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The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Vol. 1: At the Edge of Empire

(The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch #1)

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  1,103 ratings  ·  245 reviews
May 7, 1896. Dusk. A swaggering seventeen-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan. But after mere minutes in the void, he is mysteriously resurrected.

His second life will be nothing like his first.

Zebulon’s new existence begins as a sideshow attraction in a traveling medicine show. From there, he will be poked and prodded by a sc
Hardcover, 656 pages
Published October 27th 2015 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
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LC I can honestly say that this is the most morbid book I've ever read. It is not for the squeamish. For me, the violence wasn't the worst part; it was…moreI can honestly say that this is the most morbid book I've ever read. It is not for the squeamish. For me, the violence wasn't the worst part; it was the descriptions of medical procedures and injuries that got me. There is sex, and there is one scene in particular that I remember quite well that is the embodiment of basically every man's greatest fear. I would hazard a guess that this book is not for you.(less)
Nostalgia Reader There are two sex scenes, with additional suggestive material in some sections. If it's any consolation, these scenes are quite vital to the…moreThere are two sex scenes, with additional suggestive material in some sections. If it's any consolation, these scenes are quite vital to the plot/character development, they aren't just there to meet a trivial quota of sexytimes.

The language is not PG-13, but I wouldn't consider it R either. Every piece of dialogue doesn't have a swear in it, so it's not overdone, but it is there (f-bombs and a few slurs, in addition to lower level swears).

On-page violence seemed most prominent in the war years, but elsewhere the actual violent deeds generally occurred off-page, as far as I can recall. However, there are vivid descriptions of the aftermath of violence (blood and guts and such), and very vivid descriptions of experimental dissection (not violent, but definitely unsettling).

It's not for squeamish people, as the dissection and other experimental scenes are the one common theme throughout all the chapters/sections. In terms of sex and language, it's definitely there, but it's not over-done or infringing on crude territory.

TL;DR: Most certainly not 100% clean, but the R-rated stuff that's there does apply to plot and characters--it's not there purely for shock factor.(less)

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3.62  · 
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 ·  1,103 ratings  ·  245 reviews

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Addi • Pages Within Me

I am honestly shell-shocked at the moment. This story was so many things, and had so many twists and turns that I'm surprised I don't have whiplash. I will do my best to articulate how I feel about this story, but forgive me if I ramble.

The year is 1896. At 17 years old a swaggering gangster named Zebulon Finch is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan, and 17 minutes later he comes back to life. His heart no longer beats, he no longer has any human needs and is apparently impervious to
Shaun Hutchinson
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I honestly don't know how to review this book. Imagine you're watching Forest Gump, only Forest Gump is a corpse, and everything he does turns to shit. That's probably the closest I can come to describing this book. But that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. This is a book that requires patience. Not only is it 600 pages long, but it's a story that spans decades, and Kraus makes sure that we feel the time passing. Some decades pass more slowly than others. Some faster. And it requires p ...more
What a wonderfully morbid story.
Melissa Jacobson
I am going to start this review off by saying this book is totally misclassified. This is in no way, shape or form a YA book. The only thing that would classify this in that genre is the fact that the main character is seventeen...forever.

Okay so with that aside let me just say that this book is a dark, disturbing, raw, emotional, and insane look at immortality and it is absolutely brilliant. It is beautiful and revolting all at the same time. It made me laugh, weep, and shudder all at the same
Maria (Big City Bookworm)
Big City Bookworm

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

DNF'd 172 pages in

This was really unfortunate. I was so intrigued by the premise of this story and I just really could not get in to it. Even the cover grabbed me as soon as I saw it, so when it was offered to me as an ARC many months ago, I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a copy. I really, really wanted to enjoy this story and I was at first, but then it just kept dragging on. It wasn't goi
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
I have no idea what I really thought of this book. If there's anything I can say about it with confidence it's that I really did like the writing style. Everything else is ...... ??????????????

The story just d r a g g e d on and on and on and didn't really follow any sort of structure. The main character and narrator is exhaustingly unlikeable. I feel like these things were done on purpose and it's probably all part of the author's artistic vision or whatever so it's like yeah fine ok I get but
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
How on earth am I supposed to review this? I had an eARC, but this book is like nine thousand pages (just kidding! Goodreads gives the page count as 656) of what I can only categorize as an epic. And this is just part one. (Note to Daniel Kraus: I really, really, really need part two or I might keel over from Acute Feels Disorder, which is endemic to book bloggers and librarians). And a word of warning: I've admitted previously that I find enthusiastic, swooning reviews (in which category this r ...more
Debbie Ohi
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ya-young-adult
Whenever I start a big book (and at 642 pages, Zebulon Finch definitely qualifies), I cross my fingers and hopehopehope that the first few pages will pull me in right away. If they do, I can relax and settle in for what promises to be a satisfying long read. If they don't, then it's just going to be long.

