Starving Review: Organ Reapers by Shay West


Organ Reapers by Shay West (Amazon, Goodreads)

The life of a Starving Reviewer is one of chance and charity.  We rely on the kindness of others to fill our literary bellies and we never know what we may find on our plates.  Sometimes, though, fortune favors the hungry, dishing out what looks to be a delightful blending of mystery and urban fantasy, a fusion of flavors that promises delights a plenty.  Such a treat was plopped before me with Organ Reapers.  Did it happily fill my belly or feel like a load of lead in my gut?

Before we find that out, let’s review the Starving Review rules:

  1. I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre.
  2. I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible.

To answer that critical question, let’s pick apart this cake and look at its components.  As a fusion recipe of urban fantasy and mystery, we’ll begin with the genre ingredients before we tackle the critical foundations of any good literary recipe: characters and pacing.  However, before we can even look at the genre fusion, we need to tackle one fundamental aspect of the book: the plot structure.

Organ Reapers is, for the first half or more of the book, two parallel plots running course side-by-side, touching but never merging.  Each plot follows the activities of each pair of protagonists, one in modern Earth, one in a fantasy world (the tagline talks about other worlds so it’s not a Spoiler!).  Now, each plotline is paced and structured well enough (we’ll talk about the actual ingredients of each plot later), creamily sliding from plot to plot with little issue.

There is a small problem though and that comes in regards to the first genre flavor, mystery.  You see, the second plotline reveals every critical aspect of the first plotline (the one with the real mystery) well before the mystery itself is solved.  In essence, the big thing the cover and book blurb hints at, the whole mystery of these Organ Reapers (TITLE DROP!), is a total give away.  There is no mystery at all and this … this is not good.

On the urban fantasy side of things, Shay West’s writing fares much better.  The alien world is fairly interesting and the fantasy elements are, on the whole handled decently.  The biggest issue that is encountered is world-building.  The technology, magic, and cosmology of this world are inconsistently described and lead to many logical quirks that continue to strain the suspension of disbelief.  We’ll talk about those little packets of quirky ingredients later but I will say the fantasy aspects are much better handled than the mystery.

How about characters, those vital ingredients for any good book?  These are probably Organ Reaper‘s best elements.  Though some classic tropes are touched on, they are used lovingly and properly fleshed out, letting the major characters shine.  Even some of the minor characters are well-rounded and interesting.  I’m loathe to find faults here but there are two things that went sour in my gut.  One is pretty minor and I won’t quibble with in this review.  One is strange and mildly offensive.  In the last act, Ms. West introduces a stereotypical Asian old lady/busybody who talks in broken English, just there in one or two scenes that are pointless save for, I assume, an attempt at comedy relief.  The scenes are out of nowhere, discordant, and, well, could be very easily considered offensive to anyone of that ethnicity.  It’s certainly an innocent mistake, considering how well the author handles other ethnicities in the book, but it is a mistake none the less.

The plot.  The plot is where things get a little under-baked.  This is another case, one of many I have tasted, where the core plot structure is sound but things go sour at the scene level.  Outside of the issue of the mystery being spoiled so early, most events make sense in the context of the world.  Unfortunately, there are many logical inconsistencies that crop up, both in character actions and especially in the lack of fantasy world-building.  Having these logical issues might be acceptable in smaller numbers but there were rare chapters after the first act where I wasn’t finding myself questioning how or why events were happening.  Waiting patiently to have some of these things cleared up or explained through the fantasy elements bore little to no fruit.  Some later facts even caused logical gaps to grow wider.  To give examples would lead us heavy into Spoilerville, so let me try to put it like this:

It’s like eating a delicious cake that was mixed with a batch of just-slightly-overdate-blueberries in it.  A bite may be quite good or you might just bite into an off-tasting bit of fruit.  You can ignore some of those nasty bites but, eventually, you’ll eat enough of them that you just lose your love of the cake and won’t want another slice.

One last twist on things before we wrap up: The climax and denouement.  These deserve a quick mention.  The climax is very logical and went down exactly as I thought it might but there’s a last minute reveal that … goes nowhere.  It could have turned into an impressive event that explained so much of the plot but just went flat almost immediately.  The denouement was very well done, however, well, for one of the two pairs of protagonists.  One set was basically ignored after a brief mention.  I thought it might have been a set up for further books but there’s no mention of a series involved.  Very puzzling.

Now, to sum this up, you might think that this Starving Reviewer was wanting to spit this piece of cake out all over the table.  That’s not true.  There are many solid elements to this book.  Even with its logical yuck bombs of sour, Organ Reapers remains a fairly decent urban fantasy book with some excellent characters and a great core premise.  The problem is that it fails to take its premise to the heights of flavor it could reach, letting it remain a tasty but unfulfilling bit of creme fluff.

FINAL VERDICT: *** (The promise of fascinating flavors trips over underdone plot points to become tasty but unfulilling.)


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