Author: Amanda Stevens
Series: THE GRAVEYARD QUEEN
Plot Type: Gothic, Urban Fantasy
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—3; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Mira
.5 "The Abandoned" (prequel e-novella, 2011)
1 The Restorer (hardback, 4/2011; paperback, 2/2012)
2 The Kingdom (3/2012)
3 The Prophet (4/2012)
4 The Visitor (3/2016)
5 The Sinner (9/27/2016)
6 The Awakening (3/2017)
I am a living ghost, a wanderer in search of my purpose and place. I'm a cemetery restorer by trade, but my calling has evolved from that of ghost seer to death walker to detective of lost souls. I solve the riddles of the dead so the dead will leave me alone.
|A mortsafe over an ancient grave|
I would be remiss if I discussed Amanda's story without including her continuing heartbreak over her break-up with John Devlin, the man she considers to be her one true love. (SPOILER AHEAD) At the end of the previous book, Devlin learned some shocking information about his family history, and based on that, he told Amanda that they could no longer be together because it would put her life in danger. He provided no further explanation than that, and she continues to be melodramatically heartbroken that she has lost him. In this book, her devastation grows when she learns that Devlin has a gorgeous new woman in his life.
But there is also a new man in Amanda's life: Detective Lucien Kendrick, a handsome, tattooed police detective with topaz-colored eyes who seems to be as attracted to Amanda as she is to him. Although Amanda is drawn to Kendrick, she finds him "fascinating in the way one might admire the coil of a cobra or the crouch of a tiger."
And then there is a third man, a former nemesis named Darius Goodwine, a powerful voodoo practitioner we met in The Prophet. Amanda owes Darius for helping her save Devlin's life, and she's pretty sure that he's here to call in that favor. First, though, Darius gives Amanda several warnings: that her magic has grown so powerful that she leaves a magical, easy-to-track trail, that she doesn't know John Devlin's true nature, and that her discovery of the caged graves puts her in danger from two sinister, fanatical groups: the Congé ('kän-jā) and the Eternal Brotherhood of Resurrectionists. According to Darius, the Congé are "zealots who believe it their mission to stamp out that which they do not understand," which would include a person like Amanda, who can communicate with ghosts and see into people's minds. The Resurrectionists, on the other hand, worship magic and use it to raise the dead. Darius also warns Amanda that someone she knows well cannot be trusted. Could this be Devlin? Her friend, Dr. Shaw? Kendrick?
Darius also tells Amanda that she is the only one who has the power to unmask the killer of the young woman in the most recent grave, and that if she doesn't find that murderer, more deaths will follow. (No pressure!) All of these elements feed into the plot, which focuses on Amelia's murder investigation. That investigation has a connection with the Order of the Coffin and the Claw (OCC), an organization that was introduced in The Visitor and that includes Devlin and his grandfather as members.
After Amanda's conversation with Darius, she heads back to Charlotte for a visit to her friend and mentor, Dr. Rupert Shaw, the founder of the Charleston Institute for Parapsychology Studies in Charlotte (and also a member of the OCC). Dr. Shaw fills in some more information on the Congé ('kän-jā) and the Eternal Brotherhood of Resurrectionists, but Amanda is certain that he is not telling her everything that he knows, so—once again—she is on her own in unfamiliar, ghostly territory.
As is usual in this series, the plot unwinds in a series of creepy, night-time incidents in which Amanda and her dog, Angus, hear/see/feel evil, otherworldly "things" that generally fade away after they scare her into yet another bout of shivers and shakes. The house in which Amanda is staying in Ascension was the scene of some brutal murders several decades ago. Before Kendrick explains the gory history of the house to her, Amanda feels no ghostly presences there, but after she learns the horrific details, the shadows—inside and out—begin to hide hostile "watchers." When you finally learn the identity of the villain, you will look back on the scary "watcher" scenes at the house with bewilderment, because they appear to serve no purpose other than to amp up the suspense and scare Amelia and the reader. The night creepers—one in particular—don't really have any reason for their creepy-crawly actions, so it's just another case of authorial manipulation and an awkward attempt at throwing a few red herrings into the plot to confuse the reader (and the heroine).
The requisite showdown scene unmasks the villain and puts Amanda in life-threatening danger, but since this is not the final book in the series, you know that she will escape with her life. Even though this novel is slightly better than the preceding one, this series continues to chug along at a mediocre level.
Click HERE to read a print excerpt from The Sinner on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art. Click HERE to listen to an audio excerpt on another version of that Amazon page by clicking on the phrase "Audible Narration" beneath the cover art.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Sinner is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own.
