The story of 17-year-old Madison Avery, who is killed by a "dark reaper" named Kairos on her prom night. But by stealing Kairos's amulet in the process, Madison manages to retain her soul. Along with Barnabas, a beautiful "light reaper," and Grace, her guardian angel, Madison plots to repossess her body and protect her prom date from Kairos and the dark reapers' attempts to control time and fate. Having been content as an outsider, Madison must build her trust in others in order to save her life and discover her fate—though she doesn't even believe in it. The series was written by Kim Harrison, author of the popular The Hollows
book series; this was her first attempt at Young Adult novels.
There are 4 installments in the series, one short story and a trilogy of novels:
- Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper (short story, published in the anothology Prom Nights from Hell)
- Once Dead, Twice Shy
- Early to Death, Early to Rise
- Something Deadly This Way Comes
This series features examples of:
- A Birthday, Not a Break: Madison spends her seventeenth birthday finding out that she was only asked to prom as a pity date, getting into a car with a handsome stranger, being driven over a cliff, waking up in the morgue to be told that she’s dead, then her killer comes back to take her soul with him, and, after a long game of cat and mouse, she ends up as a ghost that can use a magical amulet to create a fake body. Happy birthday, Madison!
- Adorkable: Although he is a jock and quite popular, Josh has some definite tendencies towards this. Especially since he’s the only one in the main cast to be completely human with no powers.
- A Lighter Shadeof Grey: Dark reapers save souls, light reapers save lives. Of course, the side that isn’t constantly trying to kill people does come off as somewhat more likeable. At least in the beginning.
- Back from the Dead: Madison herself is this; she died in a car accident caused by a dark reaper and yet managed to snag a magical amulet that let her soul take on a physical form.
- Backstory: Madison and (to a much greater extent) Barnabas.
- Badass Longcoat: Barnabas.
- Big Eater: Josh has a very healthy appetite. This comes in handy when he has to eat Madison’s portion as well, since she doesn’t eat. However, it also serves as a reminder to her of what she’s missing.
- Both Sides Havea Point: If the dark reaper kills you, you die, but your soul is saved. If the light reaper saves you, you live, but your soul dies. A lose-lose situation if ever there was one.
- Broken Angel: Nakita specifically states that she doesn’t feel comfortable around her own kind anymore because she is “broken” after receiving an understanding of human emotion. She considers herself no longer perfect because she now knows fear. Barnabas also calls her broken, and Madison grieves that such a pure existence should be destroyed by her memory. (It might be worth noting that Nakita was in the middle of a nervous breakdown at the time.) The seraph tells Nakita it’s not a flaw, but a gift, and later she starts to consider it such, telling Madison she thinks she has a soul now, and worrying that Madison might want the small piece of her soul back.
- Celestial Bureaucracy: There are definite tendencies of this. Madison was an easy target because she was right in the middle of the jurisdiction of two different reapers, and they both refused responsibility for it. Also, there is the pecking order and the many different departments and agencies.
- Celestial Paragons and Archangels: The Seraphs count as this, coming across as awe-inspiring and very frightening.
- Cute Ghost Girl: Slightly subverted as Madison is portrayed as a punk-rocker style girl but still technically dead.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Dark reapers follow fate's choice for humanity and represent the hidden truth. Therefore, in a sense they are good angels.
- Deadpan Snarker: Madison, and maybe even to a greater extent, Barnabas.
- Defeat Means Friendship: Nakita. Barnabas is not happy about it.
- Domino Revelation: First angels aka reapers, and ghosts (Madison herself), to finally Time Keepers (lords of time control).
- Don't Fear the Reaper: At least not the light ones, or the ones working for Madison. If you see a dark reaper coming towards you with a sword, fear might be a good idea.
