Like miracle workers, we return the ghost—the soul—to the body, conscious and aware. So unless you raise a Hannibal Lector, the person’s not going to start eating brains. But the body is the dead one, the broken one, the rotting one, just like in a horror flick. So now the ghost is trapped, fully aware, in that broken, rotting, corpse.(242)
Kelley Armstrong has made the New York Times’ bestseller list with her seventh “otherworld” novel. This blend of urban fantasy, mystery, horror, and romance takes place in a contemporary world where the supernatural really exists, but remains hidden from public view. It’s rather like a literary, early-season Buffy.
Title: No Humans Involved
Author: Kelley Armstrong
First published: 2007
Jaime the Necromancer sees dead people on a daily basis– but something is wrong with these ones, and the mystery connects to a murderous plot.
Armstrong’s books cross genres, and her ability to blend disparate elements proves the strongest part of No Humans Involved. This novel features an actual necromancer who pretends to be a fake television medium. We experience remarkable play among the supernatural as it really works in the novel’s world, the supernatural as the superstitious believe it works, and the natural world as the average person experiences it. The author must juggle all of these elements and histories established in previous books, yet rarely does this become laboured or burdened with unnecessary explanation.
The ongoing interference of the afterlife in Jaime’s affairs could easily become silly, but Armstrong handles it with a restraint so that it never overwhelms the story. I still question how the bulk of the population in this book could remain so entirely oblivious to the supernatural elements among us, but Armstrong writes with conviction, and I accept that this is how her world works.
It might be a line like “part of being such efficient killers was knowing how to kill efficiently”(331), which for me fell flat. However, my reaction to one incidental line tells little about whether you’d like this book or not. I shall therefore be somewhat unfair by selecting a “Low Point” which isn’t particularly low, is an integral part of the genre, and likely sells the book for many readers.
Relationships or sex can be as important to genre as in any other type of fiction. This book in particular has been marketed with reference to the burgeoning romantic supernatural fiction market, so a reader should expect relationships and sex. I personally found the romance between Jaime and her werewolf friend Jeremy a bit forced, and the inevitable, protracted sex scene seemed disconnected from the rest of the novel.
Originality: 3/6. It’s a sequel, and one which uses many familiar concepts. Armstrong, however, views the supernatural differently than many writers.
Story: 5/6 The story has been paced effectively. Nearly every chapter features some challenge which the characters overcome, and the suspense builds nicely to the finale.
Characterization: 5/6. Jaime feels believable, as do several of the tertiary characters. Others have been presented in shorthand; they’re plausible, but not necessarily developed. The novel features many characters, including several whose backgrounds have been presented in earlier books. Armstrong juggles these admirably. She also manages several amusing jibes at the Satan-obsessed, be they occultist wannabees or the intemperately pious.
Emotional Response: 5/6.
Editing: 5/6. Armstrong has written a highly readable mystery.
Overall score: 5/6
In total, No Humans Involved receives 34/42
Many of the people who watched Buffy and Angel will love this book, and Armstrong’s work would adapt well to the mass media. I rather hope there is a movie or television deal in her future.
I purchased a book of hers at GenreCon recently, and she graciously arranged to have the earlier “otherworld” books sent for review. I shall likely start reviewing them in the autumn.