The Crown of Death by David Schratz

Medium: ebook (363 pages in print)

Overview (No Spoilers):

Sometimes myths get it wrong.”

All thirteen-year-old Jay Adrastus has to do is make it through one more day of school before he’s free to sleep in, read more Tolkien, and enjoy time with his family over Christmas break. Unfortunately, things don’t get off to a good start: Jay wakes up late and nearly misses the bus. In the rush of things, he forgets to grab the meal he skipped breakfast to make, leaving a school lunch as his only option for food. What Jay never could have predicted is how this series of events puts him face-to-face with a cafeteria worker intent on destroying him, all because of a prophecy. The attack reveals a mysterious calling and dormant skills he’ll need to master without delay if he wants to navigate a world that he hadn’t even known existed. To figure it all out, he’ll need to trust his instincts and work closely with others, something Jay’s largely avoided in the past since he tends to prefer the company of books instead. And to top it all off, he’s only got five days to stop his new nemesis or risk the end of the world. No pressure.

Published in August 2020, the Records of the Blessed series by David Schratz kicks off with The Crown of Death. Based on its cover and title, I’d expected something that was headed in a darker direction, so I was pleasantly surprised by the story within. The content seems to be in line with an upper Middle Grade read, complete with clever chapter titles. That said, I’d like to give fair warning that there are a few instances of police brutality, where excessive force is used as a means to create conflict. Overall, it has a vibe that echoes the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, as it also focuses on characters from Greek mythology in the modern world. In this book, Olympians are no longer able to visit Earth, forcing them to rely on those they’ve blessed to carry out their wishes and deal with any monsters that show up. This dynamic paves the way for a variety of mythological characters to be woven into the story. Mainly set in Chicago, the plot embraces the wintry weather and downtown atmosphere of the Windy City, offering the adolescent characters plenty of time to strategize as they walk to new locations and rest in alleys.

Schratz has crafted a team of protagonists worth rooting for. Even the primary baddies have depth and compelling backstories. Jay provides a first-person perspective that reads a bit as if he’s recounting the tale with funny asides. One thing that did tend to pull me out of the story is how Jay has a habit of commenting on what another character always (or never) does behavior-wise after they’d only just met. All told, Jay shows growth over the course of the novel, embracing what works best for him (i.e., doing things on a whim, without making a plan in advance) and allowing himself to be vulnerable with newfound friends. Jay’s companions on this journey are fellow teenagers, Xavier and Kaylie. Xavier has an inquisitive nature and is more than willing to share what he knows. While Kaylie is more guarded, she is certainly spunky and loyal. The three of them work well together because they value the unique strengths each of them possesses and have confidence in each other. I was also pleased with how the narrative emphasizes the idea of being yourself. All in all, The Crown of Death uses Greek mythology as the foundation for a fun adventure featuring lessons on friendship.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • Since the series is called “Records of the Blessed”, will the next installment be told from another representative’s perspective? 
  • We’ve seen vampires, mandrakes, and minotaurs thus far – what other ‘monsters’ exist?
  • How are representatives chosen? How do they normally discover their roles and the wishes of their god? Can gods have more than one representative? If each can only have one representative, why do so many of them seem to live in the Chicago area?
  • How did Xavier and Kaylie find each other? How did they discover their talents?
  • What prompts Jay to turn into a golden eagle while asleep in the cafeteria? Is it just his time for his role as a representative to be revealed? Is it somehow jumpstarted by Hypnos?
  • How does Xavier know that Jay ends up at the zoo after landing in the rooftop garden? Did Natalie experience another prophecy that shared his location?
  • I hoped you could help me in this endeavor. You would seem like one who would appreciate this.” Why does Orpheus think that Xavier would be on his side?
  • It’s odd how Jay seems able to resist Orpheus’s magic. There are points where Xavier helps pull Jay out of trances brought on by music, but how is Jay able to withstand the effects of the Hypnos knife for as long as he does?
  • I believe that he was looking for you. That was why he was in your cafeteria. He didn’t attempt to kill you up until now, which surprised me. I don’t think he actually knew which of you the representative was, and somehow he never found out.” How did Orpheus know a representative was at the school? How was he trying to suss them out? What prophecies did he know about?
  • Besides the Civil War, what other historic events have the gods influenced?
  • One particular woman, who I had caught staring at me once during the ride, gave me a fleeting glance before practically running down the steps.” Why? Had she seen something on the news? Did she call the police while on the bus? How else would the police have known the representatives were on that bus?
  • All of that work and misdirection to find Andrew’s dagger, only for it to go unused…
  • Why doesn’t Jay recognize the sky’s ‘sad’ behavior earlier when they are searching for the sword? Does it have to do with proximity? “From the roof of the store arose what looked like tendrils of storm clouds. They came off the store and slowly drifted up into the dark sky.” Why does the sky physically respond to the sword’s location?
  • Regarding the representatives that show up with Sam, how did Orpheus get them on his side? Who are the other folks in the grocery store representatives for? Do their gods know what they’re up to? Do those gods want Orpheus to succeed, and thus start another war in Olympus?
  • Can Jay talk to Alex while the sword is in its pin form? Does he have to be holding it?
  • It’s one thing to prevent death from taking place, but how does that help Orpheus if Eurydice is already dead? Can someone in charge of death bring another back to life?
  • The knives flew back to Orpheus’s grasp and he caught them…” How is this possible? Is he also telekinetic?
  • I hefted my sword and brought it down on the knife. It hit and bounced off, meeting resistance.” As the “breaker of barriers”, why isn’t Alex able to release Hypnos?
  • Be warned child, you have made a mistake here. You have made an enemy out of me. That is never a good idea.” What will the repercussions be for this?
  • Most representatives don’t get recognized by the gods until weeks after they find they have their powers.” If Jay hadn’t angered Zeus, would he have received any gifts from Zeus?
  • Your friend has been with the dead for days now, and has spent plenty of time with the other dead. He may never be quite the same.” How is Xavier after being brought back to life? What’s different about him as someone who’s returned from the underworld?
  • Nothing happened to you before because I didn’t tell you to forget.” This seems like a dangerous skill for Xavier to have now that he’s back from the dead and is a little off…
  • Will Xavier receive a new gift tied to Athena’s power?

Vocabulary Builder:
Quaver: to utter sound in tremulous tones


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