Thrust into a world of men, can a timid girl find bravery as the first female Death?
Thirteen-year-old Suzie Sarnio always believed the Grim Reaper was a fairytale image of a skeleton with a scythe. Now, forced to enter the College of Deaths, she finds herself training to bring souls from the Living World to the Hereafter. The task is demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male College, she quickly becomes a target. Attacked by both classmates and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers want her to fail.
Scythes hungry for souls, Deaths who enslave a race of mysterious magicians, and echoes of an ancient war with Dragons.
As her year progresses, Suzie suspects her presence isn't an accident. She uncovers a plot to overthrow the World of Deaths. Now she must also discover the reason she's been brought there: the first female Death in a million years.
“You ready?” asked Billy. He wore a mask over his face, showing only his eyes. He had insisted on covering his face to help the soul feel at ease. If they were transporters, they didn’t want to frighten their passenger.
“You can do this,” said Frank. His calm manner reassured her. He looked at her with his deep brown eyes and freckled face. She nodded and straightened the sleeves of her black robe.
She walked to Hann who stood in the center of the class. He handed her a long scythe, even taller than she was. It was light in her hand; the handle danced with energy. The blade slid through the air like sunlight through water. Life flowed down from the blade, coursing through the handle, sending tingles into her arm. Sweat beaded in her palms and trickled from her forehead.
“Let the scythe do the work,” reminded Hann, “and you’ll be fine.”
She nodded and walked back to her group. She tied herself to Frank and Billy using a tether. Then she held the scythe in her hands and paused.
This was ridiculous. She was a thirteen-year-old girl, a kid from Maryland, holding a scythe. Not some costume piece, but an actual, working scythe. Now she, Suzie, was supposed to Reap a soul. Even her mysteries with Sindril and the Dragon Key suddenly seemed trivial.
“Good luck,” said Frank.
She adjusted her grip and adjusted again. The tingles in the scythe grew stronger, itching her hands and arms. It’s ready. It wants to swing; to do its job. She moved her hands a third time and Frank glanced at Billy. Billy adjusted his mask.
“What’s the matter,” taunted Luc behind her. “Is the little girl scared?”
She clutched the handle and let the blade fall. She hardly moved, but the blade shot downward, slicing air, light, heat, even thought. For an instant, her arm was on fire and the world vanished into darkness.
The smell of strawberries exploded around her as color, form, and details blurred into a single, unending stream of confusion. She heard the sound of screams in the distance, and tears. The scythe pulled her down, down, down between the worlds. She slipped past the twin suns of the In-Between and watched the Mortal World approaching. On the edge of her vision, she glimpsed two bright pools of green fire.
“You grow stronger every day,” said the eyes. “But the greatest challenge is yet to come.”
She tried to turn, but the scythe pulled her onward. She coursed through stars and space, beyond time and emotion. Lighter than a daydream, she slipped through a crevice: the gap between light and shadow. The blade twisted, finding its way.
A face appeared before her: an elderly man she didn’t recognize. Somehow, she sensed a name: Elias Stoneridge.
She landed hard, stumbling as her feet hit a tiled floor. Beads of white light trickled off the blade.
For a moment, she couldn’t tell where she was. She heard beeps and the slow intake of air.
Frank patted her on the shoulder. “You okay?” he asked.
“Remember, don’t let anyone else see us,” said Frank, looking around the hospital room.
Certified Deaths received special robes to help avoid mortal eyes. Ironically, the Deaths who’d inspired tales of the Grim Reaper throughout the ages had been students like her. Students and ones who didn’t make it back. She shuddered, remembering her skeletal appearance. It seemed long ago.
A man lay in a bed, connected to an array of tubes and machines. Suzie walked to the foot of his bed and read the name on his chart. “Elias Stoneridge.” The scythe quivered in her hand. The handle pulsed like a beating heart, or was that only her own heartbeat? No, the blade felt the soul, it was hungry.
“It’s his time,” said Frank, patting her on the shoulder. “Quickly, before someone comes.”
Elias’s eyes stared at her, but he seemed to look through her. He gasped for air and the machines behind the bed beeped.
“A nurse is coming,” said Billy, glancing into the hallway. “She’s only a few doors down.”
