Review: Saint Death’s Daughter – C.S.E. Cooney

Review: Saint Death’s Daughter – C.S.E. CooneySaint Death's Daughter
by C.S.E. Cooney
Publisher: Solaris
Publication Date: April 12, 2022
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 692
Source: NetGalley

I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

Nothing complicates life like Death.

Lanie Stones, the daughter of the Royal Assassin and Chief Executioner of Liriat, has never led a normal life. Born with a gift for necromancy and a literal allergy to violence, she was raised in isolation in the family’s crumbling mansion by her oldest friend, the ancient revenant Goody Graves.

When her parents are murdered, it falls on Lanie and her cheerfully psychotic sister Nita to settle their extensive debts or lose their ancestral home—and Goody with it. Appeals to Liriat's ruler to protect them fall on indifferent ears… until she, too, is murdered, throwing the nation's future into doubt.

Hunted by Liriat’s enemies, hounded by her family’s creditors and terrorised by the ghost of her great-grandfather, Lanie will need more than luck to get through the next few months—but when the goddess of Death is on your side, anything is possible.

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This book is incredibly indescribable. It’s macabre, joyful, and heartrending by turns and utterly unafraid to immerse the reader in an astonishingly detailed (and very queer) fantasy world, full of necromantically animated mice, revenant nannies, and toe bones as love tokens.

Miscellaneous (Lanie) is the youngest of a long line of creatively named Stones in Liriat, a family with a colorful history and strong ties to the royals. Lanie is a necromancer, born with an allergy to violence. Given her parents’ jobs as royal executioner and assassin, she has to be raised in her own wing of the mansion, cared for by the family revenant, Goody Graves, an left to figure out her magic with the help of a lot of old books and a particularly crotchety ghost. Faced with a mountain of debt after her parents’ deaths, and the homecoming of her psychotic sister, Lanie’s set on avenging her family. But events prove there’s more going on than just a few simple murders, and if Lanie wants to keep those she loves safe, she’ll have to relearn everything she knows about being a Stones.

I will admit that for the first few chapters I was, well, not very entranced. The author’s writing style tends to the verbose and flowery (in a very dour sort of way) and is just A LOT combined with being thrown into what feels like the entire history of Liriat and the Stones in the first few chapters. But once Lanie raised the mice? Oh, then I understood where the book was going.

“As Lanie cradled those scampering handfuls to her breast, the mice curled their bony bodies against her, sweethearting love and devotion from out their very ribcages and tailbones, from every slender socket and delicate articulation, from each curve and knob and needle-like protuberance.”

There’s a lot of dark, dry extremely macabre humor (especially the footnotes on the untimely ends of various Stones), but where the book really excels is its exploration of love. I mean, there’s a lot going on about vengeance and justice and familial trauma. Family is a complicated thing for Lanie. The mostly silent Goody Graves is more her family than any of her blood relations, especially her sister, and things just get messier with the introduction of Mak and Datu. Of course, there’s Lanie’s adorably sweet romance (so much pining!) with Canon Lir, but what she truly loves? Her necromantic creations, like the mice, the first creatures Lanie actually raises. It’s joyful, it’s messy, and from that moment on I wanted everything for Lanie. So much of her journey is tied into the ideas of love and family, but I won’t say too much else as it’ll get into spoilers.

The worldbuilding is fabulous. This is the type of book that has footnotes detailing the deaths of various Stones, in particular one ancestor who was strangled by necromantically animated pants. There’s multiple distinct cultures, including one where they tend to talk in rhyming verse, various forms of magic, and all sorts of overwhelming details that are generally not necessary but add a lot of vitality (and humor) to the world. It’s also extremely queer. The main character’s love interest is nonbinary, and gender is much more fluid – cross-dressing is an act of worship, in fact – and several side characters have various pairings, including polycules. My main criticism would have to be the uneven pacing, as there were several sections that felt like they should’ve been tightened up. It’s a bit hypocritical for me to say that, though, as as soon as I finished the book I immediately wished there were at least another ten chapters.

Overall, I doubt this will be everyone’s cup of tea, but recommended for readers who enjoy their humor on the macabre side, immersive fantasy worlds, and explorations of love and family (blood or found). I am extremely hopeful that this is the first in a series and will definitely be keeping an eye on this author!

Content notes: View Spoiler »

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