Cheat the Grave is stellar addition to one of the most unique, ambitious and vivid urban fantasy series on the market.
Following the portent by trying to avoid it; "Fifth Sign: the Shadow binding with the Light," Joanna Archer discovers what happens when you blend light and shadow to create a new, more balanced reality in shades of grey. Masks are stripped away. Agents shift alliances and grandstand for relevance and there is a new cast of characters including an exceptional individual with wholly unique powers and purpose the like of which I don't think has been seen before.
Cheat the Grave is the most philosophical installment in the series and perhaps that is part of the reason I found it so satisfying because it afforded readers the chance to truly weigh and consider all of the elements that have brought Joanna to this point. One of the mantras in Cheat the Grave is "Losses aren't bad things in themselves. Not as long as you remain open to new sensation." For much of her life Joanna has been a survivor, shaped by events and the choices of others - in the past, the answer for Joanna would have been live up to the destiny that others say is her raison d' etre but now her fate is clearly driven by her own free will and in making this choice, we have a heroine whose power springs from the well of free choice and Joanne owns it all.
Readers should know that there are elements in this installment that link back to Zoe Archer's short story The Harvest which was published in the anthology Holidays are Hell. While the events in that short story are not absolute required reading to follow some of the developments in Cheat the Grave, they do enhance the content and I strongly recommend reading it as a supplemental to contextualize and add dimension.
Vicki Pettersson's writing continues to evolve and impress me by the scope in which she is constructing this series; it is nothing short of epic and her writing is subtly elegant and focused in the delivery. This is a rare balance and much of what makes the Zodiac series such a compelling read.
The only thing missing in this installment was a trip to the Master Comics. The story didn't really lend itself for Jo to stop in and catch-up with the gang at the shop but I did miss them. Hopefully Jo will take a visit to Master Comics in the next installment in the series.
Cheat the Grave is a rich and wonderfully satisfying addition to the Signs of the Zodiac series... in fact, I think it's the best installment yet in a series that continues to evolve and challenge.
After the last book in this series "City of Souls" we were all wondering where Pettersson was going to take the story of her power-stripped heroine. Well in this book she takes us in a new direction; it was pretty well done and made for a good addition to the series.
Joanna Archer gave up all of her superpowers to save a child and her home city of Las Vegas. She's been abandoned by the Agents of Light and the only ones who have stood beside her are her (Olivia's) best friend Cher and Cher's mother. Now Cher's mother is getting married to an Indian Price and Olivia/Joanna Archer has a huge event to plan. Unfortunately Joanna/Olivia is being chased by an assassin from Midheaven not to mention the Tulpa may have figured out her identity as well. Joanna needs help if she is going to survive as a mere mortal. Enter the Grey Agents; neither Light nor Dark, they are the conglomeration of rogue agents. They may be just what Joanna needs if she is going to stay alive and get Cher's mother safely through her wedding.
This was a pretty good installment in this series. Joanna's life as Olivia take center space for the first half of the book. Now the heir to the Archer businesses Joanna must attend meetings, etc, while still keeping up Olivia's social life. Given this I found the beginning of the book to drag a little bit. Joanna spends a lot of time talking about how alone she is and how no one will help her; she has a point, but I kind of felt that we could have moved through this part a bit faster. Joanna does seem to have matured some in this book, so that was good to see. Some of the new characters introduced with the Grey Agents are interesting and should add some fun to the book.
Once Joanna meets up with the Grey Agents things pick up pace a lot. There are numerous fight scenes and we begin to discern the direction that Pettersson is planning to take the story in future novels. There are a couple of wonderful surprises in the second half of the story. Joanna takes a few trips to Midheaven and even Hunter pops into the story a bit more.
Overall I thought the book started slow but really picked up in the second half and ended up being an enjoyable read. Definitely a transition book in this series but a good one. I enjoyed it in the end. Now I am eager to read what happens next.