Suzie didn’t have time to think, but in a way, she didn’t have to. She didn’t even swing; she relaxed her muscles and stopped fighting the scythe. The blade leapt downward, straight through Elias Stoneridge. As it struck the weak stranger, she felt a strange sensation as the blade swam through the soul. For an instant, she swore she heard chewing, not from Elias, but from the blade itself. The scythe continued down through the floor, before swinging around. It pulled on her, jerking her into a stumble.
Elias sat up, his eyes wide with fear. His body lay on the bed and the machine let out a long, droll beep. The scythe tingled again.
|| Emmy’s Review ||
Thanks to YA Bound Book Tours and Christopher Mannino for providing a copy of this book to review in exchange for an honest review.
***may contain minor spoilers***
In the summer before her entrance into eighth grade, Suzie suddenly began losing weight. A lot of weight, not that she had a lot to lose to begin with. To her parent’s horror, her doctors cannot find anything wrong with her, and they spend the summer dragging their emaciated child from one doctor to the next. She’s not anorexic. She’s not bulimic. She doesn’t have a tapeworm, there’s nothing wrong with her appetite or her metabolism or her blood. Everyone is left scratching their heads. Suzie, meanwhile keeps dreaming of death, every night. Soon after her first few days of school, her nightmare comes true: the Grim Reaper shows up on her doorstep, pulling her into another dimension. Her companion tells her that this place is called the In-Between. She is faced with a contract, and is told that she is Death (Their term for a reaper). What’s more, she is the first female Death in a million years. The only way that she can return home is to spend a year training at the College of Deaths, and pass the test at the end of the year. No one ever passes the test, but Suzie is determined to get back to her family. She signs the contract and leaves the In-Between, jumping dimensions again to enter the World of Deaths.
She enters the College, encountering opposition and prejudice at almost every turn. This is something that I don’t get….the deaths that are in training there now are either first years like her who just came from the “real world”, or people who have only been there for a few years at best. Why are they so violently opposed to having her there? I would have thought with her being the only female in a world full of males - yeah, I can see some not liking the competition, but outright hate? It seems extreme, even with the history that the Deaths have with women. Well, woman, singular. The last female Death was (they say) a witch named Lovethar. She betrayed the Deaths in a battle between them and their enemies, the Dragons, who reaped souls before the Deaths took over the business. She was executed, and there have been no more female Deaths since her. There’s some odd history there, and Suzie wonders if she is getting the whole story.
Troubling as that is though, Suzie powers through, relying on the tentative friendship she strikes up with her roommates and the few students at the school who don’t think that she’s the second coming of the antichrist. Her classes begin, and some of her teachers are very vocal in their disapproval of her presence. One spends the entire first class telling them how all females are useless, blah blah blah. The taunts and remarks and threats she endures are pretty harsh. In scythe training she is mocked by all but her team, including the teacher, who doesn’t really seem to approve of anyone. She is approached by the headmaster, who says he wants to help her, but doesn’t seem to be doing anything about the rampant bullying she is enduring.
Suzie notices that there are workers around the school that the students refer to as Mentals - meaning Elementals. They serve the Deaths, as janitors, in the cafeteria, and other menial duties. She is told that they are not supposed to speak to the students, and she wonders just what is the class system in this strange new world she is stuck in. The Elementals have access to power, why are they letting the Deaths rule them? Did they have a part in the war, and they are being punished? The others treat them like a servant or slave class. None of this sits well with Suzie.
Boskery is the sport of the school (I can’t help it, I keep picturing Quidditch) and it is played with the scythes. Some of the scythes are made of a special metal, which can open doors between dimensions, but the ones they use in the game will only paralyze you for a period of time when you are hit with them. She goes to the tryouts with her roommates, and while running onto the field to help what she thinks is her injured friend she is hit with a scythe and is paralyzed. She stays in her room the next day recovering when one of the older boys comes to her room accompanied by an Elemental who can project fear. They chase her out of her room, out of the school and into the woods. She comes upon a run down house and hides there until the Elemental and the student are gone. While in the house she discovers a hidden library . Someone had tried to destroy it, but she finds references to Lovethar and mysterious pictures that contradict what she has been told about her. She feels a strange connection with her, and not just because she is the only other female Death. Ever since she entered the school she has been having random visions that seem to be connected to Lovethar’s story.
