This series is intended to be read in sequence, so this review may contain some spoilers of the first book, Black Dog.
Grim Tidings is the second book in Caitlin Kittredge’s HELLHOUND CHRONICLES. Ava, the human hellhound and her lover, the necromancer Leo, can barely catch their breath before they are hurled into a new set of adventures.
Leo is now, officially, the Grim Reaper, but to fully assume his title he needs the Reaper’s Scythe. He and Ava assume it’s in Reaper Headquarters in Minneapolis, so they head there. Ava has not had a chance to tell Leo that when she was in Tartarus she made a deal with yet another entity, and before she can fix that oversight they are fighting a rebellious reaper named Owen, with a faction of anti-Owen reapers on their side… if Leo can prove himself.
Ava is having trouble concentrating, though, because monsters from her past have re-emerged in Kansas City. Leaving Leo to fight his own battle, Ava goes to confront some smart, ravenous zombies who function like vampires — “zompires.” Along the way, Ava will tangle with her own memories and a serial killer who was dubbed The Walking Man.
As with the first book, the characterizations in Grim Tidings are unusual, crisp and full of life. Ava and Leo have a Bonnie-and-Clyde vibe that works really well. They are both becoming, I think, good people — but they are not particularly law-abiding ones. I enjoyed the characters of Uriel and a man named Jacob, who met Ava in 1944 in a German death camp. Ava continues to develop, and is an appealing mixture of wise-cracking badass and vulnerable woman. A bit surprisingly for this type of urban fantasy, this book spends quite a bit of time on vulnerability, not just Ava’s but that of the serial killer, the Walking Man, as well.
The Walking Man is much more than a human serial killer, and it’s no surprise to discover that he, like Leo and Ava, is being manipulated by nameless others who have a definite agenda. There are layers here, and Kittredge is taking her time about peeling them back. I like that.
The energy of Grim Tidings is slower than the first book. Black Dog crisscrossed the continental USA with the verve of a six-year-old playing hopscotch. Grim Tidings, which moves around in time, is simply not that agile. Even with chapter headings that gave me the year, I had trouble knowing where I was in time; was it 1944 Germany? 1947 Kansas City? 1951, somewhere in the Midwest? Ava’s bad habit of letting everyone get the drop on her, leading once again to blackouts as chapter endings, exacerbated this problem.
So many plusses make up for that confusion, though. It is possible to fear the Walking Man and feel sorry for him at the same time. The background story, with its angels from The Kingdom, the Fallen and some very vengeful demons, is great. The story mines icons from the USA’s cultural mythos — like missile silos — to feed into a disturbing, pre-apocalyptic riff that I found completely convincing. Because it was convincing, Leo’s and Ava’s decision at the end also convinced me. Black Dog was an origin story. With Grim Tidings, both our heroes seem poised to stop reacting and start taking action. Ultimately, Grim Tidings is a satisfying read.
The Hellhound Chronicles — (2014-2016) A fabulous dark urban fantasy series — think Kill Bill with demons and gangsters instead of martial arts—from the award-winning author of the Iron Codex trilogy and Vertigo comic Coffin Hill. Ava has spent the last hundred years as a hellhound, the indentured servant of a reaper who hunts errant souls and sends them to Hell. When a human necromancer convinces her to steal her reaper’s scythe, Ava incurs the wrath of the demon Lilith, her reaper’s boss. As punishment for her transgression, Lilith orders Ava to track down the last soul in her reaper’s ledger… or die trying. But after a hundred years of servitude, it’s time for payback. And Hell hath no fury like an avenging Ava…