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Review: Mistress Grim

Mistress Grim audiobook cover. A woman in an exquisitely decorated red ballgown looks out across a moonlit night. Mistress Grim by Jane Redd.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 4 hrs 19 mins

Mistress Grim by Jane Redd (aka Heather B. Moore) is a paranormal fantasy about duty, honour, family, sacrifice, and love.

Audible Summary: The Mistress of Death discovers that hearts never truly die. The Grim Reaper has been collecting souls of the dead for hundreds of years, but even the Master of Death has to pass on his reign. Unfortunately, his progeny is not quite ready to replace him.

Cora Grim, daughter of the Grim Reaper, is suddenly thrust into her father’s role. Leaving the Underworld on her own to bring back the dead souls, she discovers that the Master of Death neglected to tell her one thing. She can still fall in love.

I was really enthusiastic about starting this book as the premise was so intriguing. It made me think of an expanded, high-fantasy version of Susan's story from Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. There, too, a half-mortal descendant of Death has to embrace her family business and both halves of her nature. In Mistress Grim it is Cora's uncle, Swan, who occupies the villainous, power-hungry role filled by Mr Teatime in The Hogfather, though there is none of the humour of the Disc in this novel.

I loved the author's description of Death's library at the beginning of the story as being a vast athenaeum containing every book ever published in the human world. I felt a similar affection for the ratty, too-small armchair in her father's room later on. Far be it for me to wish for greater intimacy with the Reaper, but I would have liked more of those glimpses into the minutiae of Cora's extraordinary after-life.

I felt that Leo's humanity contrasted well with Cora's otherness, and helped her discover the strength that can be found in her mortal 'weakness'. It is a trope often employed in romance novels where the hero helps the heroine to fulfil her potential but I enjoyed this particular twist on it.

Unfortunately, many of the action sequences felt as though they were lacking the pace and tension needed to really draw me into them, and I think much of that was down to Cora's remoteness. Despite the first-person perspective during her chapters, Cora always felt a little distant. I presume that was intentional, she is only half human after all, but it sometimes felt like a barrier to finding the emotional engagement needed to really experience the characters' peril. Some of the writing also needed tightening with a thorough edit as phrases like "he touched the necklace surrounding his neck" were rather clunky, but it wasn't enough to spoil the book.

The narrators Steve West and Katharine McEwan did a good job, with the story switching between Cora's POV (narrated by McEwan), and Leo's (narrated by West). Their complementary performances prevented this from feeling disjointed, as it can in some audiobook duets.

I instantly loved Steve West's voice and his characterisation of Leo. The hero's passion and sincerity were evident from West's earliest words, but he also did a great job with the other characters and I'm excited about listening to other books he has narrated.

I took longer to connect to Katherine McEwan's Cora, but the slight detachment in her portrayal at times was perfectly pitched to make the character feel suitably otherworldly. McEwan's performance grew more earnest as Cora's love for Leo made her more human, which worked well.

I'd recommend this book to people who like fantasy and paranormal romance, and those who enjoy duet narration.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.

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