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Book Review & Giveaway: Working Stiff by Rachel Caine

Title: Working Stiff

Author: Rachel Caine

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Roc
Publication date: August 2011
Paperback: 306 pages

Bryn Davis was killed on the job after discovering her bosses were selling a drug designed to resurrect the dead. Now, revived by that same drug, she becomes an undead soldier in a corporate war to take down the very pharmaceutical company responsible for her new condition…

Stand alone or series: The first book in the brand new Revivalist series

How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher

Why did I read this book: I absolutely adore Rachel Caine. This author writes the equivalent of Thea-crack. Her Weather Warden series (rest in peace, dear Jo and David and Lewis!) is one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series’ of all time, and her Outcast Season books are equally fantastic. When I learned that the lovely and talented Ms. Caine would be writing a brand new UF series – with a certain new type of zombie – I think I actually started to salivate.


For twenty-six year old army veteran Bryn Davis, the first day at a new job in a new career is a frightening but exciting prospect. Armed with the best outfit she can afford and a box of freshly minted business cards, Bryn starts her first day as Funeral Director at Fairview Mortuary with the aim to impress her new boss, Mr. Fairview, with her personability and professionalism. Unfortunately for Bryn, things quickly go from bad to worse when one of her first consultations ends with a grieving teenage daughter killing herself in the mortuary bathroom. Then, after the mess is cleaned up and reports are filed with the police, Bryn finds herself in the middle of a holdup when another of her consultation clients for the day returns with a gun. To add to that misery, Bryn ends up inadvertently stumbling across Fairview’s dirty, if lucrative, side business: drugs. Not just any drug, but a black market designer serum called Returné – which can bring the recently dead back to life, and keep them young, alive, and virtually invincible so long as they keep receiving regular daily doses.

Naturally, Fairview is not pleased with Bryn’s meddling and her hell of a first day comes to an even worse end: Bryn is murdered in cold blood.

Of course, what kind of book would Working Stiff be if our intrepid heroine died and never returned after the first couple of chapters? In short measure Bryn finds herself born again, revived by the very drug whose discovery led to her own death. Brought back to life by a pair of suits, Bryn finds herself automatically enrolled in pharmaceutical juggernaut Pharmadene’s ultimate employee loyalty program – she’s informed by her new cohorts Joe Fideli and Patrick McCallister that she represents an investment for the company, and one that’s expected to pay out very soon. In return for daily doses of Returné – the only thing keeping Bryne from decomposing and dying a slow, painful death – Bryn has to take over her old boss’s black market business to help the company find Fairview’s old supplier. Things are never as simple or straightforward as they seem, especially with a drug with as much potential for power as Returné, and soon Bryn finds herself mired in a corporate espionage plot with terrible, far-ranging consequences.

There are a few things I have come to expect from every new book from Rachel Caine, namely awesome worldbuilding, a tightly written plot rife with high-stakes action, and a strong and wholly winsome heroine. I am thrilled to report that true to form, all of these elements are present in Working Stiff, resulting in one hell of a first novel in what looks to be a new must-buy Urban Fantasy series. From a worldbuilding and plotting perspective, Working Stiff completely rocks. The story itself is as high-action and high-stakes as the Weather Warden books, though on a much more secretive and corporate level. There are twists and turns, and a significant amount of uncertainty when it comes to characters that Bryn can trust, and all these elements are handled effortlessly by Ms. Caine.

Premise-wise, I loved the concept of Returné and the lengths that a company like Pharmadene would go to in order to keep it proprietary, even to the point where the company would kill its own employees only to revive them (it’s on hell of a way to guarantee employee loyalty, and also brings a fun double meaning to the notion of “corporate zombie” – or the titular “working stiff”). And it’s not just the concept of a drug that can bring someone back from the dead that impressed me, but the idea that Returné is something that needs to be taken on a daily basis in order for the revived to continue living. With this unique little twist thrown in the mix, there’s a very real and present danger over Bryn’s head from the onset of the book as she needs the drug every day, without fail, in order to stop decomposition. Hell, she can’t even really DIE thanks to the serum (even a shot to the head or the shattering of all her bones wouldn’t stop the nanites in the injection from repairing her body). Short of complete dismemberment, Bryn is basically invincible so long as she gets her shots on time – but this also means that without a constant source of Returné, she’s going to survive and be conscious for her body falling apart around her. Needless to say, it’s a terrifying thought for Bryn, and it makes her decisions about what is almost certainly a short future lifespan even more important.

