The First Assignment
Independently Published (2022)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (11/2022)
Paranormal fantasy fans take note—author Billy Kramer makes an impressive entrance into the world of YA fantasy with his explosive debut novel, “The First Assignment.”
Shawn Turner gets the surprise of his life when he wakes up in a 5×5 box wondering why in the world anyone would want to kidnap him, let alone a strange man in an 1800s styled tuxedo driving a horse-drawn carriage. But this isn’t an ordinary world—Shawn Turner is dead. Destined to study at Wayward Academy for the next phase of his existence—as a reaper—Shawn now lives among a group of other first-year reapers training to collect the souls of the newly deceased. Shawn and his friends Maple, Q, and Jay learn all the time-honored traditions of Wayward Academy, and while the position of a reaper and all they stand for is highly admirable, there are some questionable practices, leaving Shawn with doubts he’s cut out for the role. He soon discovers his first assignment could make or break his future in the afterlife.
Packed with action and adventure, this chilling, entertaining story brings a hearty dose of intensity to the overall reading experience. The author is proficient in his craft, delivering a well-written narrative with remarkable and diverse characters, and a pulsating, ever-twisting plot. It’s a distinctive and fresh addition to the YA fantasy world.
The characters won me over from the start. Shawn, as the story’s protagonist, exhibits the genuine traits of a young male trying to find his way in a world he can’t quite come to terms with, and shows remarkable growth and belief in himself as the story progresses. I think he even surprises himself at times! No cookie-cutter characters here—Shawn’s group of friends are clearly unique, each possessing distinguishable mannerisms and peculiarities that draw you in as a reader in and makes you want to root for them. They are each battling their own demons, only partially revealed as the story unfolds, and that is perhaps my only wish for more out of the story. I would love to have learned more about the backstories of these teens.
Wayward Academy sounds like a magnificent, if not intimidating, place to spend time in the afterlife. I love how descriptive and inventive the author is with his settings; the ambiance drawing the reader directly into the story. A warning for sensitive readers: there are some intense, graphic scenes that may not be suitable for younger teens. That said, I enjoyed the visual depths Kramer brings to the story with his vivid, illustrative portrayals, particularly of the action scenes and the battle wounds sustained by the young reapers. You’ll hold your breath, all the while wanting more.
Billy Kramer should find himself well at home in the YA fantasy world. It would not surprise me at all to see this up-and-coming author make quite a name for himself, and I look forward to seeing how he continues to develop his talent. And—with the dramatic ending of “The First Assignment,” I can only hope a sequel is forthcoming. This is a must-read for all YA fantasy enthusiasts.