Review of ‘Reaping the Benefits’ by EJ Noyes, Audiobook narrated by Abby Craden
I’ve said it before and I say it now. There are some writer/narrator partnerships that will make me go get the audiobook 8without hesitation. No matter the genre, the type of story, the point of view, no matter anything. EJ Noyes and Abby Craden’s association is at the top of my list. I’ll listen to any audiobook with those two names on the label, no questions asked. Having said that, I have to say that ‘Reaping the Benefits’ wasn’t my favourite.
Morgan Ashworth is Death Head Minion whose job is to assign the type of afterlife each human will enjoy after their passing. When she tells one of her human employees, Jane Smith, that she needs to complete her afterlife form, Jane asks Morgan to help her complete her bucket list. It seems easy enough, except for the fact of their mutual attraction and one of the items in Jane’s list is ‘sleep with my boss’.
EJ Noyes is one of the most popular lesfic authors who has written a series of fantastic books. All of them, until now, in first person point of view. A lot has been said about this upcoming release which is written in third person, much of the discussion initiated by the author herself who has stressed many times that the change in pov has been a struggle for her. I have to admit that all this hype around a narration technique might have acted as a forewarning to me, as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Because I approached this book with a bit of trepidation I might have spooked myself so much so that I couldn’t finish reading it. First. Time. Ever.
As the audiobook was released very close to the book publishing date, I gave up and skipped to the audio version with the extra incentive of Abby Craden as the narrator. Now, many people will agree with me that Ms. Craden can read the phone directory and make it enjoyable. This is true to a certain extent, but there is so much that a narrator can do with a written text, and miracles aren’t one of them. So, I still struggled, but the listening experience was way more palatable.
Any reviewer can tell you that the level of enjoyment of a book depends not only on the novel itself but also on other factors like, for example, the reader’s expectations. Unfortunately, my expectations when it comes to a book by this author skyrocket, so this same written text by any other author might have made a rating of 4.5 or 5 stars but with Ms. Noyes? Sorry but no. It’s all very subjective but it is what it is. So, please take this review with a pinch of salt.
I wondered what was my exact struggle with this novel. I’m not sure if it’s the change in pov but more about the level of immersion in a character’s headspace which Ms. Noyes does so well and in this novel was only present in small scattered doses. One can argue that it’s a pov choice, but I disagree. For me, the issue was the psychic distance, that is, how close the narration is to the mind of the viewpoint character. Many authors manage to get very close to the character in third person but I couldn’t feel it here. I’m sure that, with the right inspiration, Ms. Noyes would manage too.
That takes me to the other issue I struggled with which is the genre of this novel. This is the first paranormal book by Ms. Noyes. The challenge in creating a fantasy world is that there is an amount of new information that has to be introduced so that the reader understands this parallel universe. Ms. Noyes used a few initial chapters to do this and I admit that I got bored. The concept of administering afterlife packages to humans so they can enjoy their life after death is interesting, the universe Ms. Noyes created is original, and the characters are multilayered (Death herself is impressive), but the first half for me dragged a bit.
Now, in the second half the overall tone of the narrative changes from informative and light to dramatic. What appears to be heading towards a simple romance of boss-employee in an unusual paranormal setting, transforms into a soul searching, heart-wrenching questioning about the meaning of love and death. Parts of this read reminded me of ‘The Immortal’, a short story written by Jorge Luis Borges, in which he challenges the Christian conception of immortality as eternal bliss. Morgan is trapped in her immortality and inadvertently punished by falling in love with mortal women and knowing the inexorable heartbreak of losing a loved one is inevitable (I’m not spoiling anything as this is in the book blurb). This existential questioning was the best part of the book but its resolution, maybe because this is a romance, after all, was a bit of a cop-out of this conflict.
Abby Craden’s narration was, as usual, awesome in her different voices, tone, characterisations, and overall performance. I have to admit that her British accent for Morgan wasn’t my favourite, it sounded too posh for this character. She used a similar accent to perform Lady Diana Beckinsale in ‘My Lady Lipstick’ by Karin Kallmaker, but that character was a royalty member so it made more sense. Having said that, I don’t think that it will affect the listening experience of the American audience. I absolutely loved her performance of Death who, for me, stole the show.
Overall, an ok lesbian paranormal romance audiobook. 3.5 stars for the story, 4.5 for the narration. Average, 4 stars.