From a character perspective, Bryn is everything anyone could ask for in a series heroine. Smart, earnest, and capable of making the tough moral decisions when she has to, Bryn is a new kind of badass (and, if you’re a Caine fan like myself, thankfully remarkably different from Jo Baldwin or Cassiel). Even though Bryn has been in the army and is trained in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat, she’s not some automatic killer/ninja badass, which immediately sets her apart from the slew of Urban Fantasy heroines on the market. No, Bryn has no special abilities or superpowers beyond the ability to painfully heal after being beaten or shot, granted to her by the nanites in her bloodstream. She needs help, she gets into a lot of trouble, but Bryn also steps up when she needs to. In this reader’s humble opinion, Bryn is an incredibly real, believable young woman, and a heroine worth rooting for.

Beyond Bryn, there’s also a bevy of secondary characters that are also fully developed and wonderfully realized. Patrick, the love interest, is a strong hero with ambiguous loyalties and a shady past that is revealed gradually throughout the book – complete with a good amount of sexual tension (this is UF after all). Joe, Bryn’s other cohort, is hired muscle but a surprisingly caring family man with more going on beneath the surface. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as there are secret allies, sadistic and power-crazed villains, corporate zombies and double-agents all thrown into the mix.

In short, I loved this book – Working Stiff is an awesome start to a fantastic new series. Rachel Caine has done it again, and I cannot wait for next August.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the official excerpt:

Bryn’s first embalming instructor had told her, straight up, that two kinds of people entered the death business: freaks and true believers. Bryn Davis didn’t think she was either one of those. For her, it was a prime career opportunity β€” a genuine profession.

Oh, she’d picked up odd paychecks during college as an office temp, dog-walker, and one memorable afternoon at a chicken factory, but none of those had ever felt real to her. Joining the Army after college had seemed like a good idea at the time (steady job, good wages), but four years in Iraq hadn’t made her want be a career solider; it had, though, given her a bedrock understanding of the fragility of human life. After that, dead bodies didn’t scare or disgust her.

One good thing she could say for her time in the military: it had led her where she was now, to this job… a good, stable one, and even better, an important one.

Bryn smiled a little at the thought. Maybe she was a true believer, after all.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: 8 – Fantastic, and definitely on my notable – if not favorite – reads of the year.

Reading Next: Working Stiff by Rachel Caine


Courtesy of the publisher, we have ONE copy of Working Stiff up for grabs! The contest is open to residents of the US only and will run until Saturday, July 30 at 11:59 PM (PST). In order to enter, leave a comment here letting us know who YOUR favorite urban fantasy heroine is. Only one entry per person, please! Multiple comments will be disqualified. Good luck!


Buy the Book:

Ebook available for kindle US & nook

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  • Sealz
    July 28, 2011 at 1:38 am

    I’m a total fan of Carrie Vaughn (seriously, after discovering her in June I’ve read nearly all of her books), so I’m going to go with Kitty Norville. I was a little on the fence until I read the third one in the series, Kitty Takes a Holiday….but now I’m totally intrigued!

  • Susan Laura
    July 28, 2011 at 4:38 am

    My vote is for Carolyn Crane’s heroine in her Disillusionists Series: Justine Jones. It’s a super story and Justine is a great character.

  • Patti (Loves FAB Romance)
    July 28, 2011 at 5:18 am

    I think I’ve been under a rock or something – I had no idea Ms. Caine was working on another series!

    My favorite UF heroine changes – there are so many I like; right now I’d say Kate Daniels is my girl πŸ™‚

  • Jamie
    July 28, 2011 at 5:57 am

    Mine would have to be George from Feed (Mira Grant).

  • Sabrina
    July 28, 2011 at 6:07 am

    I am a UF newbie as I only started reading UF this year. I have so much catching up to do! I really liked MacKayla Lane from Moning’s Fever series. I was initially on the fence about her but I liked her more and more over the course of the series.
    I also liked George from Feed as well πŸ™‚

  • helen
    July 28, 2011 at 6:08 am

    I love Chess Putnam!

