TITLE: The Kingdom
AUTHOR: Amanda Stevens
PUBLICATION DATE: March 27, 2012
This book was acquired from the publisher via NetGalley.
Deep in the shadowy foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains lies a dying town…
My name is Amelia Gray. They call me The Graveyard Queen. I’ve been commissioned to restore an old cemetery in Asher Falls, South Carolina, but I’m coming to think I have another purpose here.
Why is there a cemetery at the bottom of Bell Lake? Why am I drawn time and again to a hidden grave I’ve discovered in the woods? Something is eating away at the soul of this town—this withering kingdom—and it will only be restored if I can uncover the truth.
Never acknowledge the dead.
Never stray far from hallowed ground.
Never associate with those who are haunted.
Never tempt fate…
These are the rules that Amelia Gray, the heroine of Amanda Stevens’ Graveyard Queen series, follows in order to protect herself from the ghosts she sees haunting the world around her. The minute I read those rules I knew I wanted to learn more about this character and her world.
The book begins with Amelia on a ferry heading to Asher Falls where she has been commissioned to restore an old cemetery. She feels a bit unsettled when she catches a glimpse of a ghost in the murky depths of the water, a sign of what awaits her. On that ferry she meets the mysterious Thane Asher…(insert sound effect: screeching car brakes, a record scratching to a stop). Thane? I really wasn’t sure I could continue. The name “Thane” called to mind all kinds of cheesy romancey clichés. But I didn’t stop reading and I’m glad I didn’t let my bias get in the way of enjoying what was a fantastic story about dark secrets, ghosts, and a woman trying to find answers to the questions of her past.
Let’s start with what I loved about the book – Stevens achieved an atmospheric creepiness that hit the perfect note. Asher Falls, a town that has seen better days, is quite literally a ghost town. Empty streets, boarded windows, and a stopped clock in a tower…you can almost hear the silence and can imagine tumbleweed rolling across the road. Those same streets are populated with ghosts when night falls, ghosts desperate to be acknowledged by the living. And only Amelia can see them. I loved the idea of this boarded up town during the day that is filled with ghosts during the night. There was something deliciously scary about that and incredibly visual.
When working in the graveyard, Amelia catches a glimpse of an old man and at first she is not sure if he is a ghost or a living human being:
“As I hovered indecisively on the mausoleum steps, he did something that was neither human nor ghostlike. He dropped to the ground and slithered underneath the fence where he rose on hands and feet to scurry like a spider into the thicket.”
What a wonderfully creepy visual that made me put the book down out of fear and then pick it right back up to see what happened next. I kept picturing the actor from Poltergeist II as the old man and that upped the fear factor for me.
I also liked Amelia as a character. She is strong, smart, and other than having the gift (or curse?) of seeing ghosts, there is something very normal about her that I think is relatable. She is also lonely. Very lonely. And I think Stevens captures that loneliness perfectly – as a reader, you can feel the quiet and solitude of Amelia’s life and the work she does.
At the core of the story is the mystery surrounding Amelia’s birth. She is adopted and knows nothing of her origins but feels the answers lie in Asher Falls. The unraveling of the mystery really keeps the reader on edge, particularly in the second half of the book when the pace picks up and you feel yourself moving quickly towards some sort of enlightenment about the town and Amelia’s past.
I have to admit there are some things I did not like about The Kingdom. Amelia had a habit of not being persistent in her questioning. The townspeople are obviously hiding something and she tended to accept their vague responses to important questions rather than demand more answers. I thought that was a bit unrealistic. Then again my husband calls me the Grand Inquisitor, so this might just be a personal reaction.
I also think there were too many word echoes, especially in the second half of the book where everyone seemed to be “shuddering” and “shivering.” Those words appeared so much that I noticed it, which took me out of the story. I also felt there were a few moments that were overwritten, as if Stevens was trying too hard to get the reader to reach a conclusion that had already been reached.
I have not read the first book in the series. I rarely start a series out of order but The Kingdom looked too interesting to not jump in and start reading. I think it works as a standalone book but there are questions I have regarding Amelia’s relationship with a police detective she left back in her hometown that I know can only be answered if I read the first book. And I will. I purchased the first book, The Restorer, as soon as I finished reading this one. I’ve also already downloaded the novella The Abandoned and I’ve requested the third book in the series, The Prophet. The Kingdom has an ending that positively demands you read the next in the series.
Please check out this incredible trailer for the series:
I give The Kingdom 3.5 howls – I knocked half howl off (a yelp?) for some of the minor issues I had but this is a great book and I recommend it to anyone who wants to experience a creepy, unsettling ghost story with mystery and an interesting heroine.