A Touch of Death is a dystopian science fiction debut novel from Rebecca Crunden. It is a fascinating first book in a pentalogy that I think definitely has the potential to find a lot of fans.
There’s a lot to like about this book but there are things that I think could be opportunities for the follow-up novels to be even better. Parts of the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I would have liked them to, but, all-in-all, this was a great first look at this world and at this author.
I was provided a copy of this book for my honest review
The world is by far the best part of this novel. It took me a minute to really visualize exactly what the world was like – the feel of it, the look of it, the landscape. I think that was because it is a sci-fi world, with some advanced technology like hover cars and communication devices, but, in a lot of ways, it resembles a typical high fantasy world with different regions, a villain king, and some wild, untamed areas. My mind didn’t know how to connect those two seperate themes at first and it left me reeling.
I loved that. I loved seeing two worlds that can so often be played out or cliche – fantasy and sci fi – with a fun new twist. Even if it confused me at first, it was a good kind of confusion. The kind of confusion that doesn’t frustrate you, but makes you want to stick around a little longer and see what it’s all about.
As the story moved along, we got to see a few different cultures and a couple different cities. Each time we’re introduced to a new place, I greatly enjoyed experiencing that area as the characters did. All of the different regions and cities felt unique and interesting in their own ways.
Was parts of this world borrowed or inspired by other fantasy/sci fi worlds? Of course. But that’s the name of the game. It’s virtually impossible to have a 100% unique fictional world anymore. The point is doing something new and fun with your world, and I think Crunden achieved that.
The actual culture and history of the world was deep and lived in. It is abundantly clear that Crunden spent time developing and building out this world. We get hints of it, but we don’t see all of it fully, which, honestly, is enough to make me want to read the subsequent novels. I want to see more the world, I want to know more of its history and its culture. It’s a solid selling point for the other books in this series.
We talked about the best part of the book, so it makes sense to talk about, in my opinion, where the book falls the most short: the plot.
For most of this book, the plot dragged. It focused largely on the budding, at times volatile, relationship between the two main characters, Kitty and Nate, as they were on the run and trying to figure out what disease they have before it kills them. The pacing was slow, but I don’t think it was meant to be action-packed. I think this book was a vehicle to show the world, explore the characters, and set up more action in the rest of the series. Unfortunately, for a first book, I wish the plot gripped me more.
It felt like the main thrust of the plot could have been a subplot. The book is about them finding out more info about a mysterious disease and trying to find a cure for that disease. Which is definitely an interesting concept, but it wasn’t enough for me. If that was one part of an overarching plot, then I would have loved it. But as the main focus, I thought it was too slow.
There was the added component of the two characters being on the run from the government that wanted to kill them. While, at least at first, that gave the plot a much needed edge and intensity, it filtered out as I realized that they aren’t actually ever in any danger from the government. There aren’t any close shaves with town guards, or an increased military presence they have to sneak around, or any real danger from that threat at all. It hangs over them like storm clouds, but the lightening never even comes close to striking ground.
The plot is heavily travel and relationship focused. Some people might really enjoy that. It allows the reader to see more of the world and, at least in theory, get to know the characters deeply. But for readers like me, it’s a bit slow.
We’ve talked about the best and the worst of the book, so we’ll end with something right in the middle: the characters.
The supporting cast of characters were phenomenal. Although most of them don’t get a ton of screen time, they felt unique, distinguished, and interesting. They all had stories and personalities that I enjoyed. Even characters only in the book for a couple of pages were interesting and developed in their own right.
Nate was also an interesting character, albeit slightly cliche’d. He is the typical Han Solo type: a sarcastic, charming, rogue mixed with someone like Kelsier from Mistborn: a charismatic, rebellious, idealist. He is kind of a conglomerate of some really fun characters which I think gives him a bit of depth even if it is only implied depth based on what we know about characters like him. We read into Nate what we’re used to seeing in characters like that, but that’s not a bad thing. He fits the stereotype, but subverts it at points.
However, I don’t know how to feel about Kitty. For a good two-thirds of the story I found her really bland. It didn’t seem like she did anything, the plot just kind of happened to her. There wasn’t a ton of emotional depth to her, either. But was that intentional? She goes through a dramatic change in her life; she is forced out of her comfortable ignorance into seeing the world as it actually is for the first time and being in danger. It makes sense that the comfortable, naive version of Kitty is somewhat tuned out. There’s a bit of fire and passion hiding within her, but there is nothing in her world to drag it out. Until there is. So maybe that was intentional. But a somewhat bland main protagonist mixed with a slow plot proved to be a bit challenging for portions of this.
Also, the characters seemed to flip really fast. Arguments, really volatile and explosive arguments, sprang up out of nowhere several times. There seemed to be a pleasant conversation happening and then they’d be screaming at each other. Which, again, makes sense I guess. I’m sure tempers would run thin in a situation like their’s, but it gave me whiplash a couple of times.
This is a well-written first novel that is full of potential. I love the world set up. I really liked Crunden’s writing style. The characters, at least where they ended up, were strong. It left me intrigued to know more of the story. It’s a fantastic debut novel; Crunden writes really well while still having room to grow, which is exciting for future books.
I’m just hung up on the slow plot. And maybe that isn’t fair. I did finish reading the Mistborn trilogy right before this, which is a notoriously fast-paced series, so I could have been in the wrong frame of mind. And other people might really enjoy the slower plot. It gives the world and characters time to breathe.
I’ll give this one a strong 2.75 out of 5 and still highly recommend you pick it up.
If you’re interested in picking this book up for yourself, or knowing more about it in general, head over to Rebecca Crunden’s website: https://rebeccacrunden.com/