Book Review: Dead Man Walking by Zach Adams

I have a particular soft spot for urban fantasy, partly because it’s one of the genres that I write, but also because any story where you get to throw an average, modern day human into a situation full of magic and mayhem is bound to be entertaining. Dead Man Walking by Zach Adams does just that, and oh, the shenanigans.

1. Thoughts on the plot

This book follows Isaac, a librarian in Anchorage, Alaska, as he discovers a mysterious book and suddenly starts seeing otherworldly creatures everywhere. He is helped by the elf L’æon, who may be more trouble than he’s worth. Isaac has to navigate these new monsters who are trying to kill him, then figure out just why they’re trying to kill him. And the answer may be more complicated than he can imagine.

In general, I think the plot was done well. The situations that Isaac gets involved in are a bit wild, but all make perfect sense within the context of the story. I like the action and the drama interspersed with the relatively normal aspects of Isaac’s life. I do think that the jumping around in time to Isaac’s past, as well as the story that he reads in this mysterious book, do interrupt the plot line enough to be confusing until the very end, when everything comes together. It’s a minor thing, just a matter of a few scenes maybe switching around for a bit more coherence. Otherwise, a good plot.

2. Thoughts on the characters

Isaac is an entertaining, singular character. He has conversations with himself in various forms throughout the story that may or may not help the situations at all. He’s a bit awkward, anxious and nerdy, all of which make him being in the right place to sort out this magical mayhem the more unlikely. Yet, it somehow fits, too. As a main character, Isaac is definitely a good one. I think the secondary characters were a bit underdeveloped, but this is the first in a series and I imagine we’ll see more of them in future books. 

3. Favourite part

I really like the library. It serves as both a home base, the cause of all the troubles, and the place where many of the characters interact with Isaac and make his life all the more insane. It’s not the typical use of a library and I enjoyed it.

4. Critique

Some of the narration—not all—is a bit strange to get around. For the most part, this book reads as a relatively modern/coloquial third person limited narration, which is great fun and lends a certain veracity to the situation of the book. However, on occasion, the narrator acts as though they are directly talking to the main character as well as breaking the fourth wall to smooth over details or make a snarky comment. I don’t have a problem with this in general, but to do it only rarely interrupts the flow of the narration. If it started out that way, or were more common, then I could see it easily interspersed with the third person limited perspective, but just randomly thrown in, it feels a bit awkward and pulls me out of the story.

Overall, I would say that Dead Man Walking was a fun, entertaining story about what might very well be the end of Isaac’s world as he knows it. It has magic, mayhem, snark and a plot that was very inventive. I enjoyed it. Good to very good, I would say.