Mal doesn't act anything like the Grim Reapers we are so accustomed to reading about and seeing in movies. He's actually similar to the Grim Reaper portrayed in an episode of the TV show Married...With Children, in that he talks to the people he's assigned to collect souls from (called a “reap”) and has a dry sense of humor. But that is where the similarities end. There's no scythe, and there's no black hooded robe ("my robe shrank in the wash,' he tells one character). Life, or death, as it would be for Mal, seems to be predictable. He is sent on reaps either from Xyla, who has the job of letting Reapers know which souls are meant to go to Hell, and Morgana, who assigns Reapers to collect souls meant for Heaven. Mal takes every assignment with small notes in a notebook, gleeful at the prospect of stealing valuables from those meant for Hell, which he hocks at a pawn shop run by a human friend named Zach, and glib about his assignments for souls meant for Heaven. But not everything is black and white, or, should we say, good and bad. Some souls are not so easily shuttled off to their destinations. In fact, a combination of good and bad deeds can lead to a hung jury on where the soul goes once death occurs. These are what's known as an "Undecided," and after Mal is assigned to an Undecided, he prepares for the task of having to deliver the soul to the Tribunal, where the soul's deeds during their lifetime are reviewed in a court room and the fate shall be determined by a jury.
That's the plan.
Then something goes wrong.
The soul of Amy Benedict becomes attached to Mal somehow, and before he can find out how to get the soul detached from him, or even to appear at a rescheduled Tribunal, more bad news happens. Someone, or some thing, wants Amy's soul, most likely for less-than-pleasant reasons, and because the soul is attached to Mal, he becomes the target of a demon wielding two swords, which chases him and kills anyone getting into his way. Now Mal must find out why the soul became attached, who's behind this plot to steal the soul, who it is that he cannot trust as he did before. Aside from these problems, what's to become of himself? If he does not sort this mess out in time, it could mean the end of his career as a Grim Reaper, since he, too, will meet Amy's fate if he does not become separated from her soul in time.
For a story with demons, I found this book hard to stop reading. It was funny, exciting, mysterious and frightening all wrapped up into one. For someone who met a terrible fate at a young age before becoming a Grim Reaper, Mal takes it all in stride. In fact, throughout the story, despite all the terrible things that happen, he never loses his wit or sense of humor:
Mal stumbled from his bed and noticed he was still dressed in last night’s clothes, including shoes. He staggered to the door frame and hung on for balance while he looked into the front room. Zach lay on the sofa, watching the television at a volume high enough that each sound wave seemed
to punch Mal in the head.
“What are you doing here?” He ran his tongue around his mouth. “Hang on, what am I doing here? I don’t remember leaving the bar.”
Zach turned to face the disheveled figure. “I found you asleep on the front step of the pawn shop last night. I brought you home and crashed on the sofa. By the way, you ever going to fix that door handle?” He nodded to the hole in the front door that should have contained the handle. The
mechanism was lying on the coffee table, the key still stuck in the barrel.
“Yup. Just as soon as you fix your bell.” Mal scratched his head and yawned as he staggered into the kitchen, Charlie close behind. “Coffee?”
“Yeah, go on then. How many did you have last night? Never thought of you as a big drinker.”
“Erm, one?” He frowned as he flipped the kettle on. He was certain that couldn’t be right. “That’s all I remember.”
Before Mal had chance to ponder the previous night further, there was a flash of white light and a yelp from Zach.
“What the bloody hell was that!”
“Don’t use the ‘H’ word in front of Morgana,” Mal replied as he stepped back into the front room. “She takes offense.”
“Indeed,” Morgana said, glaring.
Zach was on his feet and peering at the circle. “Is there someone in here?”
Mal sighed. “This is Morgana. You can’t see or hear her because you aren’t dead, dying or a demon. Morgana, this is Zach. He runs the pawn shop down the road.”
Zach waved in Morgana's general direction. “Um, good afternoon?”
Morgana looked at the man like someone might inspect the bottom of their shoe. “Since when is it all right to tell your human friends about your job?”
“She says hi,” Mal said.
A Reaper's Tale by Adam Slade is a fun and enchanting read. It gives readers an idea of what being a Grim Reaper is all about, and takes them along on a wild ride through England as one reap goes terribly wrong and everyone and everything is thrown off balance. It is a story that is hard to put down, hard to forget, and easy to love.