The best books with personification of death

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the personification of death and why they recommend each book.

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Gods of Jade and Shadow

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia,

Book cover of Gods of Jade and Shadow

Okay, maybe this one’s not so much a wintery book as a bright summery book, but I couldn’t leave it off this list. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s books are consistently amazing, but this one is my favorite. A woman assigned to clean the floors of her grandfather’s florid estate and dreaming of something more finds a mysterious wooden box, and opening it releases the spirit of the Mayan god of death who’s been imprisoned there. He enlists her help freeing his realm from his treacherous brother, and if she succeeds, she can have everything she’s ever wanted—namely, freedom. Set in Jazz Age Mexico, the sharp, beautiful prose and delicious eeriness of Casiopeia’s journey to the underworld combine to make a heart-stopping tale of Mexican folklore from a master storyteller. 


Who am I?

In my debut novel, The Waking Forest, a girl with terrible nightmares, a wish-granting witch, and a sleeping princess are forced to reckon with a truth long buried when their worlds collide. To write this book I took everything I loved about fairy tales and tried to create something exciting and new. I will always write fairy tales because they give us hope and show us that there is a light in the darkness. They show us that there is always more wonder to be found in the world, if only we are willing to look.


I wrote...

The Waking Forest

By Alyssa Wees,

Book cover of The Waking Forest

What is my book about?

The waking forest has secrets. To Rhea, it appears like a mirage, dark and dense, at the very edge of her backyard. But when she reaches out to touch it, the forest vanishes. She’s desperate to know more—until she finds a peculiar boy who offers to reveal its secrets. If she plays a game.

To the Witch, the forest is her home, where she sits on her throne of carved bone, waiting for dreaming children to beg her to grant their wishes. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives and asks her what she wishes for, but the Witch sends him away. And then the uninvited guest returns. The strangers are just the beginning. Something is stirring in the forest, and when Rhea’s and the Witch’s paths collide, a truth more treacherous and deadly than either could ever imagine surfaces. But how much are they willing to risk to survive?

Death with Interruptions

By José Saramago,

Book cover of Death with Interruptions

I’ve saved my “riskiest” pick for last—you might not like this one, or at least you might be wondering for two-thirds of the book what the heck is going on, other than that you are reading about a country in which no one dies. The book starts by earnestly (and sometimes humorously) asking and answering questions: what do you do with so many living people? What do you do with people who are say, gravely wounded in an accident but can’t die and also can’t recover? What are not just the logistical but emotional challenges of no one departing? Would people want to live in such a country? Or flee it? Saramago was a philosopher before he was a writer, and he loves pondering things... And then, all of a sudden, the book shifts, it switches into another gear entirely and becomes a beautifully moving story about Death taking a…


Who am I?

I am a writer of speculative novels, captivated by fictional worlds that resemble ours and don’t, stories that travel to places we find strange (sometimes even unsettling) but can’t look away from, tales we feel in our minds and in our guts. For me writing and reading, though they seem sedentary activities, are actually physical acts we experience with our entire being and body—before I became a writer I was a professional ballet dancer, and I’ve never lost the sense that stories are movement, making you feel like you’re flying even if you’re sitting still. I’ve written seven books, and love that my job is leaping with readers.


I wrote...

Our Eyes at Night: The Last Ghost Series, Book Three

By M. Dressler,

Book cover of Our Eyes at Night: The Last Ghost Series, Book Three

What is my book about?

In a remote town in the desert Southwest, a house appears to remodel itself, a cemetery is rearranged, and an ancient valley is suddenly haunted by a glimmering visitor. Called in to “clean” the unwanted dead, ghost expert Philip Pratt finds himself in territory at once familiar and unfamiliar, stalking the spirit of Emma Rose Finnis—a ghost who has come to this harsh place to see just how far a soul can go. In a cat-and-mouse game between the living and the dead, Pratt and Emma must each confront how far they are willing to travel into this stunning landscape, already filled with the people and spirits of the past. As their encounters become more and more dangerous, the living and the dead each become more certain they must control their own destinies—even if it means risking their souls.

The Merchant of Death

By D.J. MacHale,

Book cover of The Merchant of Death

As a kid, I loved all kinds of fiction—sci-fi, fantasy, realistic, historical—pretty much anything I could get my hands on! D.J. MacHale’s Pendragon series magically captures the best of every genre. In The Merchant of Death, Bobby Pendragon, a seemingly normal fourteen-year-old boy, finds himself pulled into an alternate dimension ruled by a magical tyrant. Bobby learns he is a Traveler, someone gifted with the ability to travel between alternate dimensions (called Territories) and his destiny is much bigger than he could ever have imagined. The Merchant of Death is a thrilling start to a captivating YA adventure!


