Book Review: Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

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Bryan Lee O’Malley’s latest novel, Seconds, is a surprising sci-fi tale that has a lot of fun with its trippy premise, but could have used a bit more character to make the most out of its sharp storytelling.

Seconds’ protagonist, Katie, is a great cook and she is looking to finally get out and start her own restaurant, but as she is trying to put the finishing touches on the new place, strange things start happening at the old one. The titular restaurant, Seconds, has been her home, both literally and professionally, for four years as she saved every dollar she could, but a strange spirit with some mushrooms enters Katie’s life, she finds it harder and hard to get away from Seconds.

Like O’Malley’s previous series, though this is seemingly a one and done title, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Seconds mixes fantasy/sci-fi with romance and self discovery as he tells his tale with a fantastic sense of pace. O’Malley does a wonderful job of setting up the world and establishes a wonderful sense of place at the Seconds restaurant where we spend most of our time in the book. But once he sets up the central components to the sci-fi/fantasy elements of the story, and how they work, O’Malley expects you to be able to keep up when he wants you to and this is perfectly fine because his storytelling is top-notch as he takes you deeper and deeper into Katie’s world.

The shortcomings of the story have more to do with the characters and how I didn’t really feel like we connected to anyone outside Katie; except maybe Hazel. Everyone else we barely get to know, and while that is part of the point as we view the world through Katie’s eyes, I wish we got to know just about everyone Katie interacts with a bit more. Max, the primary love interest, is supposed to be some great love in Katie’s life, but I don’t really understand why. Andrew has a complicated connection with Katie, but again we are left mostly in the dark about how this all came to be. The dealings Arthur seems to have going on don’t make a lot of sense either, but these are sort of just lost to the fringes when it seems like there could be some drama there around Katie’s new restaurant. All of these shortcomings could be credited to the alternate timelines, and that getting to know anyone’s backstory is pointless, as each version of everyone is different after every revision, but there is also a through line connecting all the different versions of Seconds Katie creates. They are all connected in that metaphorical tree which keeps popping up (some gorgeous are from O’Malley by the way).

Lis is the constant throughout the timelines, the house spirit of Seconds, and I think just a bit more depth into her history could have given the story a bit more of an emotional hook. Yes, she is supposed to be mysterious, but I felt like there wasn’t even enough clues for us to extrapolate some sort of possible history for her. Lis is still a great creation for O’Malley as he gets a ton of emotion out of her with little to no dialogue and a lot of humor as well. O’Malley’s sense of humor is not lost in Seconds, even if he repeats a joke, and his inventiveness in the book’s many visual gags made me laugh out loud several times. His art is familiar to fans of his work, but Seconds has just enough style of its own to still stand out, with more than a few panels really knocking the socks off me. The omniscient narrator and Katie’s constant dialogue was also a fine touch sprinkled throughout, as it brought a lot of the humor to the book.

Seconds could have used a bit more character depth for the supporting players, but this is a minor oversight for a rather enjoyable book. The book is funny, fast paced and well worth a second read or two to try to figure out was going on and if O’Malley buried any other layers in there. Seconds is an easy recommendation for fans of the author, but I think non-fans might find a lot to enjoy as well.