Dead Set by Richard Kadrey 2013, Harper Voyager 307 pages
After her father’s funeral, sixteen-year-old Zoe moves to San Francisco with her mother for a fresh start, but life in the city isn’t what either of them hoped it would be.
A snafu with her father’s insurance paperwork has left Zoe and her mother penniless. Zoe’s new school is dark and depressing, and she is completely cut off from her best friends. Lonely and sad, Zoe seeks solace in her dreams, where she spends time with her lost brother, Valentine.
Zoe’s dreams have always been a source of comfort in troubled times, but there is a new presence in her dreamscape. Zoe and Valentine spot the newcomer from afar, a moving speck on a distant mountain.
An accident in the cafeteria at school leaves Zoe’s eyes burning and her t-shirt reeking of Vodka. She slips out of school to change clothes, and spends the afternoon wandering the city until she finds herself in front of Ammut Records, a run-down secondhand shop advertising “rare, used and lost” records. Intrigued Zoe ventures inside and finds much more than she ever expected.
Zoe flips through the bins of vintage punk records, recognizing familiar bands and songs from her parents’ record collection and making conversation with Emmett, the shop’s proprietor. When she wanders into a back room, however, the records are unlike any she’s ever seen.
According to Emmett, each disc represents the life of a soul who has not moved on. Emmett has Zoe’s father’s recording. For nothing more than a lock of hair, Zoe can spend time with her father.
Valentine is convinced that Emmett and the intruder on the mountain are connected, and begs Zoe not to return to Emmett’s shop. Determined to see her father, Zoe ditches school and finds her way back to Ammut Records.
The first session isn’t fully satisfying, and the price is a little higher for another session – a tooth. Zoe pays up, using a stolen chimp molar from her biology class, and bargains with Emmett to purchase her father’s record. That price is higher still – a few drops of Zoe’s blood. But the deal is off when Emmett discovers Zoe’s deception. He disappears into the sewers with her father’s record. Zoe follows and finds her way to Iphigene, a way-station for souls who haven’t moved on.
Zoe finds Valentine and her father in Iphigene, a place of desperation and sadness ruled by the cruel Queen Hecate. No one ever moves on from Iphigene. Zoe’s father and brother insist that she return to the world before Hecate finds her, but Zoe simply can’t leave them in such a horrible place.
Richard Kadrey has crafted a page-turning story set in a fantastic, terrible world. Zoe’s adventures in Iphigene contain horrors galore juxtaposed with surprising moments of beauty and clarity.
Zoe is resourceful and smart, and I couldn’t help rooting for her. Ultimately, Zoe’s time in Iphigene teaches her that we must move on, even if it means leaving the ones we love most behind; even if it means moving into an unknown future.
Heather Holley-Hall is Alamance County Public Libraries’ Head of Branch Services. She may be reached at email@example.com or 336-570-6730.