The best books with death in them

Jeanette Battista Author Of An Unkindness of Ravens
By Jeanette Battista

The Books I Picked & Why

Reaper Man

By Terry Pratchett

Book cover of Reaper Man

Why this book?

I got this book in the airport on my way back from a summer spent in England studying King Arthur (both the legend and the historical figure). Reaper Man was my introduction to Pratchett and I am grateful every day that I chose this and not the book on the fall of Rome that was also in the running for my attention. Pratchett’s Death is a delight, especially in this outing where he has lost his job and takes up work on a farm to help bring in the harvest. Unfortunately, his absence causes all kinds of problems (at least until a new Death is created to take his position) and ends up involving an undead wizard, a support group for various monsters, and a sentient compost heap. Also Death rides a horse named Binky! Equal turns hilarious and biting, Reaper Man is still one of my comfort reads.

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The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

By Neil Gaiman, Kelley Jones

Book cover of The Sandman Vol. 4: Season of Mists

Why this book?

Season of Mists is my favorite of Gaiman’s graphic novels from his stellar Sandman run. Death, Dream’s older sister, appears at the end of the first arc and proved to be a fan favorite from that first on-page appearance. She’s a lovely, sweet, and utterly kind incarnation of the boundary that severs this life from whatever comes after. Gaiman creating a comforting presence out of an idea that terrifies most people. She’s charming in this installment, forcing her brother to face his misdeeds with compassion and honesty. It’s no wonder she is one of the only people in his family that Dream listens to!

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The Book Thief

By Markus Zusak

Book cover of The Book Thief

Why this book?

Do you want to be destroyed by a book? This one’s for you! I bought this novel the day it came out after hearing one line read in a television interview. I knew I had to read the rest of it. Death narrates the events of The Book Thief and his perspective is by turns haunting and humbling. The story focuses on a girl growing up in World War II (she is the book thief of the title) and the times Death checks in on her after their first “meeting.” The last line of the book still gives me chills to this day.

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Pretty Deadly Volume 1: The Shrike

By Kelly Sue DeConnick

Book cover of Pretty Deadly Volume 1: The Shrike

Why this book?

Full disclosure—I spent a huge chunk of my growing up watching Westerns. From Wild Wild West, the television show my mother loved to watch on Saturday nights when I was really little, to my foray into every Spaghetti Western Clint Eastwood ever made, to Firefly, I love Westerns. This graphic novel combines that genre with a smidge of horror to craft a beautiful story about love, Death, and the bad choices that are made because of both. It introduces Deathface Ginny, the daughter of Death himself. Pretty Deadly melds mythology and folklore, the story bolstered by arresting visuals and epic fight sequences. Absolutely gorgeous!

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On a Pale Horse

By Piers Anthony

Book cover of On a Pale Horse

Why this book?

This is the first in his Incarnations of Immortality and I read this book when I was likely in middle school. While I was disappointed in later books in the series, On a Pale Horse still holds up pretty well. An ordinary guy shoots Death and then must take up his mantle. He has no idea how to do the job. While not laugh out loud funny, like Pratchett, Pale Horse has its moments of humor—the scene where Death collects the soul of an atheist comes to mind. It asks the questions about what life means, examines what might happen in the afterlife, and wonders if death/Death is really something to fear.

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