Title: Twice Dead
Author: Caitlin Seal
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy/
Version: ARC – ebook
Page Count: 336
Publisher: Charlesbridge Teen
Notable Notables: Complex politics and characters; LGBTQ side characters
Recommended Readers: Fans of political thrillers with a dash of magic thrown in
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Twice Dead by Caitlin Seal is a slow-building political thriller masked as a fantasy story–and I mean that in a very complimentary way. This book wasn’t what I expected, and I ended up liking it better for it. Honestly, I’m very much side-eyeing the unflattering reviews and the amounts of DNFs I’m seeing for it.
When Naya is sent on a delivery for her merchant father, she is mysteriously killed and resurrected as a wraith, an undead being who doesn’t require food or sleep and who can change her form at will. The land of Ceramor is rife with necromancers and the undead thanks to a treaty that legalizes it, something that Naya and her fellow citizens of Talmir reject as being evil. It’s unheard of for a Talmiran to be resurrected, and now Naya has to struggle with accepting her newfound existence. At the same time, Talmiran Ambassador Valn entreats Naya for a special purpose: she must use her powers as a wraith to protect her homeland and spy on necromantic sympathizers who are bent on starting another war. However, all is not what it seems, and the closer Naya gets to discovering the truth, the less she’s certain where her loyalties lie.
Naya was by far the strongest, most well-written character, and her character arc was the most believable to watch unfold. Her fatal flaw was being too hesitant and thinking too much during moments of truth, and talk about how relatable that was. I felt that Corten, her love interest, could have been developed a bit more and made more interesting, but their romance wasn’t too slow or too rushed or sloppily done, making the finale of the book that much more impactful.
I also came to love Lucia, the necromancer who brought Naya back to life. She started off a little flat but really bloomed the longer the story went on, and her relationship with Alejandra is what opened Naya’s and the reader’s eyes to seeing Lucia had more depth of character than Naya had been paying attention to. After that, Lucia took on more and more agency and emphasis as a character.
While not terribly complex magic-wise, I enjoyed the use of necromancy throughout the story and its reliance on runes and bones in order to operate. Necromancers having to “sing” a soul back to their body or to their bones, depending on the form of resurrection, was fascinating to watch, such as in the case of Lucia resurrecting a little girl for an ailing family. Even those minor characters had fascinating and complex reactions, to say nothing of what was going through Naya’s head at the time.
I mentioned this book is more of a political thriller than a fantasy, and I stand by that. Truly, at its heart, it’s a spy story, and spy stories tend to go one of two ways for most people: either they’re immensely action-packed and fascinating, or they’re terribly boring. Compound that with how political the world-building was and Naya’s own mission/character arc, and I can see a lot of YA readers dropping off fast. (But I mean… If you’ve managed to get through a Sarah J. Maas book where literally nothing happens for 500+ pages, then Twice Dead should be easy to read by comparison. But that’s none of my business…)
Fortunately, I love politics in art, so I was never bored by the pace, and I felt that the action scenes that were in the book were well-placed without being over the top. I also loved Naya, and it never felt like a chore being in her head, thanks to the third-person limited POV, but also thanks to Seal’s ability to balance Naya’s feelings with her reactions to events happening around her.
I will say that there was a lot of exposition about the other lands involved with the treaty–all that political talk, you know–and I wished I had seen characters in action who actually represented those lands rather than listening to other characters just talk about them. But the setting was limited here; the ending strongly implies it won’t be in the sequel, and I’m interested to see Naya’s journey continue.