I read and reviewed School of Deaths by Christopher Mannino, then, as an added bonus, I sent some questions to Christopher. Here are his responses (spoiler alert: you get to hear about some cool travels in Wales and England), and read on for a review of his book.
The training scythe, they remind me of the golf clubs that break if you don’t use a proper swing. Where did you get the idea for scythe that won’t work if you use them wrong?
I’m a teacher as my main career. In education, there’s almost always a “training” version of something. When creating the training scythes, I kept in mind that the scythes had an intelligence, and I figured they’d be able to tell if you used them correctly or not.
You created a sport in your book called boskery. Did you play any sports in school?
Not particularly. I played baseball for one year, and soccer for one year, but I was an arts kid in school- far more interested in drama and music than sports.
What real sports did you want boskery to be like, or which did you definitely want it not to be like?
I think my idea for boskery was loosely based on rugby and lacrosse- I see them spinning the scythes which reminds me a bit of cradling a lacrosse stick, and the game’s ultimately about physical endurance, which is best embodied by rugby. A few reviewers have compared it to quidditch and to the “games” of the Hunger Games. I definitely did NOT want it to be anything like quidditch, but I will admit the idea of children attacking each other, similar to the Hunger Games struggles, flitted through my mind several times while writing that scene. I did make an effort to keep it different from Collins’ dark “game”.
I love this kind of story, where kids are sent off for an “abnormal” education (see also Beware of the White by Kai Strand). What inspired you to write this?
The idea for SCHOOL OF DEATHS emerged when I was finishing my graduate degree at Oxford University. I spent four months abroad, far from everyone I knew. Every week, I traveled somewhere I had never been before. I would climb castle ruins in Wales and visit cathedrals in England. One of my favorite trips was to Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. After misjudging the time it’d take to get there, I became stranded. The tourist office was closed, and I couldn’t find a hostel. I walked from pub to pub asking if I could sleep above their bar.
The next morning, having slept none, since I’d found a room over a noisy pub, I crept to Barras Nose before dawn. Barras Nose is a stone peninsula, or rocky outcropping jutting into the Celtic Sea, just north of Tintagel. Tintagel itself is a small island with castle ruins on its cliffs. Some believe it to be the birthplace of King Arthur. When I reached Barras Nose, the winds howled so fiercely that I had to crawl on all fours to keep from being blown into the ocean below. Then dawn broke. No other humans were in sight. I struggled to keep my balance, but watched the sun rise on the ruins of the ancient castle, listening to the thunder of waves pounding the fifty foot cliffs I clung to. Wind battered me with ferocity, and I imagined a character being buffeted by winds, completely alone. I envisioned Suzie, alone in a world of men, buffeted by sexism.
I like the Reaper in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, and the Stephen King story The Reaper’s Image is downright frightening. What are some of your favorite Grim Reapers in fiction, excluding your own of course?
Favorite Grim Reaper would have to be Terry Pratchett’s character “Death” as mentioned in the Discworld series. I particularly liked “Reaper Man,” a novel where Death loses his job and is forced to try and live as a normal person. Pratchett’s Death is a parody of the stereoptyped Grim Reaper, but Pratchett does it in a very funny way, and I enjoy reading him.
A different version of Deaths that I enjoyed are the shinigami, or “Death gods” in the manga and anime series “Death Note.” The creatures are strange and dark, but it’s an interesting spin on the idea of a Reaper, especially since the shinigami such as the main character Ryuk, have to kill in order to stay alive themselves.
And here’s the Review:
Thirteen-year-old Suzie has to get used to a new school. Also, she’s the first girl at her school for a million years. . . oh, and did I mention she’s training to be a Death. Not welcome by classmates or teachers, Suzie has to survive if she wants to pass the end of year test to return to the Living World.
In School of Deaths, Christopher Mannino creates a believable world where kids have to train to be deaths. From struggling to make friends, learning to use a scythe, and ultimately trying to learn why no woman has been a Death for a million years, School of Deaths will captivate you and throw you into Suzie’s world. . . and maybe YOU won’t be able to leave.
Get it here: