Reviewing Jenna Black’s The Gifted Dead

Jenna Black is one of my favourite authors and in love her Nikki Glass series of books. When I hear about her newest, The Gifted Dead, I knew I had to get my hands on it. A political, magical thriller? Yes please. Jenna was kind enough to send me a copy and earlier this week I devoured it.

The world is full of two different kinds of people, the Gifted and the ungifted. The ungifted are the normal humans out there while the Gifted are exactly what they are called – those with certain gifts. Each Gifted person has different gifts, such as sex, influence, opening locks, fire, and they can all add to their gifts if they are given Quests by Anima (a collection of those who know what’s going on) and successfully complete them. When I first read about the Quests I assumed them to be in the Ancient Greek sense of the word – epic and arduous. But they can literally be anything and the Anima let their wishes known via the spirit guides each Gifted person has. As they collect more and more gifts they becomes stronger and stronger. The strongest have the best political positions and huge amounts of influence and power. They sit in the Council as Elders and the very strong becomes the Patriarch.

Phew! It’s important to learn and know all of this but in the book it’s done with a lot more tact and finesses. You don’t have this massive info-dump boring the crap out of you.

Now to the story. The book stars with Gifted graves being desecrated and the bodies being burnt. Why is this happening? Who is doing it? Why are the doing it? We are quickly introduced to all the main protagonists and the main families. We learn about the motivations and their ambition. I loved this aspect. I loved the rich detail, the vivid imagination, and the sheer number of protagonists. Like the best stories, Jenna created characters who were morally grey and very, very human. I felt sympathy towards the ‘baddies’ and anger towards the ‘goodies’. Loved it.

From the burned bodies, the story quickly develops into something with huge and diverse scope. In order for this to be successful, the plot would have to be tight and brilliant. You know what? It was. As I read I was confident that the author knew what they were doing – they were in complete control. When you get to the second half of the book everything starts to come together so brilliantly. In comparison I did feel that the first half was fragmented but only because we had to get to know all these characters – by the second half they were all interacting well with each other.

The only criticism, I have with this book is the treatment some of the female characters go through. As the Gifted leader is called ‘Patriarch’ it’s obvious that this isn’t an equal culture. Women are definitely second class citizens and I didn’t like that. It was important to the story but some scenes were very difficult to read. All I can hope is that in subsequent books they get their own back.

And that’s what so cool about The Gifted Dead – there are going to be more books. After the cliffhanger at the end I am very grateful. Because that cliffhanger is a doozy! If you are looking for a fantasy with a political plot then this is for you. In fact if you are looking for a very good read, then this is for you.

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