What You Need to Know Before Reading Song of the Dead
by Sarah Glenn Marsh
Watch Sarah Glenn Marsh explain the world of Reign of the Fallen and keep reading for a series recap!
What if Odessa’s secret ambition was to become a pastry chef? What if Evander and Jax kissed once before deciding they were much better off as friends? What if Lysander was originally a weasel, not a grizzly bear?
Welcome to a very spoilery author recap of Reign of the Fallen, complete with commentary about the what-ifs and might-have-beens, to get you ready for Odessa and company’s return in Song of the Dead. If you haven’t read Reign, STOP NOW and go do that. Otherwise, let’s go home… to Karthia!
When we first meet Odessa, she and her boyfriend, Evander, are making out over a dead body. Gross, right? For Odessa, it’s just another day on the job. They’re raising their ruler, King Wylding, traveling to the spirit world to bring him back to his body so he can continue to look after their country the way he has for the past 200+ years.
Each time necromancers raise someone from the dead, they anoint the body with milk, then travel to the Deadlands, the spirit world, armed with blood to attract the spirits, honey to keep their wits about them, and one of the dead person’s living kin. Enter Valoria. She’s a living Wylding princess, and she doesn’t get out much, preferring to spend her time on her illicit passion for inventing. New inventions, fashions, recipes, dances, science—changes of any sort—have been outlawed by her Eldest Grandfather, the king, because the Dead fear change. After all, death is supposed to be a stagnant, permanent state. But it isn’t, thanks to Odessa and her kind.
In Odessa’s world, everyone is born with some form of magic, depending on their eye color. Blue-eyed people see gateways into the Deadlands, and can learn necromancy; green-eyed people see animals’ emotions as colors, and can magically bond with a chosen beast companion; gray-eyed people see an aerial view of the sky, and can learn to control the weather; hazel-eyed people see ailments beneath the skin, and can learn to heal by taking on others’ pain; brown-eyed people see how the parts of things can make a whole, and could become magically gifted inventors if it weren’t so illegal.
If you’re wondering, “What about people with unusual eye colors? What about people born with heterochromia iridis (two different colored irises)…Let’s just say you’ll find out in January! This eye color magic system was one of the first things I decided on for the story, because I wanted the magic to feel organic, rather than involving objects like a magical amulet or wand.
Okay, now that I’ve refreshed your memory on the world, get ready for a plot recap faster than you can say “King for a Day!”
Someone in Karthia is kidnapping the Dead nobility. Princess Valoria begs Odessa to get involved, so she, Evander, and their fellow necromancers Jax and Simeon start investigating, along with Danial, Simeon’s healer boyfriend. Everything is going fine—until Evander is killed, ripped apart by a monster called a Shade (one of the Dead turned nasty by corrupt magic).
A Note: I knew this scene was going to happen before I ever started writing the book, but what I didn’t expect was to actually love Evander by the time I got around to writing it. Evander and Odessa are perfect for each other for so many reasons, and one of those that didn’t make it into the book is Evander’s bisexuality. Evander didn’t let me know his orientation for quite some time, but it makes so much sense now, as it’s part of the shared way in which he and Odessa viewed and related to the world.
Needless to say, Odessa is gutted by her loss. She lashes out and becomes addicted to an intentionally nameless potion (side note: this was another plot point I knew going in to the book, and one that’s important. Addiction affects a great many people in the U.S. alone, and it is often a way of self-medicating for a mental illness that’s not often represented in genre fiction, which needs more light shed upon it as we grapple with the opioid epidemic).
Odessa’s friends try to help, but one of the people who succeeds in breaking down her barriers is a near stranger, Evander’s younger sister Meredy—and her grizzly bear Lysander (who was almost a polar bear, but never a weasel). They grapple with complicated feelings for each other as King Wylding himself is kidnapped and the eldest living heir, Prince Hadrien, assumes the throne.
Hadrien—who I always picture as a young Gilderoy Lockhart for some reason—sends Odessa and Meredy away from their city, and while they’re gone, they realize their feelings for each other and face off against the rogue mage who’s been working for (of course) Hadrien. What a transparent jerk, no? He was written that way because he’s not supposed to be a very good villain, but rather, a very arrogant one, and ultimately, that’s what leads to his downfall and his death at Odessa’s hands. All Hadrien wanted was change, some progress for his people, but he went about making them fear and hate their Dead rulers all wrong, by turning the Dead into dangerous monsters in front of the whole city.
Odessa and her friends dispatch the villains—human and Shade alike—with some unexpected heroism from Danial, one of my personal faves, who despite being a healer realizes that he has a warrior’s heart. But when all the fighting is done, and Valoria takes the throne to help steer Karthia into a new era of change, Odessa realizes she’s tired of fighting. She and Meredy agree that a relationship isn’t in the cards—their kiss was a mistake (is a kiss ever a mistake?).
Odessa boards the ship of her smuggler friend Kasmira (I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned her until now! Want more Kasmira? You can get your fix in January and see her use her powers like the queen of the seas she is!), The Paradise, and sets off to explore the unknown the way Evander always dreamed of doing. There’s just one problem: Meredy and the world’s cuddliest grizzly, Lysander, are also on board.
What’s a girl to do when stuck on a ship for an unspecified amount of time in a tiny cabin with her forbidden crush who’s always hot-and-cold? You can bet I had fun finding out. And soon, you can, too!
Get your copy of Song of the Dead here!