When I picked up the first Deathspeaker Codex novel by Sonya Bateman, it was because it was both cheap and short. The description interested me, and for that price I didn’t care if it turned out to suck. Not every story needs to be the next Expanse. Sometimes you just want some easy-to-digest urban fantasy. And that is what the Deathspeaker Codex offers.
Gideon Black doesn’t want to be reminded of his past, and he lives in his van, always ready to move. He doesn’t want to talk about the scars that criss-cross his body.
As a job, Gideon delivers dead bodies from point A to B for the New York police. Sometimes he helps his friend Abe, a detective, with cases. Gideon is good with corpses. He can touch them, and then intuit things out about how they died.
One day, one of these cases leads him to Central Park, where he runs into an actual real-life werewolf. She escaped some kind of evil cult, and things quickly start to spiral out of control. It draws Gideon into a world of Fae, werevoles, and a mysterious cult called Milus Dei.
On top of this, his corpse-whispering powers evolve so that the bodies start to talk back to him. How human is he himself, really?
Over the following books, there are ten so far, the story evolves and grows, and more of Gideon’s past is revealed. It also drags him further into an epic multi-world-spanning struggle. And I have to say, Sonya Bateman manages to keep the books interesting over a long period, a quality I just wrote about last week. Even if they are a bit formulaic.
Gideon Black is the protagonist of the series, and he is not just some guy who delivers corpses, as it turns out. He is a bit of a Marty Stu. You know, the guy who turns out to secretly be a prince with special magical powers. However, he does have his flaws, and things really don’t go his way. That and the fact that he’s constantly beaten to a pulp make him less Marty-Stu-ish, and more interesting.
Sadie is the werewolf Gideon rescues at the beginning of the first book. Spoiler, she continues to play a role in the books. She has her own demons, and they come out over time, and interestingly, small spoiler here, she doesn’t end up as Gideon’s girlfriend.
Taeral is a Fae with a mechanical arm and a drinking habit. He has a temper, but if he makes a promise, he never breaks it. Like Sadie, he’s had troubled dealings with the Milus Dei cult. It has made him hate humans, but well, there’s more to his story that I won’t spoil.
The cast of the books is larger, but these three characters are the core of it, I think.
The Deathspeaker Codex is not the next Lord of the Rings, or even the next Dresden Files. They’re pretty formulaic, in some ways. But so are the Dresden Files and many other books. If you zoom out far enough, all books are variations of the same stories, more or less.
That doesn’t mean these books are not good. What Sonya Bateman does very well, is make easy-readable books, which keep you entertained. The plots are pretty standard, and you can usually see the conflicts coming from miles away, but how they resolve is often a surprise. Things don’t always end well, and definitely don’t always end well for everybody involved.
That said, the conflicts between characters are on the weak side. Most conflicts are a variation of ‘I hate you because X’, result in violence or shouting, and then resolve with a ‘but really, there is a logical reason for X so let’s be friends instead’. It feels melodramatic, but somehow, it keeps the story flowing as well.
All in all, the stories are easy to read, not too long, and I like them. They are not outstanding, but they are definitely not very bad. The characters are believable and not idiots, and the danger to them is refreshingly real. You know, one of the weaker things about many long-running stories is that the writer shies away from actually hurting their darlings, and the main characters are hardly scarred. In the Deathspeaker Codex, the characters are hurt and permanently scarred on a constant basis. And that is strangely refreshing.
Oh, and I have to mention those covers. The first three are at the top of the page. I have to say: somehow they are brilliant in their cheesiness.
You want some light urban fantasy reading, the Deathspeaker Codex could be the series for you.