- Easily Forgiven: Nakita is allowed to be part of Madison’s group immediately after nearly killing Josh, threatening to kill Barnabas and then knocking him unconscious, as well as spending the entire book hunting Madison. Of course, this is more understandable and forgivable when you take into consideration that she was only doing her job, that she has been “broken” after she was given Madison’s fear and understanding of mortality, and that she killed her boss, Kairos, who was the one really trying to kill Madison. Besides, she did help the guys as soon as Madison asked her to. Nevertheless, not everyone is quite so quick to forgive.
- Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette / Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Nakita.
- Exact Words: The reason Barnabas failed to protect Madison is because he only works with seventeen-year-olds. Madison was sixteen when she stepped into the car, seventeen when it drove off the cliff.
- First Episode Spoiler: The series started off as a short story, Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper. In the beginning of the story, Madison is a normal girl at prom, pissed to learn that she is someone’s pity date. Then she gets into a car with a dark, handsome stranger who intentionally drives off the road and into a quarry in a convertible, killing her. She wakes up to two angels arguing about who is to blame for not having saved her. By the time the first novel starts, she has gotten used to her situation and is working with the angel who was held responsible for her death, learning how to control her ghostly abilities.
- First-Person Smartass: Madison.
- Foreign Exchange Student: Starting at the end of Once Dead, Twice Shy, Nakita and Barnabas pretend to be a brother and sister from Norway (which helps explain Nakita’s incomprehension of social protocol). In the third book Barnabas has apparently forgotten the county, claiming they’re from Denmark. It was not a mistake on the author’s part, because Madison remembers.
- Freudian Trio: With Nakita being the cool and task-oriented one, Barnabas being the caring, more compassionate one and Madison stuck trying to mediate between them and to make good decisions based on their advice.
- Friendless Background: Although she refers to friends she had at her old school (only one of which is ever named, her best friend Wendy), Madison displays this in the beginning of the story. This seems to be partly due to being the “new girl”, partly because she is considered a freak.
- Fun with Acronyms: Reconnaissance Error Acquisitions Personnel. Evaluation and Recovery. Also, Guardian, Reaper-Augmented Cherub, Extinction Security (the source of Grace’s name).
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: A very literal example with Barnabas and Nakita. While Nakita tries to convince Madison to give up on her ideas of changing the system and allow her to kill souls that are about to die, Barnabas supports her fight to save people’s lives ‘’and’’ souls, but still holds that it’s wrong to kill people should their attempts fail and the soul be endangered. They also function on a more basic level, with Nakita being in favor of efficiency over subtlety and using force to get what they need, while Barnabas, who is more patient and used to humans, tends to opt for the slightly more subtle.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!!: Madison does this all the time. “Puppy presents on the rug!” and “Son of a dead puppy!” are among the favorites.
- Grey and Gray Morality: Dark reapers save souls at the expense of the body. Light reapers save bodies at the expense of the soul. Dark reapers are the ones who follow fate and do as they are told, while light reapers are rogues who believe in humanity’s right to change their own fate (although we have never been shown an example where this had worked without angelic intervention). In the beginning, Madison is hunted by dark reapers and protected by the light ones. And then Madison becomes the dark timekeeper, and it’s the light reapers who are most in the way when she tries to save both the soul and the body, not to mention that the light timekeeper is getting close to being the main antagonist. It’s complicated.
- Guardian Angel: These appear a lot. They seem to be miniscule in size and mostly invisible to humans; even Madison can't see anything but their light. They certainly have a nifty way of "saving" people by indirect cause and effect, making them the most unique of angels in the Harrison novels.
- Hazy Feel Turn: Nakita. She defies the dark timekeeper who follows the seraphs’ orders and instead helps the dark timekeeper who believes in free will (which goes against the dark reaper mission statement). Although she is willing to help Madison with her free will “experiment”, she’s reaching for her scythe the moment things start to go awry. Also, there is Barnabas, who goes from being a light to a grim reaper (previously described as rogues who kill at will) in order to help Madison. He goes from saving people from dark reapers to, well, saving people from dark reapers, but he is still considered a traitor to his kind.
