr. Arthur. When Sebastian introduces himself as Mr. Holmes, and regales him with toned-down stories of his experiences as an enforcer, it sets up the idea that he and Watson will come to be known in the future at the hand of the struggling writer at the pub.
An unexpected twist at the end of the story shows that Maya’s suspicion about a traitor in their midst was not unfounded, and Sebastian has to deal with the one he believes is the real enemy before he joins his father and his sister in the Americas.
This was a quick and enjoyable read, and I give it 4 out of 5 stars.