Author: JC Piech, 2012
From the get go, I do need to state that I’m no great fan of reaper/blissful afterlife stories, but JC Piech engaged me from the start. I must add that I’ve had the pleasure of including one of her stories in an anthology that I edited a few years ago, so I knew more or less what to expect with regard to tone and style – so let me assure you she’s an absolute joy to read.
Only he never gets to live with the repercussions of his actions, as he dies on that fateful day. From there it’s a pretty standard reaper theme – some departed souls are tasked to work as guides for the newly departed, to bring them to whatever waits on the other side. And Jason is one of those guides, and what he experiences as he submerges in others’ lives, will change him. It’s not so much about bringing peace to the newly dead, but also for Jason to fully understand the peril that mankind faces in the atomic age.
Here is where the beauty and sensitivity of Piech’s telling comes into play, as she explores the horrors of the aftermath of nuclear warfare and the people whose lives are torn to shreds at the touch of a button. A series of seemingly loosely connected vignettes vividly illustrates the pain and suffering in a way that poignantly makes cold terms like “thousands dead” become tangible – as I found myself immersed in individual lives with histories, as opposed to nameless throngs.
A secondary thread was also illustrated in how Jason remained watchful over his mortal family throughout the years, and how their lives too were bound in tragedy. A strong message of peace and acceptance of the inevitability of death and the cherishing of life flows through Don’t Be Afraid, and if I had to best encapsulate the genre in which I’d place this book, I’d call it mystical fantasy.
Granted, in many ways this novel is not my chosen genre, and if it had not been offered as a review book, I’d never have read it of my own volition – I prefer GrimDark, to be quite honest – but have to admit that a bit of light, accompanied by a slightly squishy message of love and hope, was possibly not a bad thing in the midst of the parade of my usual doom and gloom.
Don’t Be Afraid is a feel-good story about not forgetting one of the most important, timeless aspects of the human self – love. No matter your culture or creed, we all have family and friends, and we must never forget that despite our disparities, that we are all woven together by complex ties. And perhaps now, more than ever before, we must all play our parts (however small) to forestall future horrors.