Dead Set by Richard Kadrey (Harper Voyager, Oct. 2013)-Young Zoe has moved to San Francisco with her mother after her father’s sudden death to start fresh. It’s hard enough for her to fit in, with her taste in old punk music, a taste instilled by her music biz parents, and the fact that her father’s death has left a hole that has caused her to withdraw into herself, but her mom is having a tough time finding a job as well. Almost nightly she dreams, and it’s in her dreams that she finds herself in the company of her brother, Valentine, who has only ever existed for her in her dreams.
One day, she finds herself in a record store, in the company of a rather odd proprietor who calls himself Ammut. She’s delighted in his collection of vintage rock records, and eventually, finds her way to a back room that holds records of a completely different sort. Ammut explains that these records contain the souls of the lost, and that her father’s is among them. With his strange machine, she is able to see through her father’s eyes, but she wants more, she wants to communicate with him, but in order to do this, Ammut begins to ask for payment in the form of items like blood, and teeth. Zoe will do anything to talk to her father again, and when she’s finally given access, she finds herself in a place called Iphigene, an in-between place for souls. At first, it doesn’t seem so bad, but things aren’t quite what they seem in Iphigene, and soon the strings of reality start unraveling, as Zoe realizes that those in charge have a plan for her, body and soul.
I was taken with Zoe immediately. She’s a little bit brash, and a whole lotta brave. When she enters Iphigene again, only to find out it’s not the paradise she experienced the first time, she rather admirably rolls with the punches, even when she witnesses the almost daily snacking on the poor souls that reside there by Iphigene’s very creepy and deliciously diabolical mistress, and her toothy minions. She has a special interest in Zoe, but Zoe’s main interest is getting out of Iphigene and saving her dad’s soul. Dead Set has some exciting moments, to be sure, and Iphigene is a scary and wondrous place, with plenty of intrigue to fill a novel, but the meat of the story lies in how Zoe deals with her dad’s death and its effect on her family. In this, the story certainly succeeds and there are some very poignant moments between Zoe and her dad, and also her lost brother, Valentine. Kadrey’s writing is always good, and Dead Set is no exception, with its very scary villians right out of Egyptian myth set against the tragic and lost denizens of Iphigene. There’s a ton of imagination in this story, and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of Zoe, but even if we don’t, we have Dead Set, and I’m good with that. While most of Kadrey’s novels fall squarely in the adult realm, with their exploration of very dark themes, Dead Set would also be perfect for curious teens that love their protagonists strong and their worlds dark and fantastical.