Meet Grim Reaper #2497. Behind on his work, he must complete his quota of thirty Random Deaths or face termination in the worst way. Faced with an insurmountable task and very little time to complete it, Reaper #2497 struggles to hang on to the one thing he’s not supposed to have – his humanity.
I love humour in fiction because I myself am a silly human being. Humour, especially dark humour, is often used by silly humans when facing difficult times. We can hide our exasperation of the world behind humour, and also the bleak parts of our lives, and nothing is surely more bleak than death. Humans have been looking death in the eye and cracking jokes since the dawn of time. Naturally, I was always going to be drawn to a book built on gallows humour and dry wit, especially when combined with death, or in this case, the grim reaper themself.
The Reaper’s Quota by Sarah McKnight isn’t about THE grim reaper, but rather several reapers which serve the greater good (or bad?) by taking on the job that no human would ever want; collecting the souls of mortals when their time is up. It makes sense that, with so many humans being born and dying each day, that you’d need more than one reaper harvesting their souls. And it also makes sense that this process would be run through pure bureaucracy. To apply for the job, a mortal only needs to kill another person during their lifetime, and POOF, a new reaper is born in death. With the fancy cloak and everything.
This story is thus centered around Reaper #2497. Reaping souls is an average day’s work. He receives Assigned Deaths, which involves sending humans through to the great beyond, but he’s also assigned a quota of random souls he must also pluck from life in order to help keep the population numbers down. These random deaths can be performed whenever, with rules to avoid killing sprees where possible, but the quota must be met each month. Problem is, #2497 is behind on his quota. In fact, he’s often behind. And what happens to a reaper if they get fired? Well, it can’t be good! What’s worse, is that while reapers lose their memories at death and can’t remember why they’d become a reaper in the first place – who they may have killed for the privilege – #2497 is starting to have a lot of human thoughts and feelings and he’d rather like to keep his undeath. Not just that, he’d like to find a way out of death altogether.
#2497, or Steve as he remembers his name, thus attempts to find a way out of the job from hell while attempting to keep his boss happy and fulfil his quota. This is a short story at only 200 pages, and those pages fly by at a quick pace. Steve has a lot of deaths to get through, and while some of them are detailed, many are summarised by a quick sarcastic report that Steve must fill in for each of these deaths – and since I too have a tendency to leave sarcastic notes for my bosses, I relate to Steve’s struggles, albeit without the murder. However, Steve isn’t a bloodthirsty character as he cares about the humans he’s unfortunately forced to damn.
For me, this was a fun read and an interesting way of approaching death and the grim reaper as a concept. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the ending, which ends on a cliffhanger and doesn’t neatly resolve enough for me, but the sequel is available and is one I’ll be picking up to find out what happens to poor Steve, and what horrors happened in his past to make him a reaper.
The Reaper’s Quota is a fun, quick read with dark humour and a dash of heart.