Zebulon Finch had me from the beginning. I already knew the premise, which was what lured me to read the book in the first place: A 17-year-old gangster named Zebulon Finch is murdered in 1896 b
Halley Hopson
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4 stars!

I ended up really enjoying this! Zebulon Finch is a very interesting character to follow and the way everything came together by the end of the story was very satisfying to read. It did get a little slow in a couple of parts but others definitely made up for it in my opinion. This is very dark and at times even morbidly humorous and definitely recommend it if the premise of a 17 year old boy who gets killed and yet somehow can’t die piques your interest at all.
Jul 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I wrote this a while ago but didn't post it because I had an ARC and it wasn't out when I finished it. The book's out now. Don't even read this, go read it instead.

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch Volume 1: At the Edge of Empire is a curious novel. I’m tempted to compare it to Forrest Gump as it follows a central protagonist as he moves through American history. Minor characters go in and out of the narrative on a revolving door, sometimes making a brief appearance again, other time disappe
Aug 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this surpassed itself the second time.

and the third time.
Christian McKay
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I take pride in my Goodreads ratings. I really do. It's tough for my name to suddenly be attached to these reviews (I previously rated under the pseudonym Shivering William but wanted to become an official Goodreads author) because now I feel like I need to bend my reviews for people I know personally. So, when my editor sent me his new book, a big part of me didn't want to read it. I thought, Oh great, I'll have to give this a good review no matter what I think of it. He might want to publish a ...more
R.A. Raab
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
I should know not to listen to reviews in Entertainment Weekly. Judged as one of the ten best books of 2015, The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch by Daniel Kraus, this overbloated brick posing as a young adult novel runs out of steam well before it runs out of pages. Never heard of it? There’s a reason. The premise is that a 17-year-old boy working with the criminal underworld in Chicago is gunned down on the shores of Lake Michigan in the late 1800s. He is then resurrected as a walking corpse th ...more
Adi Alsaid
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Gimme Volume 2 now, please.
Nostalgia Reader
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: buzz-complete
A sprawling novel in the form of a biography, this was not as amazing as I'd hoped it would, and yet I still wanted to keep reading. Even though I didn't like any of the characters, the decade by decade narrative of Zebulon's life was somehow fascinating... I'm not sure if it's simply because I like some aspect of all the decades covered (1890s thru pre-war 1940s) or if it was the writing style or maybe just the truthfulness of Zebulon's tragic hero complex. Although he's perpetually stuck at ag ...more
Brenda A
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: borrowed
Whenever Zebulon Finch deigned to shut the heck up, his story was a fascinating one. His body literally rots and falls to pieces as he goes through a whole slew of random events with unlikely people.

The annoying part was that he wouldn’t ever just be quiet. He was far too verbose and circumlocutory and periphrastic and digressive and WORDY and I had many occasions where I wished I could reach into the audiobook and duct tape his mouth shut.

But the Bone Garden? And his stint in Hollywood? And t
Oct 12, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of big giant historical novels
How I Came To Read This Book: I heard it was much-hyped at a few book events this year so I asked for a copy from the publisher to write about this holiday season.

The Plot: Zebulon Finch is but seventeen years old, working as a henchman for a notorious Chicago gangster, when he is gunned down by a stranger. But mere moments later, he is resurrected, into an ageless walking corpse that can think, speak, and do just about everything we associate with human emotions but nothing of human needs like
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
The first half of this book was a joy to read: clever, sharply written, dark and edgy. Zebulon Finch is an arrogant boy who takes to a life of crime and punishment with ease and enjoyment. Yet his voice as he narrates his tale is engaging and charming as, at this point in his undead life, he's aware of his mistakes and shortcomings (even at such a remove from the events as they happened he still retains a measure of his former cocksureness, which I enjoyed). The story itself I felt was very focu ...more
Oct 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Huge Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for this ARC!

If I'm being frank, I had no idea what to expect from The Life and Death of Zebulon Finch. When I started reading it, it was one of those books I couldn't powerthrough, and I'm a fast reader. I found myself completely absorbed into Zebulon's narrative, as though he was enticing me word by word, enriching me with his long lasting history of what it means to be a living man who cannot die.

