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) (FINAL)
My name is Amelia Gray, and I'm a cemetery restorer who lives with the dead. An anonymous donor has hired me to restore Woodbine Cemetery, a place where the rich and powerful bury their secrets. Forty years ago, a child disappeared without a trace and now her ghost has awakened, demanding that I find out the truth about her death. Only I know that she was murdered. Only I can bring her killer to justice. But the clues that I follow—a haunting melody and an unnamed baby's grave—lead me to a series of disturbing suspects.
For generations, The Devlins have been members of Charleston's elite. John Devlin once turned his back on the traditions and expectations that came with his birthright, but now he has seemingly accepted his rightful place. His family's secrets make him a questionable ally. When my investigation brings me to the gates of his family's palatial home, I have to wonder if he is about to become my mortal enemy.
Amelia is restoring Charleston's Woodbine Cemetery, a small, badly neglected burial ground in which the graves have no names, just expensive, anonymous headstones. Woodbine's caretaker explains to Amelia, "Woodbine is where the well-to-do used to bury their secrets...Their bastards and mistresses...People they kept on the fringes of their lives. They erected all these fine monuments to honor the dead, but they couldn't or wouldn't give them their names."
Once again, Amelia is working in an isolated, overgrown graveyard, and once again she always stays until sunset, thus putting herself at the mercy of a host of ghosts and other entities—some quite sinister—who come out only at night. You'd think that by now she'd have learned to wrap up her work an hour or so before nightfall, but no, she just keeps doing the work-until-dark thing every single day and then being spooked and scared when the oherworldly entities come after her. This woman definitely does not learn from experience.
As Stevens ends the series, she pulls together a large cast of characters and involves them in a complicated, multi-faceted conflict that, once again, opens the human world to spooky, unwelcome visitors from the supernatural realm.
Here are the major players:
John Devlin, Amelia's ex-boyfriend: He is now engaged to a beautiful woman with whom he seems to have an adversarial, hostile relationship.
Jonathan Devlin, John's wealthy grandfather: Amelia believes that Jonathan is involved in the evil Congé society, which exists solely to wipe all supernatural beings from the face of the earth. He seems to know everything about Amelia's life, including the big secret about her ghostly powers, and she's afraid that he plans to harm or even kill her.
Dr. Rupert Shaw, founder of the Charleston Institute for Parapsychology Studies: He is Amelia's long-time mentor, but he has been acting very strangely lately, making odd, angry remarks about the Devlin family and seeming to hold back some dark secrets from Amelia. When John Devlin tells Amelia that the old man isn't who he pretends to be, Amelia doesn't know what to think.
Claire Bellefonaine, John's beautiful fiance: She is a cold and dangerous woman who is obviously out to get Amelia. She is marrying John for his wealth and social position, and nothing—and no one—will stand in her way. Why in the world is John engaged to her? What does he get from the relationship?
Rance Duvall, Claire's creepy step-brother: When Amelia first sees him, she knows immediately that he is a vicious man with a dangerous agenda that may very well include her death.
Lynrose, Amelia's aunt: Amelia has visionary episodes in which she recalls overhearing mysterious conversations between her aunt and her mother in which they discuss a tragic incident that took place when they were much younger.
Prosper Lamb, caretaker of Woodbine Cemetery: He is an eccentric, slightly sinister man with some psychic abilities and a vast knowledge of death mythology. After several incidents in which dead birds either drop out of the sky or turn up in odd places, he warns Amelia that the birds are coming to her for a reason. Amelia realizes that, "Something bad was about to happen. A door had been opened because someone close to me was about to pass." Prosper tells her, "It's not the birds you need worry about...The danger lies in what comes through the door after them." (Hint: Pay attention to Prosper's remarks.)
The ghost child: This young, ghostly girl (about ten years old) attaches herself to Amelia at Woodbine Cemetery near the grave pictured below and refuses to let go until Amelia finds her body and solves her murder.
|Headstone in the shape of a baby's crib|
Explaining the twists and turns of the plot in a brief review is impossible. Besides, it would take all of the mystery out of the story. So, I'll just say that amongst the many, many creepy, shivery, scary episodes that Amelia suffers through (nearly every night), Stevens has concocted a plot in which all of the characters I listed above are connected through several interwoven story lines.
One of those story lines involves the ongoing romantic relationship between Amelia and John, which has been stalled during the past few books. In the latter part of this novel, we learn exactly why John turned his back on Amelia, quit his job with the police department, moved in with his grandfather, and got engaged to Claire. Will Amelia forgive John for putting her through such a long period of anguished heartbreak? Will they get back together, or will John follow through on his engagement? All I can say is this: You won't be surprised, but you'll have to read the book to get all of the details.
Towards the end of the book, the woo-woo elements get very dense and impenetrable, making it difficult—frequently impossible—to understand exactly what's going on. For example:
>> How and why does the evil entity from The Kingdom turn up in Charleston and how can it gain access to Amelia's house, which is on consecrated ground?
>> Does John have some supernatural abilities? It sometimes appears that he does, but he apparently is unaware of having any such powers.
>> What's the deal with the resolution of the "magic key" story thread that has been a part of the series story arc since the beginning. Supposedly, if Amelia can find her grandmother's missing key, she can close the gate to the ghost realm and live out the rest of her life ghost free. I was extremely disappointed with the manner in which Stevens handled the final resolution of this important piece of Amelia's story
>> At several points in the story (almost every night), Amelia is threatened or protected by various entities. Oddly, this aspect of the plot is never fully explained or resolved. Also unexplained is the heavily used dead-bird mythology, which just fades away after awhile.
>> New questions are raised about the circumstances of the long-ago car crash that killed Mariama and Shani, John's wife and daughter, but no answers follow.All in all, I have to say that this novel was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, it does resolve (to some extent) most of the dangling threads from the previous books. But the resolutions are not all satisfying. Some are impossible to understand while others feel so rushed that they fall flat, like fireworks that fizzle but never explode. If you are a fan of the series, of course you'll want to read this novel just to see what happens with the Amelia-John relationship, but I'm afraid that you're going to be a bit disappointed with other elements of the story.
Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Awakening on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.
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 otherworldly 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 Amelia 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 read or listen to an excerpt from The Restorer on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.
NOVEL 2: The Kingdom
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 read or listen to an excerpt from The Kingdom on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.
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 read or listen to an excerpt from The Prophet on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.
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, Amelia 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 read or listen to an excerpt from The Visitor on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.
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.
NOVEL 5: The Sinner
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 Amelia'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 Amelia that they could no longer be together because it would put her life in danger. (END OF SPOILER) 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 Amelia's life: Detective Lucien Kendrick, a handsome, tattooed police detective with topaz-colored eyes who seems to be as attracted to Amelia as she is to him. Although Amelia 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. Amelia 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 Amelia 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 Amelia, 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 Amelia that someone she knows well cannot be trusted. Could this be Devlin? Kendrick? Her friend, Dr. Shaw?
Darius also tells Amelia 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 Amelia's conversation with Darius, she heads back to Charleston for a visit to her friend and mentor, Dr. Rupert Shaw, the founder of the Institute for Parapsychology Studies (and also a member of the OCC). Dr. Shaw fills in some more information on the Congé and the Eternal Brotherhood of Resurrectionists, but Amelia 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 Amelia 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 Amelia 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, Amelia 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 Amelia 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 slow, middle-of-the-pack pace.
Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from The Sinner on the novel's Amazon.com page by clicking on the cover art for print or the "Listen" icon for audio.
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.