  • Tina
    July 28, 2011 at 6:24 am

    It is so difficult to pick just one Urban Fantasy heroine! I think I will go with Kate Daniels, because I love how flawed she is but she continues to grow as a character throughout the series.

  • Katie
    July 28, 2011 at 6:29 am

    I’m not sure who my favorite urban fantasy heroine is. But this book sounds pretty good and I’ve never read Caine before.

  • T
    July 28, 2011 at 6:37 am

    I admit I did not read the review too carefully, because I want to read it, and do not want to spoil it. And count me out for the competition. But can you guys (Thea, I mean, please) let me know one thing? Does it end in a cliffhanger? relative cliffhanger? big one? While I want to read it, I have no problem waiting for the series to be completed if she is doing cliffhangers like usual.

  • Amelia
    July 28, 2011 at 6:39 am

    Looks really good! As for a favorite UF heroine… I would Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson!

  • Thea
    July 28, 2011 at 6:47 am

    @T – There aren’t any spoilers in the review above, but to answer your question there’s no cliffhanger ending. As a long-time weather warden fan I completely understand where you are coming from – those year-long breaks were BRUTAL! Rest assured, Working Stiff ends in a good place that keeps you hungry for more in the series without driving you up the wall with a cliffhanger πŸ™‚

  • Robin K
    July 28, 2011 at 7:22 am

    My favorite is Kelly Meding’s Evy Stone πŸ™‚

    robin [at] intensewhisper [dot] com

  • T
    July 28, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Thank you Thea. I was going more by the Morganville books and some of them it was eyerolling bad cliffhangers, like whatever the book was about ended and they were sitting on a living room and a madman with a gun showed up and well that was it. And that was me throwing the book against a wall and quitting buying those new and on release.

    And I trust you about the no spoilers, but it is just a quirk, I love reading the reviews AFTER I read the book, but before no, not if I am already sure i want to read it. I will came back to read this eventually, I am sure, and thank you.

  • SarahDF
    July 28, 2011 at 7:49 am

    My favorite would be Kate Daniels, with Mercy Thompson coming in a close second!

  • Alexandra
    July 28, 2011 at 7:55 am

    Mercy Thompson, so far. But I haven’t read much UF.

  • Lexi
    July 28, 2011 at 7:56 am

    I would have to say Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson. She was the first UF I read and still one of my all time favorites.

  • MarieC
    July 28, 2011 at 8:10 am

    Great Review!

    I don’t have one favorite UF heroine, but three (in no particular order): Gin Blanco, Mercy Thompson, and Elena Deveraux.

  • Tina@Tinasbookreviews
    July 28, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Id have to say Mercy Thompson and Alexandra Sabian from Blood Law.

  • CrystalGB
    July 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

    Keri Arthur’s Riley Jensen.

  • Katie A
    July 28, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Kate Daniels πŸ™‚

  • Donna S
    July 28, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Cat Crawfield

    bacchus76 at myself dot com

  • Serenity
    July 28, 2011 at 9:48 am

    I’ve only ever read YA UF, and my favorite character would have to be Isabelle Lightwood from Cassandra Claire’s Mortal Instruments series. I’ve always meant to try Adult UF, and this one sounds good πŸ™‚

  • Lisa (starmetal oak)
    July 28, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Now I really want to read this!!!

  • Katherine
    July 28, 2011 at 11:15 am

    My favorite at the moment would have to be Toby Daye! πŸ˜€

  • julie mulhern
    July 28, 2011 at 11:27 am

    I love, love, love Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson. I’m partial to Pam in the Sookie Stackhouse series – I know, I know she’s not the heroine but she is snarky and I lover her. And, because I adore classics, Eddi from War for the Oaks. A new fave is Tori Karacis from Lucienne Diver’s Bad Blood.

  • erin
    July 28, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Wow… there are just too many UF heroines to pick from πŸ™‚ Rachel Morgan, Toby Daye, Mercy Thompson, Joann Baldwin, Gin Blanco. I’m a very dedicated UF reader and that’s 3/4 of my bookshelves. I’ve been looking foward to this book since forever it seems! can’t wait!

    thanks for a great review and giveaway!