Part of what makes Zebulon Finch such an enchanting
Sep 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch was absolutely divine - a fresh read that was stimulating for the imagination. Daniel Kraus' first installment in Zebulon's saga was deliciously addicting and heartbreaking all at once, a novel I highly recommend teens and adults read.

"Zebulon? So sophisticated for one so young."
I shrugged. "Last name's Finch."

It's May 7th, 1896 when Zebulon Finch is gunned down by the shores of Lake Michigan. Mere moments later he is mysteriously resurrected. In his new found
Good Gød, there is more to this literary feast!


I do not consider this a young adult book. I would have loved to read this when I was a young adult, but aside from Zebulon's vampiric/zombified Peter Pan syndrome, this is very much an adult story with adult themes.

For one, a seventeen year-old in 1896 was an adult by nearly all definitions. Especially a seventeen year-old with dear Zebulon's activities and inclinations.

Two, this is grim. So deliciously, enjoyably
Dec 12, 2015 rated it liked it
First, be forewarned that this book breaks many conventions of what a novel should be. It reads (by design) like a memoir, and lacks some of the plotting and conflict elements of traditional fiction. On the whole, the story is interesting enough, although I do not enjoy the main character. The experience of reading this book is challenging, at least for me, because it is as if we are trapped forever in the mind of a teenager, and not just any teenager, but a psychopath teenager. His history of v ...more
Corey Henio
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch is a tremendous expedition of an extraordinary, horrific yet detailed some what addressed as a memoir of how someone could alter their life with a second chance. One could struggle but testing their new strength to get back up on their feet, to take the opportunity to reinvent one's self, and searching the core of redemption. In my opinion, this book was like a freaky science fiction of Forest Gump impacted with an immortal, teenage Oliver Twist, set in a paus ...more
Aug 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: awesome-ya
This is quite a sweeping epic of Zebulon Finch, a young teen who is murdered but then is brought back to "life"....multiple lives. He gets to live so many lives, but will he ever claim redemption for the murder and misdeeds in his previous life?
This sweeping, historical epic reminded me a LOT of "Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell" by Susannah Clarke. The descriptiveness, the characterizations, and the telling of the story behind Zebulon. Wow. What a great, absorbing book.
There are some situations
Brandon Forsyth
Nov 30, 2015 rated it liked it
A Bildungsroman for the Twitter generation; a body horror history of the twentieth century; a novel of startling ambition matched only by its colossal failure. Zebulon Finch is an agentless, undead seventeen year-old who stumbles and sloshes his way through American history, only to discover that what he craves most is death. There's some interesting stuff going on here, but it can be a chore to read. Count me out for volume two.
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was ok
I love Kraus' writing style, but this book wasn't for me. Too bloated and melodramatic, it read like Forrest Gump as a dead teen. If the book was half as long, it may have held my interest more and not seemed so over-the-top.
Jan 29, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book thinks too highly of itself. Too hard to get into. No promise of payoff.

The second one was published right after the first. Both are very fat volumes, leading me to wonder if the author had connections that could override any editorial feedback.

Nepotism over art!

Christine Ritchey
May 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I just... I'm going to have to read that again. Simply because I'm sure I missed things in this "massive piece of insanity," but also because it is incredibly intriguing. Can I have volume 2 now please?
Abbie DiscoSuperFly
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: x-wobble
Great, Great book!

However I have no clue who would tag this is YA, totally not appropriate for "the under 18"
“Fiction, like any art, can be divided between the living and the dead. THE DEATH AND LIFE OF ZEBULON FINCH is unequivocally and furiously among the former. A splendidly rendered, macabre picaresque, muscular and tender, imaginative and grotesque, cynical yet deeply moving. I was appalled one moment and laughing the next. Don't be fooled by the premise. This tale may be told by a dead man, but what's rendered here is life itself in all of life's absurd glory.”
– Rick Yancey, NYT bestselling autho
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DANIEL KRAUS has landed on Entertainment Weekly's Top 10 Books of 2015 (The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch), won two Odyssey Awards (for both Rotters and Scowler), and has been a Library Guild selection, YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, Parent’s Choice Gold Award winner, Bram Stoker finalist, and more.

He co-authored Trollhunters with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, and his work has been transl

Other books in the series

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch (2 books)
  • The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Vol. 2: Empire Decayed (The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, #1)
“I don't like anyone. I don't understand why that's so difficult for people to understand.” 4 likes
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