When I write a review, my goal is not so much to evaluate the work as to describe it accurately. Every book has a reader who will love it as well as a reader who will hate it. A perfect review will encourage the former to read the book and discourage the latter. For most books, I struggle to describe them in such a way so as to achieve this goal. That is not the case for Death Doesn’t Bargain (2018) by Sherrilyn Kenyon. In fact, I can ask a single question to help potential readers decide whether to read this book or not:
Are you interested in reading a book that includes a 20-page sex scene involving an angel and a merman?
If your answer is no, this is not the book for you.
All told, Kenyon claims to have “placed more than 80 novels on the New York Times list in all formats and genres” (some under the name Kinley MacGregor), and overcame serious personal obstacles to do so. I admire her for her persistence, the ambition of her shared-world vision and her prolificacy (she says she can write a draft of a novel in 3-4 weeks).
Death Doesn’t Bargain is the second installment in the Deadman’s Cross series, which is part of Kenyon’s Hellchaser/Hell-Hunter and Sea Wolves series, which are themselves among several interconnected series in the World of Dark-Hunters. According to Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, Death Doesn’t Bargain is the eighth book in the Hellchaser/Hell-Hunter series and the fourth book in the Sea Wolves series (the first two of which are attributed to MacGregor).
Kenyon’s website confusingly lists Death Doesn’t Bargain as the chronologically second book in the Hellchaser/Hell-Hunter series, but this list includes books at positions #00 and #0.1 (whatever that means). Likewise, the Sea Wolves entry lists Deadmen Walking (2017), the first book in the Deadman’s Cross series, at #1; an upcoming sequel to Death Doesn’t Bargain as #3; doesn’t include Death Doesn’t Bargain at all; and includes two unnumbered books before and after Deadmen Walking.
So if one wanted to get into this series—or, more accurately, these series—I don’t know where to start. But the more important question is: why would one want to?
These books should be a lot of fun. The premise is great: a ship crewed by ghost pirates who hunt demons. I was hoping for a cross between Pirates of the Caribbean and Constantine. The publisher bills the series as historical fantasy, but there is no real-world or alternate history in these books, other than the fact that its characters talk like pirates. The series contains a very elaborate cosmology, no doubt built up in the other interrelated series, including the politics and intrigues of Hell and the mer-world, but does not engage with the far more interesting Golden Age of Piracy that is the series’ ostensible setting.
Deadmen Walking included a map of the Caribbean Sea, which is superfluous since one port is the same as another in these books. (Death Doesn’t Bargain includes a map of the undersea kingdom of Wyneria that adds nothing.) Absent is the real-life cultural collision that took place in the 17th and 18th Centuries in the Caribbean. English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and Danish colonies would alternatively trade with and make war on each other and the Native peoples who preceded them, often with the help of African slaves and freedmen. Captains of pirate, merchant or naval vessels would need to be multilingual just to manage their own crews, not to mention interact with the ships they would encounter on these contested waters.
Light as these books are on history, I would classify them instead as paranormal romance (think Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series). This is a bodice ripper with supernatural elements. I don’t say this to disparage romance novels, but to help guide this book into the right hands. Someone looking for swashbuckling pirates or true historical fantasy will be disappointed.
But even fans of the genre will be put off by the book’s atrocious dialogue. Lines like, “Oh, foulest bitchington, please,” appear on every page. I pity the poor audiobook narrator who has to speak these words without laughing.
I can overlook bad writing if the book compensates with intriguing plotlines or compelling characters. Death Doesn’t Bargain provides no such compensation. If Kenyon has somehow hooked you into her larger universe, you might as well read this book. Everyone else should set sail for a richer port.