- How Do I Shoot Web?: Madison has to struggle to master each and every one of her powers. Fortunately, she has Barnabas (and later Nakita) to help her.
- Humanity Is Infectious: Nakita makes a Hazy Feel Turn after being exposed to a black wing which had eaten some of Madison’s memories. This exposed her to human emotion (specifically, fear) which she had never felt or understood before. At first, she had a breakdown because she wasn’t a perfect angel anymore, then she decided to help Madison. Barnabas seems to have been infected with humanity a long time ago and has a much better understanding of humans than any other angel we meet.
- Humans Are Special: One of the seraphs tells Madison this outright, saying that what makes them special is their ability to create and be creative, even to the point where they can create an end. He also says this is the reason only humans can manipulate the time stream, because they have a much closer perspective than any of the celestial beings do.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Madison, especially in the beginning, and whenever she gets upset with the angels and their ways. Lately, though, she has come to see the timekeeper job as an important way to make a difference in the world, not to mention how she has come to love Barnabas and Nakita, and when her timekeeper status is in question, she is very worried that she might lose it.
- I Know Your True Name: When Madison is assigned guardian angel G.R.A.C.E.S. one-seventy-six, she decides to call her Grace. This turns out to be a big deal both to Grace and the other angels (and Ron), because it’s pretty much unheard of, and it allows her to give Grace orders that defy Ron’s. Grace is worried that they will take her name away from her, but she is allowed to keep it after she is assigned as a messenger to Madison permanently.
- It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: In the beginning, all Madison wants is to be normal, until her new life begins to grow on her.
- Knight Templar: Um, pretty much all the reapers, plus the old time keepers.
- Lack of Empathy: Dark reapers have a tendency to present as this, because they view killing humans as a job and have a complete lack of understanding when it comes to the worth humans put into human life, compared to the worth of the soul. Light reapers occasionally come off the same way, even though their mission is to save humans, because they act like it is more about the job and the principle than about the actual human being.
- Light Is Good: Light reapers follow the idea that humans should have choice and represent free will, making them good, if outcast, angels.
- Literal-Minded: Nakita has many impressive skills and abilities. Understanding sarcasm and figures of speech is not one of them.
- Little Miss Snarker: Madison.
- Loners Are Freaks: Madison displays some of this at the beginning of the series. Then she befriends Barnabas, and eventually ends up with a small group of True Companions.
- Meaningful Name: Kairos, Chronos, Barbarus, etc.
- Mind Control Eyes: Barnabas and Nakita’s eyes turn silver when they use their angelic powers, especially when they use them to addle people’s minds or make them forget things in order to protect themselves and Madison.
- New Transfer Student: Madison is the “new girl” at her school and hardly knows anyone. At the end of ‘’Once Dead, Twice Shy’’, Barnabas and Nakita pretend to be this when they start attending Madison’s school with her.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: One of Madison’s missions is trying to save a girl whose soul would die after she left her little brother (whom she was meant to be babysitting) alone to die when their apartment burned down. She inadvertently drives the girl to stay at home, resulting in her and her brother dying together. Ironically, everyone else seems to think this was a much better solution. Madison doesn’t agree.
- No Sympathy: After she dies, Madison wakes up to two angels, Lucy and Barnabas, arguing over which of them is responsible for her death and who has to take her soul “where it needs to go”. When she has a panic attack, Lucy mocks her for being a fainter. Averted with Barnabas, who does his best to make it easier for her and even chastises Lucy for her lack of sympathy, while still maintaining that this was not his fault.
- Older Than They Look: Pretty much all of the central characters, except Madison, Josh, Madison's parents, and (presumably) Paul. Barnabas was old when the pyramids were new, but he can pass for a high-school student.
- Ordinary High School Student: Madison starts out as one. Josh still is one.