In addition to the older students doing their best to trip her up, Suzie also finds that she is at the center of a mysterious plot involving the headmaster Sindril. She overhears him promising a shadowy someone to bring them “the girl” and knows that he can only be talking about her. She is thrown into that situation, afraid and not knowing where to turn and who to trust, other than herself. When a violent attack occurs on the school grounds the mystery around Lovethar and her history with the deaths only deepens. With the help of her roommates and one friend, Suzie investigates, only to find that the rabbit hole goes deeper than she could have ever imagined.
Keep this one thought in mind when you read this: the female of the species is always deadlier than the male. (Like in the animal kingdom.. think.. of a praying mantis… LMAO (Barb))
This was a YA fantasy. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and think it would do well as a movie. I like the character of Suzie, and how she carved out a place for herself in a male dominated school, despite the odds being against her and the daily taunts and torture she endured. I like that she found herself the leader of her little circle of friends, coming up with the ultimate plan of action and putting it into place. She was determined to find out the origins of the mystery of Lovethar, and kept digging until she found out exactly what happened. I also like her choice concerning her test; despite the inherent unfairness of the test she still made her decision based on what she thought was right.
As far as I know, this is not the first of a series or trilogy or anything else.
What Inspired Me to Write My Book:
The idea for SCHOOL OF DEATHS emerged when I was finishing my graduate degree at Oxford University. I spent four months abroad, far from everyone I knew. Every week, I traveled somewhere I had never been before. I would climb castle ruins in Wales and visit cathedrals in England. One of my favorite trips was to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. After misjudging the time it’d take to get there, I became stranded. The tourist office was closed, and I couldn’t find a hostel. I walked from pub to pub asking if I could sleep above their bar.
The next morning, having slept none, since I’d found a room over a noisy pub, I crept to Barras Nose before dawn. Barras Nose is a stone peninsula, or rocky outcropping jutting into the Celtic Sea, just north of Tintagel. Tintagel itself is a small island with castle ruins on its cliffs. Some believe it to be the birthplace of King Arthur. When I reached Barras Nose, the winds howled so fiercely that I had to crawl on all fours to keep from being blown into the ocean below. Then dawn broke. No other humans were in sight. I struggled to keep my balance, but watched the sun rise on the ruins of the ancient castle, listening to the thunder of waves pounding the fifty foot cliffs I clung to. Wind battered me with ferocity, and I imagined a character being buffeted by winds, completely alone. I envisioned Suzie, alone in a world of men, buffeted by sexism.
Filming a Book Trailer
Like many authors, I decided to create a book trailer. Book trailers are similar to movie trailers, and help market new books to wider audiences. I did not simply want photos of my cover or words across the screen. I am a theatre teacher, and wanted actors. I hired one of my students, named Montana, to film the trailer, and three of my students agreed to act in it. I wrote the script assuming the trailer would be about two minutes long.
The four of us met at Montana's house on a Saturday morning. I felt slightly awkward unloading scythes from my car, especially when we headed to the woods. We spent 3 1/2 hours filming. Each shot needed to be recorded multiple times, and while I did my best not to direct, there were a few instances where I did step in. The boy playing the antagonist for example, could not stop laughing.
Part of the experience included recording voiceovers. The kids did great, however we needed an adult voice for one of the parts, and we recorded my voice. I am sure I am not alone in saying I hate the sound of my voice. No matter how many times we listened to it played back, or what effects Montana used on it, my voice did not sound right to me. I am sure it will sound fine to others.
While I work in stage theatre every day, this was one of my first experiences with film.
About the Author:
Christopher Mannino’s life is best described as an unending creative outlet. He teaches high school theatre in Greenbelt, Maryland. In addition to his daily drama classes, he runs several after-school performance/production drama groups. He spends his summers writing and singing. Mannino holds a Master of Arts in Theatre Education from Catholic University, and has studied mythology and literature both in America and at Oxford University. His work with young people and love of reading helped inspire him to write young adult fantasy.