Two Graves, Vol. 1: Wish You Were Here by Genevieve Valentine, Ming Doyle & Annie Wu

Hunh, I didn’t even realize this was a volume one until I went to catalog it on my Goodreads.

So this is a weird one for me. Sometimes, after reading a book, I’ll go check out other reviewers’ opinions on the afore-mentioned Goodreads because I feel like I should maybe be having a different reaction to the book than I’m currently experiencing. General consensus is useful for seeing whether I’m reacting from a very specific mental and emotional point or whether the book is just… like that. Two Graves Vol I falls, I’m afraid, into the latter category.

More specifically, it is a very odd book that has confused obfuscation with mystery and suspense. I didn’t understand half of what was going on and why, and the few answers I did finally get in the narrative just felt anticlimactic. As of the time I’m writing this (October 1st; the book’s publication date got pushed back, if you’re seeing this review much later than that,) I’m going through a pretty bad emotional period, where an unexpected betrayal has caused me to constantly question my own judgment. Fortunately, the opinions of other reviewers assured me that I am far from alone in feeling mystified by the choices made in this book.

With that settled, I can actually talk about Two Graves without thinking I’m doing it a disservice by possibly being partial or obtuse. The story is about a young woman named Emilia who’s gone on a road trip with Death. She can’t die, at least not until she carries her mother’s ashes from California to the Atlantic. But she can inflict pain and worse, not just on the wicked whose paths cross hers but also on Death himself. Through all this, the unlikely pair are being tracked by a trio of mysterious Hunters determined to stop them.

From doing what? I honestly couldn’t tell you. We do learn a little bit about what Emilia can do, tho not really why. We also learn about the circumstances under which she and Death embarked on their mission. Tbh, I wasn’t at all convinced by it. In terms of tone and clarity, this book very much reminded me of a gothic romance, where the emotions and scenes are what matter, the strikingly beautiful tableaux. Certainly not the motivations or explanations of any of it.

And that’s fine, if you like that sort of thing. Ming Doyle and Annie Wu do a decent job of depicting the goings-on. I was actually most impressed by several of the interstitial chapters written by such luminaries in the sff world as N. K. Jemisin and Jennifer Margret Smith. In fact, N.K. Jemisin’s short autobiographical piece about her battle with her mom over prom, and how that stood in for so much of what was contentious about their relationship, really resonated with me.

Maybe this book gets better in subsequent chapters. I will hardly be first in line to find out, but I wouldn’t overlook it entirely either.

Two Graves, Vol. 1: Wish You Were Here by Genevieve Valentine, Ming Doyle & Annie Wu was published October 24 2023 and is available from all good booksellers, including

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