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Dearly Departed coverDearly Departed is a novel about a young woman named Theodora Sharp, the granddaughter and protégé of Dorothea Sharp. It is a coming-of-age story, with the novel’s major themes being death and grief, while loneliness and family are its minor themes.

Theodora—Teddy—is an orphan, a young genius who by the age of nine was the youngest piccolo player to play in a symphony, created a multinational company by fourteen, and graduated Massachusetts Institute of Technology at seventeen. An heiress already, she later creates “Leviathan” on the dark web, a place where she sells weapons created with “nether energy” to demon hunters.

All seems as normal as possible given the circumstances when, one night after her eighteenth birthday, Teddy has a rude awakening as she is about to fall asleep. She hears a “whimper then a thud”: something is coming down the stairway and it does not “sound like footsteps.” To her horror, it’s her assistant Nikki’s decapitated head, which lands at her feet with eyes still open.

Lady Lenuta, a demon, has been extracting nether energy from the weapons made by Teddy and using it to try and turn humans into demons—since her species are on the verge of extinction due to the hunters to whom Teddy sells her wares. But Lady Lenuta’s experiments have kept failing, and so she abducts the two Sharps, desperate to save her kind from extinction. Dorothea Sharp is tasked with perfecting the experiments if she wishes to see Teddy alive, but she stalls. However, a secret unravels in the place where they are being held captive and tortured: Teddy finds out that she is Death’s Scythe and that she was not adopted. She had died as a baby and her grandmother made a deal with Death after noticing how grief-stricken her parents were when she passed.

More secrets, secret societies, shadowy organizations, and unsolved mysteries unravel as the story progresses. The dark cave where most of the Sharps’ hidden secrets come to light is used by the author in a very symbolic way: this hole in which they are being held captive mirrors how dark and deep the secrets the Sharps hold really are … and yet they, too, must escape. The novel establishes a “truth shall set you free” scenario as we find out Theodora could actually defend herself from her assailants if she knew how to control her powers as Death’s Scythe.

Only her context is radically different from the experience of most teens. Teddy’s present is riddled with the deaths of people close to her, or people she once considered close, or people she held dear—like her best friend, Rory Wallace, or ex-boyfriend and childhood friend Matthew. And, of course, there’s Death itself. Being an ancient being, and an infernal one, Death has given its artifacts life in order to offer them a chance to defend themselves and fight for future worlds. Theodora, following her grandmother’s deal, is one of them. One could say, then, that Theodora’s hardships were intended to prepare her for whatever her future as an artifact held, refining her for whatever lay ahead in a war of worlds.

Running from her past and crashing into the present, workaholic Teddy never once visited her parents’ graves and would make up excuses not to, as if ashamed that she is still alive. She has impostor syndrome, and stares at her unrealistic public portraits, airbrushed to a perfection that is unattainable in real life. She is, she thinks, just a “normal abnormal” girl with “normal abnormal” problems and a void she thought needed to be filled with a robust, reckless social life.

In this way, the novel’s epic story mirrors the war within Teddy’s own heart and mind. Theodora Sharp is a lost little girl on the path to adulthood, trying to find herself within the chaos. Her absence and aloofness from the rest of the world are evident when her friend Rory tells her, “Unlike you I actually keep up with what’s going on in the world, I actually care about things outside myself.” Teddy’s self-absorption in her grief is another sort of retreat from others: intimidated by the matriarch with whom she thought she had no blood ties, and intimidated by the fact she might embarrass her by not being able to fully fill her shoes as a Sharp, Teddy fails to realise or learn in time to cherish the relationship with her grandmother that she ultimately loses. Throughout, Teddy must ask herself who she is, what her purpose in life might be, both as Death’s Scythe and as a person, as a Sharp. Is she a hero or a villain in her own story?

This book being only the first in the Angel of Death series, is part of the author’s Infernal Artifacts Collection, and Theodora is just one of those Artifacts. I’m excited to find out about the other Infernals in the coming books, to see all the Artifacts assemble and somehow manage to fight for “future worlds.” And I’m also excited to see Theodora’s character evolve from a self-absorbed teenager to a figure on whom ordinary citizens can depend to defend their humanity.

Racheal Chie is a writer from Zimbabwe. Her work has appeared in The Blue Marble Review, Eureka Street, Wet Dreamz Journal, East Wave Magazine, Sage Cigarettes, Stick Figure Journal, CloutBase Magazine, Poetry, and She is the receiver of the 2019 Certificate Petal Star Award from Inked with Magic, and a Certificate of Appreciation from The Writer’s Manger Network. She was the first winner of the Fortnight Poetry Competition, second runner-up in the Kuchanaya Poetry Contest, and the third runner-up of the Black History Poetry Slam.
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