The Most Perfect Book to Ever Book: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

Posted 19th March 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 2 Comments

Saint Death's Daughter by C.S.E. Cooney
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Secondary World Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer MC, nonbinary love interest, queerplatonic-coded F/F
Published on: 12th April 2022
ISBN: 1786184702
Goodreads
five-stars

Fun, froofy and glorious: a coming-of-age story in a new trilogy from World Fantasy Award-winning author C.S.E. Cooney.

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.

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~reliquaries > roses as the Most Romantic Gift
~The dog does not die
~Real necromancers love life
~don’t trust the birds
~dress your school up like a brothel to trick people into an education
~Do you floomp or do you froof???

A very few times in my life, I’ve encountered books that make the entire universe shift into alignment, books that are the culmination of every moment from the Big Bang to now. Books that feel like the reason the Big Bang happened, like everything that has ever existed did so just so that these books could be written and published and put in my hands. Like every moment that ever was has been leading up to this one.

Books that feel like the point; of the world, of humanity, of me.

Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek. Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente. A few priceless others.

And, now, Saint Death’s Daughter.

How are you supposed to talk about a book it feels like you were born to read?

*

Take a generous handful of edible candy jewels and mix them into a casket of perfectly-cut gemstones. Stir in the most beautiful sugar skulls you can find. Add red velvet and pink tulle, spangles and razor blades, sequins and silver spearheads. Choose the most perfect, moonstone-gleaming bones and entomb them lovingly with your treasures. Breathe life into little mice skeletons to watch over your hoard. Give them tutus and tiaras and burning blue fire where their eyes would be. Give them cuddles and kisses and names.

Cast royal blood in a circle around it all, and set that blood alight.

Et voilà: Saint Death’s Daughter.

*

In all her twenty-two years, Lanie had mainly kept company with forty thousand skeletons (mostly furniture), a ghost (megalomaniacal), and a revenant housekeeper (seldom garrulous).

The thing is, I don’t want to tell you much about this book. I want you to experience it the way I did; a cake whose every layer is more delicious than the last; a gemstone that always has another glittering facet when you turn it over in your hands; a gift that never stops giving. And part of that was the surprise, of going in not knowing what to expect. For once, I have no argument with the blurb being coy with information. This is a book you should go into unprepared.

And unarmed.

Lay down your armour. Your cynicism, your scepticism, your grown-up-ism – set them all aside. The part of you that frets about what other people think, the part that would be too embarrassed to dye your hair rainbow colours or deck yourself in glitter, the part that’s too shy to get up on stage and sing karaoke even though you’d love to – let all of that go.

You don’t need them here. Saint Death’s Daughter is an escape, and it’s an escape because it’s true, because it taps into something real and rare that too many of us struggle to remember: life is fucking wonderful, actually.

*

Saint Death’s Daughter is joy. (Not a joy – although that too! – but joy.) It’s a feast, a banquet, a ball, rich and glittering and strange and perfect. This is a book about a necromancer but it is fundamentally a book about life, about the love of life, about how beautiful and wonderful it is to be alive in the world.

Love was the Dreamcalling, love the Great Wakening, love the foundation of the Maranathasseth Anthem. It was the finest of all reasons to live–and after death, to live again.

You would not believe how long it’s taken me to write this review, or how many drafts I’ve started and scrapped. I simply don’t know how to talk about it. But something clicked recently, and I realised what it was I was struggling to put into words about this book:

Saint Death’s Daughter is the opposite of depression. The exact opposite. It is the opposite of depression, distilled.

She wanted to eat everything and everyone right down to the bone and suck the marrow clean.

This book is giggles and glory, richness and rawness, sweet and seraphic and swish. It is ornate and orphic, jubilant and jocose, luxurious and luminous and lit. It is flamboyant and fierce, dashing and devious, iridescent and intoxicating, extravagant and effervescent and epic. It is candyfloss and glitter and toe-bones as love-gifts; a literal, physical allergy to violence in a babe raised by a revenant; jewelled nail-talons pricking fingers so you can wield blood-fire. It is rich in everything, and overflows with love and life and gorgeous prose, an ivory cornucopia of unstinting, unending magic. Literal magic: necromancy and shapeshifting and blood-fire-wielding, deities and revenants and ghosts, even one character who can slow down time. But also the kill-for-you die-for-you live-for-you magic of family and friendship, and I don’t care if that sounds like a Hallmark card, it’s genuine and moving and caught my heart in my throat.

It is everything at once, and I don’t know how that’s possible – I don’t know how you can have Epic Fantasy vibes and a school set up inside a brothel to trick would-be patrons into getting an education, how you can have green moustaches alongside terrifying Blackbird Brides, how you can have divine benedictions alongside mispronounced lemonade. I don’t know how you can have Fire Knights next to froofing, how footnotes full of glorious silliness can go so well with scenes that will have you sobbing, or how any one story can juggle so many different kinds of love and make them all balance perfectly, none outweighing the others. I don’t know how a single book can make me gasp and beam and cackle and quake and pother and hiss and whoop and goosebump and cheer and crow and curse and cry, but I can only assume each of the 12 gods of Athe blessed this book like fairy godmothers and these are all the gifts they gave wrapped up in paper and ink.