Who am I?

I’m a YA fantasy writer, and I’ve been addicted to stories of adventure for as long as I can remember. My love of story filled me with a heart for other worlds and realms and a fondness of reading things that challenged my heart and mind here in the real world. Stories are what make us human, and we storytellers are tasked with challenging readers’ assumptions about how the world, life, love, and humanity works. My obsession with story-telling led me to write my YA fantasy series The Annals of Lusiartha


I wrote...

Sedich: The Annals of Lusiartha

By R. Ann Humphries,

Book cover of Sedich: The Annals of Lusiartha

What is my book about?

Enslaved since the age of six, Rilan Crendu lives at the bottom of the Regiment hierarchy, working in the fields of his small island home. Lusiartha is a world divided into those who have power and those who do not, where disobedience means swift retribution and personal choice does not exist. Rilan craves freedom, knowing that there is more to life than the labor forced upon his dark-skinned people. But unknown to Rilan, a secret society exists that struggles against the Regiment. This group, motivated by ancient prophecy, captures Rilan and takes him to their hideout. There, Rilan learns of the sedich, a centuries-old stone imbued with the power of the Creator, and takes its power into himself. 

Death's Merchant

By Justan Henner,

Book cover of Death's Merchant: Common Among Gods - Book One

This one is a long, very long, fantasy epic, so be warned! Despite the length of the work, it ended up being an incredible read. Trin is one of the main characters the story follows. She’s a young woman who ‘accidentally’ unleashed a curse that has doomed the world to a future of death and destruction, and she’s desperately seeking a way to break this curse. In so doing, she gets caught up in an ancient blood feud between gods and full-blown war between mighty empires. 


Who am I?

I have an amazing daughter in my life, and I want there to be more books for her to read that feature strong, admirable, and good women in leading roles. That’s one of the things I keep an eye out for in the books I read as well as the books I write.


I wrote...

Her Name Was Abby (His Name Was Zach)

By Peter Martuneac,

Book cover of Her Name Was Abby (His Name Was Zach)

What is my book about?

Weeks after her fifteenth birthday, Abby lost her family, her friends, and her home in one fell night. Now alone in a post-apocalyptic America, she must journey West to find civilization. But a bitter winter is setting in all around her, and violent psychopaths and hordes of the undead stand in her way.

And even if Abby can escape this lawless wild of monsters and madness, the shadows of the past are not so easily abandoned...

The Angel of History

By Rabih Alameddine,

Book cover of The Angel of History: A Novel

A few years ago we at Gertrude lit journal decided to answer the question that kept coming our way: What are some great books written by queer people with narratives that center on queer people? Before the pandemic made a mess of things, we ran GERTIE, a book club that chose two fabulous queer books every quarter. This was our very first book selection, and—like with many firsts, perhaps—it holds a special place.

The Angel of History takes place during one night in the waiting room of a San Francisco psyche ward when visits by the Devil and 14 Saints reveal the life of Jacob, a Yemen-born poet who was born in an Egyptian whorehouse. Yes, you read that right. 


Who am I?

I’m a serial mover, living in 18 cities in three countries (so far) – though that has settled down (kinda) now that my lady and I find ourselves with three kids + a fish, kitten, and 100-pound dog. Wherever we land, we single-handedly support the entire local restaurant industry. My debut novel was lucky enough to do well and has inspired a short film, which will hopefully usher it down the long road to TV series… 


I wrote...

Sugar Land

By Tammy Lynne Stoner,

Book cover of Sugar Land

What is my book about?

Sugar Land follows the life of Dara, a prison cook in the 1920s, who is inspired by real life blues singer and prisoner Lead Belly to break out of her own prisons and become the fabulous, gay matriarch to a family of Texas trailer park misfits. 

First Grave on the Right

By Darynda Jones,

Book cover of First Grave on the Right

You can’t get any hotter than the son of Satan. If you add eons spent suffering the tortures of hell, not to mention a childhood of serious abuse in this lifetime, you have the poster child for the hottest tortured hero, as well. 

But while Reyes is hot and the love scenes hotter, it’s actually the humor in this series that I love the most. The heroine (she who saves the hero) is a PI called Charlie Davidson, who moonlights as the grim reaper. Her zany ADHD personality and penchant for giving names to everything in her life, including furniture, not to mention the hysterical memes at the beginning of each chapter, make this and all the books a laugh a minute. I shed a few tears when this series ended.


Who am I?

