Review: Dead Rules; R.S Russell

Sequel please…? 4 Stars

Source- I obtained an uncorrected proof copy from Goodreads in exchange for a review.

Quercus Publishing- 2012

Paperback- 376 pages

Every so often a YA book comes along that captures my imagination. Recently that’s something I’ve experienced with Veronica Roth’s novels and of course, with the hugely popular Hunger Games. Though I wouldn’t class this book as quite in the same league as those two, this was admittedly a quick, easy read and one that I enjoyed from start to finish. And as is my consensus around a lot of books I have read lately: it is just so nice to read a paranormal/fantasy book that doesn’t revolve around vampires!

In this case, we meet ghosts. Lots of teenage ghosts who find themselves in a rather haunting predicament. Imagine your worst nightmare: not only do you die (bad) but when you come to ‘afterwards’, you find that you are still attending school (worse).  In this case you find yourself enrolled in an establishment christened ‘DeadSchool’ by its students, who fit into social factions rather like the students of the real world do. You have your Sliders (drop-outs, on their way down), Risers (promising students, who stick to the rules and are aspiring to make their way up to a better place) The Virgins (yeah, pretty self-explanatory that one) and The Gray’s (suicides).

When Jana Webster comes to after her death, she is sat on a bus on the way to her first morning at DeadSchool and pretty perplexed. Her memory is a bit fuzzy about the circumstances that lead her to the here-and-now and she has a dent in the back of her skull that might explain her loss of memory. The one thing good girl Jana does know for certain however that another part of her is missing too: her boyfriend, Michael. How can she be dead and be without him? They’ve always been together and nothing makes sense without him beside her- especially not here. Jana determines that instead of accepting the situation and trying to move forwards with… whatever she has now, she will endeavour to get Michael back with her- even if it means killing him and breaking all the rules of DeadSchool along the way.

I thought this book might be a bit too laced with stereotypes for my liking, but actually the teenagers and their ‘voices’ are written in a believable way that isn’t too overdone. R.S Russell can write teenagers and not make them sound too much like Miley Cyrus, which in my opinion can only be a good thing. I enjoyed the universe that he has created here, with the multiple cliques and the construction of the DeadSchool itself.  Characterisation too, was solid- I had expected Jana to be the all-America ‘perfect’ girl, but as you get to know her you can understand why she is so desperate to hold on to Michael; her background is actually a lot more poignant than I had anticipated. The secondary characters too, are well-drawn, though better developed in the DeadSchool than on earth.

Another nice touch was the flashbacks to the characters deaths that were unveiled throughout the book- some of these could probably be entered into the Darwin Awards, but they were admittedly well-depicted. There were also some small splashes of humour during the book, which gave a much needed lift to what was actually a pretty sombre story all in all- I liked the double act of Mars and Wyatt and their attempts to communicate with those left behind.

A couple of aspects I didn’t like so much: Mars Dreamcote. Really? Talk about god-awful names. That aside, I had also expected more of a love triangle than what was actually suggested in the covers summary. Needless to say, I think this is an aspect that would be covered in future- at least I hope so. Though this book works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel, the somewhat open ending suggests that a sequel may be on the horizon at some point soon. I’d like to think that, as I for one will definitely be reading it.

I would say that though this is a YA book, I personally think it is aimed towards the mid-teen age bracket of the market as there are a few sexual references dispersed throughout the book (though these aren’t coarse or vulgar), and of course the death aspect is something that younger children may struggle to deal with within fiction. A ghost story is one thing, but this tackles death and some of its causes in a forthright manner.  If you are looking for an entertaining paranormal/fantasy read then you could certainly do a lot worse than giving this one a go.

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