Review: Death’s New Lease On Life

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Review by Heather Taylor

Death’s New Lease on Life is an illustrated novel, written by Brendan O’Connell and art by Fiona Boniwell. I think before I delve a little deeper into the review of the story, I should give you all a little bit of background information on how this illustrated novel came to be.

The team of Brendan and Fiona came about through a whole series of events. There were people who introduced the pair, there was the Cork Creative Space pilot scheme and there was also an Indiegogo campaign. The result of it all was the creation and distribution of Death’s New Lease on Life.

At its very core, this story is a children’s story. On their website, Brendan and Fiona explain that the story delves into children’s fascination with all things macabre, but does so in a light, humours fashion. The artwork conveys this fact immediately. Fiona’s style is simple and clean, perfect for drawing comics aimed at children. She hit the nail on the head in my opinion. Ten out of Ten Fiona!

The story follows the Grim Reaper, or Death, throughout his daily routine in the Netherworld. It appears that Death has become unhappy with his life. Yes that sounds a bit funny, but it is true, Death has a life, and he’s getting a bit bored with it. Brendan is an excellent wordsmith, describing Death’s despondent feelings very eloquently. Sometimes a bit too eloquently in my opinion with words like “equivocation” and “ignominious,” being a bit too complicated for even the brightest of children. To make it completely age appropriate and a novel that could be read by children of all abilities, I would suggest using other synonyms for overly complicated words.

Getting back to the story. Death is feeling depressed, and he seems to be stuck in a rut. Once day something happens to change all of that. A mysterious door falls off somewhere down from his office, opening up a portal. Not remembering where the portal leads to, Death decides to climb through it and at the other end he is met with something that changed his world…forever. Penguins!

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story for anyone, but I will say that what happens with Death and the Penguins is quirky, funny and rather heart warming. However there is a slightly serious note that comes at the end of the story. The note does surround the question of “What does happen when Death takes a holiday/retirement?” and Brendan answers this question quite nicely. As an adult reading the story, I was able to guess something along the lines, somewhere around the middle of the story, what would happen if Death did retire, but for a child reading this, the answer may come as a surprise and it is very poignant.

Overall this was a very entertaining story. It’s the right type of lightness for a story that focuses on the macabre. I found myself smiling throughout the whole story; with the humour being right on point and cuteness of the penguins making me feel all giddy. I love Fiona’s artistic style and I think Brendan has a marvellous way with words. If I were to give the story a score out of five…I would give it a four. It would have been a five, but the presence of some overly complicated words knocked a point off for me. To make it more age friendly for children of all abilities, a couple of simpler, yet equally descriptive words would have been great. I would love to see something else come from this wonderful duo, maybe a little novella type sequel to Death’s New Lease on Life, or something brand spanking new. As long as they keep this winning form, I’m happy, and so should you be. Pick up a copy now!