Beautiful Death by Joely Sue Burkhart
Publisher: Drollerie Press
Rating: 4.5 books
Reviewed by Cherry Blossom
Humanity has been decimated by by an alien virus. Some have become monsters, a few have remained human, and far too many are dead. A vaccine saves a remnant of humanity and they begin to rebuild, taking on new names to represent their new lives and their hope of a better future.
Isabella Thanatos, Beautiful Death to the people of New Olympia, is a killing machine who has dedicated her life to protecting her people. Athens, her city, is the jewel in the crown of the civilization they've built off of the ruins of their old lives and she won't let any monster run loose in her city except Hades, the seductively beautiful alien whose people loosed the virus on humanity and caused their ruin. He is a welcome visitor and sits on the city council--but not by her choice. He missed his opportunity to kill her long ago, but she won't miss hers.
When Isabella discovers she's been mysteriously contaminated with the virus, she knows she should kill herself before she becomes the very thing she hates. Fearing for her people but desperate to find out how and why she was contaminated before she has to die, Isabella runs to the only one who can help her, the monster Hades.
Outside the city she discovers that everything she was taught is a lie. There is no chaos, the contaminated live in harmony with humans, what Hades wants to do to her--with her--doesn't include death, and the city she loves is controlled by a monster in the guise of a man.
Isabella Thanatos, known as Beautiful Death, brings peace to the hopeless in its most final guise: a quick death to those condemned to slow agony or homicidal madness by a mutating virus that rampages throughout the world. She serves her city of New Athens with a dedication that has no equal, and at a great cost to herself. Her friend Icarus calls what she does mercy killing, but she sees no mercy in herself. The populace of the city worships her, but she doesn’t want to be their hero. And the most powerful creature on Earth is the monstrous alien responsible for the illness that ravaged humanity—and he attracts her in ways she refuses to acknowledge.
If things were simple, Isabella would just carry on protecting New Athens and the new way of life humanity is carving out for itself out of the ruins of own civilization. But when she’s ordered to kill a healthy human who doesn’t seem to pose any danger, when the illness she’s been fighting begins its own assault on her body, her life starts to disintegrate. Nothing is as she’s been told, and what she knows is only part of the horrible truth. Who are the real monsters now?
In this rare blend of science-fiction and romance, Joely Sue Burkhart weaves a tale of interstellar conspiracies and power struggles, of intermingling of alien species and a future world that holds a fragile promise of hope. While the plot is engrossing and maintains a satisfying intensity throughout the story, the twists and turns, and especially the resolution, are dependent on the inner growth of the characters, not on external events. And every character is memorable, from the flamboyant clothes designer Icarus, to the faithful warrior Herakles, and of course the resplendent heroes Isabella and Hades.
To make a story good, the enemies need to be indestructible, and however much the heroes build their power, the sense of desperation must remain. Here too, the author succeeds in pitting Isabella and Hades against more-than-worthy opponents. When everything seems so easy, then disaster strikes. Joely Sue Burkhart foreshadows the end with delicate skill, but doesn’t allow the reader to feel certain of the conclusion, or of any victory, major or minor, throughout the story.
From the suggestive use of mythological names, the careful threading of themes and images, to the careful development of the relationship between the hero and heroine, so necessary to the main plot, Beautiful Death is a gem of a science fiction novel, and a wonderful romance, that will please readers of both genres. I couldn’t put it down. I will be looking for more stories by this author.