Is there such a thing as gothic urban fantasy? Because that's my take on this suspenseful, intricately plotted ghostly series that takes place in Charleston, South Carolina. You'll find no vampires, werewolves, fairies, or demons in this world, but you will find plenty of ghostly apparitions. These ghosts are definitely not the Casper-friendly type—at least most of them aren't. Each ghost wants to find a human to pull energy from—like an energy vampire—until that human is just a drained and burned-out husk.
The series heroine is Amelia Gray, adopted daughter of a cemetery caretaker who allowed his daughter to roam freely through cemeteries all during her childhood. Not surprisingly, Amelia has chosen a cemetery-related career field and has worked hard to become a nationally acclaimed expert in the field of cemetery restoration. Both Amelia and her father can see ghosts, and he has warned her repeatedly that to protect herself from being haunted, she must observe these four rules:
1. Never acknowledge the dead, meaning that you don't look at them and don't speak to them
2. Never stray too far from hallowed ground
3. Keep away from people who are haunted by ghosts because they are a terrible threat to you
4. Never ever tempt fate.
PREQUEL NOVELLA: "The Abandoned"
As more bodies show up at Oak Grove, Amelia and Devlin sort though a myriad of clues, and their mutual attraction grows stronger and stronger. In the meantime, Amelia breaks rule 1 when she acknowledges the presence of Devlin's girlish ghost, who turns out to be his dead daughter, Shani—killed in an automobile accident along with Devlin's wife, Mariama. So...it's still very early in the story, and Amelia, for the first time in her life, has already broken three of her father's four rules.
If it weren't for the spooky, creepy, look-over-your-shoulder ghost scenes and the threats of supernatural violence, this could almost be a cozy mystery in that we have an amateur sleuth, dead bodies showing up (with few graphic details), a bunch of quirky citizens, and several red herrings just to make things interesting. Also included are a lot of interesting historical facts about cemeteries, a smidgen of Gullah mythology, and some parapsychology theory, all of which are integrally tied to the plot. Stevens obviously loves Charleston, and she writes beautifully descriptive passages that give an authentic impression of that stately southern town. Click HERE to view seven short videos of Charleston, past and present. The video entitled "Charleston, Where History Lives" shows some of the landmarks mentioned in The Restorer.
Here are two quotations from The Restorer that will give you a taste of Stevens's descriptive writing:
Here is Amanda in a seaside restaurant enjoying the sunset: "Behind me, the whole city was bathed in crimson; before me, a fractured sky shifted into kaleidoscopic patterns of rose, lavender and gold. A Carolina sunset never failed to move me, but with the approaching twilight everything had turned gray. Mist drifted in from the sea and settled over the treetops like a silver canopy. As I watched the gauzy swirl from a table by the window, my elation faded. Dusk is a dangerous time for people like me. An in-between time just as the seashore and the edge of a forest are in-between places. The Celts had a name for these landscapes—caol' ait [pronounced kweel awtch]. Thin places where the barrier between our world and the next is but a gossamer veil."
Click HERE to go to this book's Amazon.com page where you can read or listen to an excerpt from The Restorer by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
When Amelia hears the story of a young woman who died several decades ago, she begins to piece together a theory about the secret grave, the thing in the woods, and other spine-tingling clues that are piling up all over the place. But it takes a trip home to Charleston for her to solve the mystery of the dead woman and of her own family heritage.
Another weak point in the conflict is Thane's grandfather, the Asher family patriarch. How could he possibly have committed all of the crimes he admits to without ever being caught—or even suspected? Seems impossible to me. I can't be any more specific with giving away spoilers, so I'll let you be the judge.
And one last criticism: The addition of Ivy, a teen-age sociopath, to the already crowded cast of characters seems superfluous to me. Ivy's big scene at the end appears to be yet another obvious plot manipulation in which someone needed to be the catalyst that propelled Amelia into one last critical experience. The last sentence of the book sends Amelia back to Charleston for the third novel.
Click HERE to go to this book's Amazon.com page where you can read or listen to an excerpt from The Kingdom by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
Throughout the book, Amelia goes through an increasingly familiar routine: She has a ghostly experience or overhears a conversation and then she thinks about it at great length, turning it over and over in her mind as she meditates on how it relates to all of the other clues that she has collected up to that point. This ritual occurred a few times in book 1, increased in frequency in book 2, and has gone overboard in book 3. It's like the author is beating the reader over the head with the clues—restating them over and over again, primarily, I think, to keep the red herrings in the forefront.
This is my least favorite of the books so far for several reasons, the first of which I just described. Then there are Amelia's never-ending breathless murmurs about how wonderful Devlin is, how well-dressed he is, how cute his drawl is, how he is the only man for her, etc., etc. She sounds like a pre-teen with a crush on a rock star. This series got off to a strong start with The Restorer, but it has gone down in quality with each book since. Now, it's at a C-level—a run-of-the-mill ghost story with a few annoying authorial tics.