- Our Angels Are Different: Angels have light and dark counterparts. There is (so far) no evidence of demons at all in the universe but the light angels can be counted as the Fallen Angel variety.
- Our Souls Are Different
- Pervert Revenge Mode: On their first day at Madison’s school, Nakita slams the boyfriend of one of the popular girls against a locker and tells him that if he touches her “there” again, he will die.
- Power at a Price: On the plus side, Madison can control time, has visions that help her save people and has several angels at her disposal. On the down side, she’s dead.
- Powers in the First Episode: In the short story, Madison is normal until she gets killed and becomes a ghost. Her timekeeper powers don’t start manifesting until the first novel, thought.
- Prophecies Are Always Right: Averted. When the timekeepers flash forward, they only see a potential future, which the dark reapers try to avert by reaping people early, while Madison tries to avert it by changing their actions and saving both their souls and their lives.
- Race Againstthe Clock: Once Madison flashes forward, they have to work quickly if they’re going to stop the event from happening. Also, if Madison has flashed forward, it can be assumed that Ron has too, so they are in a rush to get to the person before they can be given a guardian angel.
- Really 700 Years Old: Chronos and Kairos.
- Retcon: If you read Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper after the first book, it is clear that Harrison hadn’t quite figured out everything yet. This is especially noticeable when it comes to the terminology. Reapers are sometimes referred to as “black” and “white”, rather than “dark” and “light”, and instead of the talk of fate and saving souls, the reapers talk about people’s “coin being flipped”, an expression which is never repeated in the main series. Also, Barnabas and Lucy’s amulets are described as black. It later becomes a relevant plot point that the color of the reapers’ amulets reflects their allegiance on a spectrum similar to that of light (infrared to ultraviolet, with red being the most faithful light reapers and violet being the color of the most faithful dark reapers). In Once Dead, Twice Shy, Barnabas’ amulet is orange, and he is very distressed in the later books as it starts to shift up the spectrum the more he works with Madison.
- Screw Destiny: Pretty much the mission statement of Madison and her friends.
- Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Barnabas and Nakita.
- The Chosen One: Madison (and Paul), chosen to be not only a timekeeper, but the timekeeper to change how Heaven works.
- The Insomniac: Madison has type D. Being dead, she is no longer able to sleep, which can be a real annoyance for her, because it leaves her with nothing to do all night, but it’s also risky to leave her room, since her father might check in. She usually spends this time with Barnabas, though.
- The Needless: Madison and all the angels. Subverted with the timekeppers, since Madison upon getting her body back suddenly feels hungry again.
- The Sleepless: The reapers and the other angels, possibly the timekeepers.
- Time Abyss: Barnabas and (at least it’s implied) the other reapers. The seraphs would also count.
- Time Master: The timekeepers, Chronos, Madison, Kairos and Paul. Interestingly, no angels have this power, and it is stated by one of the seraphs that only humans can twist time.
- Troubled Backstory Flashback: Barnabas talking about the first time he fell because he fell in love with a human girl.
- Tsundere: Madison.
- Undeath Always Ends: In Something Deadly This Way Comes, Madison finds her body and moves back in, meaning she is alive again.
- Urban Fantasy
- Visit by Divorced Dad: Inverted. Madison has been sent by her mother to live with her father because of rebelling and falling in with the wrong crowd, and it is her mother who occasionally comes to visit.
- Winged Humanoid: All of the angels, seraphs, and even minor guardian angels seem to have wings. The exceptions to this are Kairos and Chronos; being human, they lack wings but travel in more...interesting ways.
- You Can't Fight Fate: This is essentially the world view of the dark reapers, which is why they kill people whose soul is destined to die. Ironically, Kairos tries to go against this by killing Madison to keep her from replacing him as the dark timekeeper. This results in Nakita killing him and Madison replacing him as the dark timekeeper. One of the seraphs suggests that Chronos feels this way too.