Thursday, April 28, 2022

Under the Whispering Door

TJ Klune
Completed 4/28/2022, Reviewed 4/28/2022
5 stars

Another beautiful book by TJ Klune.  This one deals with death, so it may have triggers for some people.  It’s got sparkly prose that’s not overbearing, interesting world building, great characters, and a romance between a ghost and the ferryman who’s supposed to help him cross to the other side.  It has a lot of tear-jerking moments, especially the end, and then again in the epilogue.  I thought it was really well done and not schmaltzy at all.  It hasn’t been nominated for anything yet, but should have been.  I was just enthralled with this book, even though it took me a while to get through it, mostly due to my being distracted by some other life issues.  

Wallace Price is a sleazy, arrogant lawyer.  He’s divorced, has no friends, and is ruthless at work.  One day, he’s at his own funeral and a reaper appears to cull his soul.  This makes him think he may actually be dead.  Mei the reaper drags him to a tea house that’s a sort of way station for souls.  There Wallace meets Hugo, the owner of the tea shop and a ferryman.  Hugo is there to guide him to the next place, but Wallace isn’t having any of it.  He tries to run away but ends up returning.  He slowly accepts that he’s dead and, in the process, falls for the Hugo.

Wallace is a wonderful character.  He starts out a terrible person and ends up an empathetic soul.  The transformation is subtle.  It takes some time for him to come around, just as it did for me to come to like and empathize with him.  Hugo is also wonderful, a gentle person who believes he can bring out the best in people and devastated when he can’t.  Mei is a tough cookie, as one might expect a reaper to be.  The characters are racially diverse, but it’s so natural and organic that it does not feel forced.  It just is, as is the queer content.  

The story telling style is simple but eloquent.  The dialogue is very natural and realistic.  It never gets preachy, morose, or overly philosophical, especially considering the story is about death, dying, and the afterlife.  The narration is third person from Wallace’s perspective, but the characterization never lets anyone remain two-dimensional, expect maybe for the annoying psychic and the arrogant health inspector.  

I give this book five stars out of five.  I got teary several times throughout the novel as people had metanoias and took the final walk through the whispering door to the other side.  This book left me with a warm feeling in my heart so much so that I didn’t want the book to end.  I loved the main characters, I loved the style, and I loved the plot.  I’m sure it’s been done before, perhaps not quite like this, but the whole way station for souls trope has been around a while.  But Klune does this so well, it feels fresh and inventive.  Between this book and Klune’s award winning The House in the Cerulean Sea, he’s become one of my favorite authors.  Despite my massive TBR list, I’m going to try to read some of his earlier works soon.

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