I’ve always read and written Romance. But while my real life took center stage, I consigned my manuscripts to gather dust in my bottom desk drawer and went off to teach English and History and raise a family. When my real life got less hectic and the Indie Revolution started, I dragged my stories out, dusted them off, and started publishing them. Lo and behold, readers loved them as much as I did, and suddenly I had a whole new career. Teaching literature tends to make you critical, and I was super-critical of my ‘trashy’ romances. Now I’m proud I write stories women can read to relax and be entertained by. 


I wrote...

The Barbarian's Mistress

By Nhys Glover,

Book cover of The Barbarian's Mistress

What is my book about?

Vali, the Norse giant, became the sex slave of Roman patricians when he was captured as a young teen. Since then he has grown angrier and more violent with every passing year. When his violence leads to the punishment of the gladiatorial arena he is offered one way out. He can gain his freedom if he can get the innocent and beautiful Anniana to her prospective husband in Pompeii before her unscrupulous mother makes her the wife of the vile and decadent new emperor. But when Pompeii is destroyed and her mother sends assassins to track Anniana down, it becomes a chase across the breadth of the Roman Empire to keep her safe. Vali will need to shield the sweet girl from the many dangers of the journey, as well as the worst threat of all: himself.

Duck, Death and the Tulip

By Wolf Erlbruch,

Book cover of Duck, Death and the Tulip

It may seem like too much to have Death as a character in a child's picturebook. But this book can be a good companion to children's curiosity or their experience of death and loss in their own lives, whether it be of a pet, a loved one, or someone in their community. There is an unafraid normality to the characterisation of Death in this book. This Death is friendly, companionable, and caring. Duck's reaction to Death mirrors what our own might be; a little scared at first, and after a while, there is comfort, care, and acceptance. This might be a gentle introduction to what is a natural part of the cycle of life.


Who am I?

I am an author and illustrator of children's picturebooks, having completed my MA at the Cambridge School of Art. I am endlessly fascinated with the picture book as a rich medium for children to safely and slowly approach topics that might be challenging for them. Picture books can be such a versatile, interesting place for curiosity and confidence to thrive, while also creating a lovely time for closeness between parent/carer and child. As we grapple with the long-term effects of the pandemic, I feel that children will need stories more than ever, to help them make sense of their experiences.


I wrote...

Big Dance

By Aoife Greenham,

Book cover of Big Dance

What is my book about?

As Pippa watches her friends express themselves through their special dance moves, she wonders if she will ever find the dance in herself. With gentle encouragement from the others, Pippa discovers that it's all about taking the first step. A story about the freedom to be yourself and the fun of joining in.

The Books of Magic

By Neil Gaiman, John Bolton (illustrator),

Book cover of The Books of Magic

Like all of Neil Gaiman’s works, this comic book is haunting and meaningful. Laced with DC references, philosophy, and nightmares, we lose ourselves in its strange world, or should I say, worlds? We follow Tim, a 13-year-old on the brink of becoming one of the greatest magic wielders of all time. But magic comes at a cost, and perhaps he should know that, or at least that’s what the four unlikely guides of our hero believe. And here starts the trip into magic and its many worlds, including a great meeting with Death herself in the afterlife.

This must be my favourite personification of Death ever, managing to be both fun and kind. This is a great meaty adventure comic that really makes you travel and gives you an experience like no other. Don’t expect childishness here, and don’t put it in the hands of too young an audience as…


Who am I?

I grew up with the cartoon Beetlejuice, fascinated by the composed Lydia running around a bright and insane afterlife. Any cheerfully gothic story I would latch on with glee. Perhaps this is why fantasy has always been my favourite genre, and why I cannot help but mix dark and light, and why my first novel naturally took place in the afterlife. I wrote my first book for my brother, because he was as interested as me in all the weird in the world, but unlike me, he had dyslexia and hated reading. He received the story in instalments and to my amazement and pride, he just gobbled them up. 


I wrote...

Voice from the Dead: A Young Adult Portal Fantasy in the Afterlife

By Aster Shock,

Book cover of Voice from the Dead: A Young Adult Portal Fantasy in the Afterlife

What is my book about?

After being killed by bullies at 16, Tosho collides with a mind-bending afterlife that's gripped in a battle for leadership of the dead. But while a vibrant resistance group of teens welcomes him with open arms, someone in the afterworld wants him gone. Not only is Tosho carrying a heinous family legacy, but he had a gift for angering the powerful in his past life. Now, someone with a monster of a grudge is set on taking their revenge and devouring him down to utter oblivion. Pursued from one end of the afterworld to the other, the trap closes in. Barely escaping the gnashing jaws of the nightmares hunting him, Tosho must figure out who wants him gone, or his new friends will become victims once again.

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