Saturday, 12 May 2012

Working Stiff by Rachel Caine

I read my first Rachel Caine book, Ill Wind, last year. Up till now I have not yet bothered with the rest of the series, though I may do so in the future. When I discovered that she was writing a book about bringing the dead back to life, the concept immediately caught my interest. So when I saw it at the bookstore, I decided to take the plunge. While Ill Wind did not leave my heart in my mouth and my head spinning, I enjoyed it well enough. I was hoping to get the same or better from Working Stiff.

Title: Working Stiff
Author: Rachel Caine
Series: Revivalists #1
Publisher: ROC
Target Audience: Adult
Genre: Urban fantasy / thriller
Length: 306 pages

Story: Bryn Davis knows working at Fairview Mortuary isn't the most glamorous career choice, but at least it offers stable employment--until she discovers her bosses using a drug that resurrects the clientele as part of an extortion racket. Now, Bryn faces being terminated--literally, and with extreme prejudice.

With the help of corporate double-agent Patrick McCallister, Bryn has a chance to take down the bigger problem--pharmaceutical company Pharmadene, which treats death as the ultimate corporate loyalty program. She'd better do it fast, before she becomes a zombie slave--a real working stiff.
She'd be better off dead...

Thoughts and impressions: The following paragraphs contains spoilers pertaining to events at the end of Ill Wind. If you have not read Ill Wind, mean to do so and do not wish for spoilers, skip to the second paragraph. I’m getting the feeling that Rachel Caine like to write about a certain kind of heroine: one that is not really one of the living. It is certainly a very different angle to take. I’m not sure how I feel about it in this case, though, and what it means for the blossoming romance. There’s certainly any number of avenues where she could take things from here and my interest has definitely been piqued. I’d expected this to be a book about zombies from the point of view of someone human but facing the threat of that destiny. So when Bryn is murdered then “revived” within the first two chapters, it came as a bit of a shock. But hey, why not write a book about zombies from the point of view of one of their number? It allows empathy for their situation rather than revulsion at what they’ve become. It was an original angle and I suspect the book is all the better for it.

The story itself, though, seemed a bit mixed up. The writing was solid and it was still very interesting – I can’t fault that – but it became too entangled. That let it down. The plot centres on Bryn discovering the leak from the Pharmadene company who is selling the drugs that allow the dead to be brought back to life and then sustained. Then all of a sudden it becomes this big internal conspiracy within Pharmadene itself. By the time we get back to the actual plot, it has been resolved “off page” without the reader witnessing how the leak was uncovered. For me, this was very dissatisfying.

While what happened to Bryn and the Pharmadene employees was stomach-bustingly good, I’m afraid that doesn’t make up for the missing climax of the actual plot. It could be said that the plot morphs into something bigger and we get to see that instead but I find that this does not placate me. I feel like I missed out on a central moment, especially when things are taken to the leak again afterwards.

Moving on, let’s talk about the romance. I never really felt either Bryn or McCallister’s feelings for each other growing. I don’t really know how to explain it. The novel only follows Bryn and you only get to see what she wants you to see – this is good, this is normal. But then, I never really felt Bryn’s emotions evolving from a grudging acceptance of having to let this man into her life to wondering whether she maybe wanted to keep him in her life. In observing McCallister through Bryn’s eyes, I never really got that feeling from him either. There was just this scene where she seemed to suddenly decide that maybe she liked him more than she thought but then it gets stamped down again only to rear its head a couple more times. I’m all for epiphanies if they work well and then move that section of the plot forwards… that’s not really what happened here. I understand why Bryn retreats – I mean, she’s not dead but not really alive either – but we don’t get to observe her struggling with her emotions either. The romance, the connection between the two characters, just didn’t really work for me I’m afraid.

I really liked the idea of Returné – the drug that revives the dead. It gave that extra edge to the story. It wasn’t just help us or die, it was help us or slowly decompose over the next week or so, feeling every moment of it. Not much of a choice that, is it? But it was what Bryn was faced with… and due to her “condition” it’s what she will be faced with forever more.

As an afterthought, after Bryn was taken in, there’s no mention of Mr French again. Did someone remember her dog and take him to safety? Because even after she regained her freedom, Bryn sure didn’t! Poor dog!

Style: I have to admit that I never really found it totally engrossing but it was good and of quality. It is obvious that Rachel Caine is a seasoned author.

Final verdict: I enjoyed the story but felt that certain decisions, such as the plot shift, let it down. Despite this, I will be reading the second book. 3 stars

Extra notes: Language? I’m not sure if I’m honest. No sex.


  1. I have this one to read but haven't read it yet due to some reviews I read. I'm curious to know if it will be the same for me. thanks for the review.

  2. I read this and i echo your thoughts. The book trailer was intresting too but the story is a little loose. I feel bad for Bryn for getting mixed up in this but at the same time her character didn't feel consistent. She's a war vet, trained for combat and she coild've used her skills here. I hope book 2 would be better.

  3. @Melliane I hope you do enjoy it when you read it! The writing is very good, but, for me, the story had issues in places.

  4. @Braine @ Talk Supe I haven't seen the book trailer; I'll have to check it out now! Yeah, I felt Bryn was rather inconsistent - she should have had skills that weren't even hinted at in the book. I echo your hopes that book 2 will be better and make this series one really worth following!

  5. Am now thoroughly intrigued what happens to Bryn and the Pharmadene employees!

  6. Great review. I hate when novels don't let you feel the characters' emotions. That's an important thing to me. I also don't like plot shifts. I think I'll be skipping this one.


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