  • Scribe Kira
    July 28, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Georgia Mason from Feed by Mira Grant. I love this book and it made me cry so much and it was amazing and everyone should go read it RIGHT NOW!!!! seriously, it’s amazing. on another note, thanks for the awesome giveaway!!!=o)
    πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

  • Rena
    July 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Clarissa Fray! i just loove Cassandra Clare! <3

  • Lori Strongin
    July 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Yup, you’ve got me hooked. Rachel Caine is a fantastic author and I totally agree with you that one of her best talents is in world building and taking well-known tropes (like zombies) and putting a new spin on them. Can’t wait to read this one!

    (And as for favorite UF heroine? Right now, I’m kind of loving Kallie RiviΓ¨re from Adrian Phoenix’s hoodoo series.)


  • LiLi
    July 28, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Anita Blake will always be my favorite UF heroine because I believe nobody is more hardcore or bad-ass.

  • Ellaanabeth
    July 28, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Wow… Fave UF heroine… well, I think I’m going to have to go with Maxine Kiss from the Hunter Kiss series by Marjorie M Liu. She’s tough, defends the world from demons… and still has a softer side because of her little friends…

  • Emily
    July 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I’d have to go with Kate Daniels because she experiences so much growth and loss throughout the series. I started out disliking her and now I love her to pieces.

  • rissatoo
    July 28, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    There are SOOOOOOO many great UF heroines, but my first is Rachel Morgan. (Everyone else is tied for second…LOL)


  • savanna ucinski
    July 28, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    I love claire from the city of bones.

  • Meagan Chapman
    July 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Dante from the Dante Valentine series by Lilith Saintcrow is definitely one of my favorites. πŸ™‚

  • Danae
    July 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    I like Claire from the Morganville Vampire series by Rachel Caine. She beats the villains with her brains not her brawn. I hope this series is as good at the rest of hers are, because if it is, I know I will love it, too.

  • Victoria Zumbrum
    July 28, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I just started reading urban fantasy so I don’t have a favorite yet. I would love to read this book. It sounds very good. Please enter me in contest. Tore923@aol.com

  • Patti
    July 28, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    I’m as boggled as many others have been to pick just one urban fantasy heroine — not only am I a fan of both Joanna and Claire, I’m a long-time fan of Rachel Morgan, Kate Daniels, Kat Crawfield, Kitty Norville, and Cassie Palmer. But I will always hold a special spot open for Kelley Armstrong’s Elena Michaels who fascinated me and got me interested in all of what’s become urban fantasy.

  • heatwave16
    July 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Rachel Morgan from Kim Harrison’s Hollows series.


  • martin
    July 28, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    It’s gotta be Val from Holly Black’s ‘Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie’

  • Chris Bails
    July 28, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I actually have two. The first is Anita Blake from Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series and Cat from Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress Series. They are both very strong female characters. They also both have some great men in their lives and awesome sex scenes.

  • S.S. White (Calico Reaction)
    July 28, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Oooh, I’d like to enter!

    I think my favorite heroine right now is Toby Daye from Seanan McGuire’s books, with Evie Scelan from Margaret Ronald’s books a close second!

  • Dana
    July 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    That’s a really hard choice and I’m not sure she’s technically a “heroine” but I guess I’d have to say Ivy from Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series.

  • Bethie
    July 28, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    Thanks for the giveaway. Early Anita Blake is my favorite.

  • Jennifer Jensen
    July 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    I haven’t read Rachel Caine before, but I’ve had my eye on her books for some time. Please enter me for a chance to win a copy. πŸ™‚

  • Monica
    July 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks for the awesome interview and giveaway! Huge fan of Rachel Caine : ) my gave UF heroine is Cat from Jeaniene Frost’s Night Huntress series

  • Amy C
    July 28, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Thanks for this giveaway! My favorite urban fantasy heroine has to be Sin from The Demon’s Lexicon. :mrgreen:

  • Stephanie K.
    July 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    My favorite UF heroine is Rachel Morgan from the Hollows series by Kim Harrison.

  • Courtney
    July 28, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I think that my favorite is Eugenie Markham from Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan series.

  • Kate & Zena
    July 28, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    I think my favorite is Tally from Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy (refuse to recognize Extras). I consider it UF anyway!

  • Ariana B.
    July 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    I LOVE Rachel Caine! She is an amazing writer. Claire from the Morganville Vampires series is my favorite. I want working stiff!