Saint Death’s Daughter is absolutely a gift.

“Bless your prism eyes, that see rainbows trapped in the plain plumage of your fellows.”

(I wish I could take it through a time-machine back to baby!Sia, leave it on her pillow so she’d know that being weird is wonderful, is something to be celebrated, not only is there room for you in the world, the world wants you. You’re going to grow up in a world where this gets written and published and it will be good.)

“But, as you Lirians say, ‘a salacious selling point is the first friend of social change!’”

Lanie lifted her head. “Wait. We say that?”

“Sex sells,” Canon Lir translated.

It is delightful. It is whimsy writ large and bold and brilliant; it is gutpunchingly powerful; it had me breathless with laughter one minute and my blood pounding at the poignancy the next. It is as extravagant as a Guo Pei fashion show, as exuberant as a Pride parade, as stirring and beautiful as Día de los Muertos. It is an exhilerant – an exhilarating accelerant of a book, lighting you up with elation.

It’s impossible to sing its praises too much or too loudly, just as it’s impossible to point to anything – anything! – and call it a flaw.

For real. Usually I’m able to take a step back and admit that however much I love the thing, this and this and this could have been better. I pride myself on my ability to be objective like that. But here? It doesn’t matter how far I step back, I can’t see any stretch marks. I can whip out the magnifying glass, the microscope, and I still can’t find anything to critique. Not one single thing. Not the characters, not the dialogue, not the plot, not the worldbuilding, not the relationships, not the villains, not the quests, not even the outfits. Not even the TIME-SKIPS, and we all know how impossibly difficult those are to utilise well! But not even them.

Mak was taking all of his daughter’s daytime dreads and re-shaping them into a beautiful nighttime myth, the same way he reshaped his body with sothaín into the very essence of his prayers.

And I do think I’m being objective when I say that. Why do you think this hit me so hard? Why do you think I’ve been struggling like I have to talk about this book? It is literally perfect. Just thinking about it now genuinely, honestly brings tears to my eyes so my glasses get all smudged up. I have had to take so many breaks, typing this up. I can’t – there aren’t words.

She felt surrounded by a lifetime of Canon Lir’s letters. It was as if she moved through the world protected by the walls of an invisible library

Just. This is my book, folx. This is The Book, for me. This is everything I ever wanted and everything I didn’t know to want.

(Except a unicorn. I must admit that I did not spot any unicorns, but! This is only the first book in a series and so I will hold out hope that there will be one later, and you know what, even if there isn’t, Saint Death’s Daughter is still perfect.)

I’ve never read anything like this before. I’ve never experienced this sense of – of being seen and loved and celebrated by a book. I don’t know what to say. I want to sit here and write pages and pages of adoring analysis on each and every character, even the villains; I want to write epic love poetry to the worldbuilding, which is beyond anything I’ve ever encountered, or thought possible, or thought was allowed. I want to create altars to the gods of this book, Doédenna and Sappacor and Amahirra and Ajdenia, Kantu and Enjoloth and Wykkyrri and Brotquen, Lan Satthi and Aganath and Yssimyss and Kywit, and that sounds Extra as hell, doesn’t it, but the thing is, I’m not kidding. I’ve never seen gods who feel so much like gods before, I’ve never come across an author who managed to make me believe in fictional deities, who wrote the grace and majesty of them so well that every time they appeared on-page I understood what it was I was supposed to feel in cathedrals as a kid.

So trying to talk about this book feels…impossibly intimate. I want to shove a copy into everyone’s hands, but I feel shy about it too, like it’s private.

I know it’s silly. It’s just that it’s true, too.

It doesn’t take a prince, after all, to turn blood into light.

If you crossed Catherynne Valente with N.K. Jemisin, you might be lucky enough to get something almost as extravagantly epic as Saint Death’s Daughter. You might, just, come close to the wealth of word-love and magic and strangeness and wonder and JOY. You might, almost, brush your fingers against the edges of vast, impossible imagination and creativity that went into this world, these characters, this book.

*

I said there aren’t words, so I invented one – exhilerant – because that’s apparently what I do now whenever I’m given a new Cooney book. But here’s another; because the only way to describe the world of Athe that Cooney has created, this book she’s written about it? Is athegravagant. Saint Death’s Daughter is athegravagant, and you’ll only understand what that means if you read it.

*

Hi. My name is Sia. Here’s my heart in a book. I think it might hold yours too.

You should read it and see.

Saint Death’s Daughter fireworksicals into the world on April 12th, and you can (and absolutely should) preorder it in all formats from the usual places!

five-stars

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