Click HERE to go to this book's Amazon.com page where you can read or listen to an excerpt from The Prophet by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
NOVEL 4: The Visitor
Years after their mass death, Ezra Kroll's disciples lie unquiet, their tormented souls trapped within the walls of Kroll Cemetery, waiting to be released by someone strong and clever enough to solve the puzzle. For whatever reason, I'm being summoned to that graveyard by both the living and the dead. Every lead I follow, every clue I unravel brings me closer to an unlikely killer and to a destiny that will threaten my sanity and a future with my love, John Devlin.
It has been four years since the last GRAVEYARD QUEEN novel was published, so I was really looking forward to The Visitor. Unfortunately, my expectations were met with disappointment as I read chapter after chapter of repetitive scenes in which Amelia suffers from fearful shivers (26 times) and shudders (13); cold chills (30); prickly, creepy-crawly feelings on the nape of her neck (10); feelings of dread (14); eerie feelings of being watched (13); and assorted episodes of goosebumps, gooseflesh, and chill bumps. You'd think that with all this spooky foreshadowing something would actually happen, but no, not until the very end of the book—long after I stopped caring about what was going on in Amelia's life. I will admit that there was one middle-of-the-night intruder scene that livened things up very briefly, but after that, the story goes on to introduce one weird character/entity/shadow after another, none of which really does anything but hang around being spooky (and, thus, causing Amelia's chills, prickles, shudders, etc.).
In between Amelia's episodes of creepy feelings, she gives us a constant stream of interior monologues in which she summarizes her slowly growing collection of clues and asks herself endless rhetorical questions like these: "...where did I go from here? Where did I search for clues…?" "The last thing I wanted to do was …investigate, but what choice did I have?" Additionally, Amelia has a series of "niggles": "Something niggled." "…a guilty conscience niggled." "His absence niggled..." "The line niggled…" All of these niggles are intuitive feelings that various people, things, and events are critical to her investigation—nothing concrete, just niggles. After a few chapters of the never-ending shivers, unanswerable rhetorical questions, and baseless niggles, I found that I had completely lost interest in Amelia's investigation.
The novel's primary story line begins with Amelia's discovery of a stereoscope and an old stereogram (stereoscopic photograph) in the dank, dark basement of her rental house.
NOTE: A stereoscope is a device for viewing an almost identical pair of separate images, depicting left-eye and right-eye views of the same scene, as a single three-dimensional image. The stereographic photograph at right would appear as a single 3-D image when viewed through a stereoscope.As Amelia begins to investigate the weird photograph (of a man standing in front of a house with a pair of conjoined twins), she realizes that her own life is closely tied to the image because the woman who is peering out of the second-story window of the house in the photograph looks exactly like Amelia. Eventually, she gets drawn to yet another old cemetery. This one is the final resting place for the bodies of a group of cult members who supposedly committed suicide in the 1950s—which is about the time the photograph was taken. Now that's a red flag for me because stereoscopes were at their height of popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the photographs were generally taken by professional photographers. It's difficult to believe that some young girls were taking their own stereoscopic photographs in the 1950s. It just doesn't ring true to me.
In any case, Amelia continues her investigation, which eventually leads her back to her own family history. What she discovers is even more weird than what she learned about her magical genetics in the previous novel. By the end of the book, Amanda has been forced to deal with swarms of honeybees and cicadas, a cacophony of dead voices in her head, three mysterious keys, and numerous shadowy entities that stalk her everywhere she goes.
As if that weren't enough, Amelia's romantic situation with John Devlin is getting extremely rocky. Although Devlin continues to disavow the existence of magic, Amelia senses that he is seeing some of the same otherworldly creatures that she does, but refuses to admit it. Also, her growing magical powers allow her to go into Devlin's mind where she sees him interacting with his dead wife and his grandfather, who is still alive and is a member of the mysterious Order of the Coffin and the Claw (as is Amelia's good friend and mentor, Dr. Rupert Shaw from the Charleston Institute for Parapsychology Studies). The book ends with a romantic cliff-hanger for Amelia and Devlin. (And, by the way, why does Amelia always call him Devlin? Don't most women use their boyfriends' first names when they are talking to or about them?)
All in all, this book just didn't hit the mark for me—too many creepy-crawly feelings and not enough action to balance out the excess of interior monologues. I probably will not read the next novel, but I will post the publisher's blurb when it becomes available. Click HERE to go to the Amazon.com page for The Visitor where you can read or listen to an excerpt by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Visitor is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own.