  • Tatiana C.
    July 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    I’ve actually never read an urban fantasy series even though I have a number of series on my “to read” list.

  • Jenn S.
    July 28, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    I have to say that Claire from the Morganville Vampires series is one of my favorite heroines. I like brainy girls who can save the day (cause I’m a bit of a nerd myself).

  • Laura Andreula
    July 29, 2011 at 3:42 am

    My favorite urban fantasy heroine is Claire from Rachel’s Morganville Vampires series. Throughout the series Claire has gone through so much and has grown as a character and woman. She loves Shane with all that she is and fights for that love – sometimes even against Shane himself. Even though she is young, I look up to her. “Claire Bear” – my hero! πŸ˜€

  • Julie Witt
    July 29, 2011 at 5:01 am

    I’ve gotta agree with Claire from the Morganville Vamps, although I really like Eve too!

    jwitt33 at live dot com

  • Lisa B.
    July 29, 2011 at 7:39 am

    My favorite is Elena Michaels from Kelley Armstrong’s werewolf series! Thanks for entering me into the contest! — Lisa B.

  • Dottie Taylor
    July 29, 2011 at 7:43 am

    My favorite Urban Fantasy heroine is Rachel Morgan from Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series. Kim Harrison was my first foray into UF or PNR…and I’ve never looked back, changed my tastes completely. I’ve been a fanatic ever since, lol.

    Dottie πŸ™‚

  • Kaethe
    July 29, 2011 at 7:58 am

    I don’t have a favorite. I’m new to UF.

  • Audra Holtwick
    July 29, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Rachel Morgan–she is the Bomb

  • Sims
    July 29, 2011 at 9:46 am

    My favourite heroine is Raine Benares from Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares series! Thanks for entering me!

  • Lashawn
    July 29, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Cat Crawford from Night Huntress series.

  • Amy
    July 29, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve never actually read an urban fantasy before, but this sounds like a great book! I’m going to have to check out this genre. Would love to win the book from your giveaway.

  • Kelley B
    July 29, 2011 at 5:44 pm

    No question for me–definitely Kate Daniels!

  • Marie
    July 29, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I loved the early Anita Blake books before the series took a serious turn for crazy. Right now my favorite is probably the Mercy Thompson series by Patrica Briggs.

  • Marlene Breakfield
    July 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    I like Kitt Jordan from the Dark Brethren series.

  • Amanda Waters
    July 30, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I haven’t read a ton of UF, but Claire from Morganville Vampires is a favorite of mine too. I like that she’s not your typcial ass-kicking girl. She’s just a regular girl who does what she has to do.

  • Pam S (pams00)
    July 30, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    This sounds really good! Looking forward to Rachel’d new series. Pete Caldecott from Caitlyn Kitredge’s Black London series is one of my fav heroines in UF.

  • Kimberly B.
    July 30, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    If I think too much about this one, I’ll come up with a ton of answers, so I’ll go with my first impulse: Elena Michaels from Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series.
    Thanks for the terrific giveaway1

  • Book Birthdays « Lucienne Diver's Drivel
    August 2, 2011 at 8:17 am

    […] “I loved this book – Working Stiff is an awesome start to a fantastic new series. Rachel Caine has done it again, and I cannot wait for next August.” -The Book Smugglers […]

  • Praise for The REVIVALIST Novels | The Revivalist
    August 10, 2012 at 3:01 am

    […] “Bryn is a new kind of badass… an incredibly real, believable young woman, and a heroine worth rooting for.” ~Book Smugglers […]

  • What Critics are Saying About The REVIVALIST | The Revivalist
    August 10, 2012 at 3:03 am

    […] From Book Smugglers: “There are a few things I have come to expect from every new book from Rachel Caine, namely awesome worldbuilding, a tightly written plot rife with high-stakes action, and a strong and wholly winsome heroine. I am thrilled to report that true to form, all of these elements are present in WORKING STIFF, resulting in one hell of a first novel in what looks to be a new must-buy Urban Fantasy series…The story is as high-action and high-stakes as the Weather Warden books, though on a much more secretive and corporate level…Bryn is a new kind of badass…an incredibly real, believable young woman, and a heroine worth rooting for. […]

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