Mira / April 24, 2012 / $7.99 print, $6.79 digital
I am the Graveyard Queen, a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. My father passed down four rules to keep me safe and I’ve broken every last one. A door has opened and evil wants me back.
In order to protect myself, I’ve vowed to return to those rules. But the ghost of a murdered cop needs my help to find his killer. The clues lead me to the dark side of Charleston—where witchcraft, root doctors and black magic still flourish—and back to John Devlin, a haunted police detective I should only love from afar.
Now I’m faced with a terrible choice: follow the rules or follow my heart.
The Prophet by Amanda Stevens is the third book in her Graveyard Queen series. The series begins with The Restorer, followed by The Kingdom. Amelia Gray has been able to see ghosts her entire life, but her father taught her at an early age never to acknowledge their presence. Ghosts were something to be feared and dreaded; they would cling to her if they knew she could see them, and would suck her dry of her life energy like leeches.
As The Prophet opens, Amelia has returned to her hometown of Charleston, and is drawn to Detective Devlin once again. We discover, along with Amelia, that Devlin is still a truly haunted man, clung to by the ghosts of his wife Miriama and their 4 year old child Shani. By inviting this haunted man into her life, she has made herself susceptible to his ghosts, and those ghosts have drawn other ghosts now.
Another such ghost is that of Robert Fremont, an old acquaintance of Devlin’s. He has asked, make that paranormally blackmailed, Amelia to help her uncover the truth of his death. Amelia finds that his death is seemingly tied to the deaths of Miriama and Shani. In addition, a creepy character has arrived to town by the name of Darius Goodwine, a Bwiti shaman, in a wild turn of synchronicity.
Amanda Stevens has a brilliant ability to depict a vivid picture of Charleston, and its old Southern ways. As the tale and connections unravel, one can’t help but feel totally transplanted into the town, along with its old homes filled with culture and tradition. Amelia visits plantation-style homes with long graceful columns, multi-level Victorian level homes, walks on creaky wooden floors, and enters front parlors, all evoking a real sense of place.
As Amelia travels through the town, the very descriptive plants and scents that come along with the fauna help build this engrossing tone and picture. Hanging ferns blowing in the winds on the porches of homes. Draping Spanish moss, and grapevines on garden walls. It feels as though you are transported to another life and another time, exactly what I want to happen when I pick up a book.
We are re-introduced to Amelia’s house, set on hallowed ground, the one place in all of Charleston where she can keep the ghosts at bay and seek solace, hiding herself from the rest of the world. Rising from the remains of an orphanage chapel, the narrow house stands deep into the lot with upper and lower balconies and has lavish and fully detailed front and rear gardens in the “Charleston tradition.” The descriptive visual Amanda Stevens gives us of the gardens blends beautifully with the theme of life and death in such a simple manner:
“The old southern graveyards I restored held much the same fascination with their dripping moss, creeping ivy, and, in the spring, the lavender bloom of their lilacs. Summer brought sweet roses; winter luscious daphne. A perfume death for every season. Each unique, each invoking a different emotion or a special memory but always reminding one of the past, of the fleeting nature of life.”
Amelia has always been warned to not let on to the ghosts that she can see them. Once they know, they will haunt her to do their bidding, but she cannot resist interacting with Devlin’s daughter’s ghost, Shani. One night, as Shani’s ghost is swinging in her garden swing, Amelia finds herself compelled to let her know she sees her, and speaks to her. She knows she is at a pivotal moment of no return:
“A line had been crossed tonight, and if Papa was right, I could never go back. For all my lofty ruminations of a higher purpose, I had no idea what I was getting into. What I was inviting into my life. Was I ready to accept the consequences of such a dangerous transformation?
Will you help me?
The question seemed to echo all my worried and self-doubt. All my midnight terrors. “What do you want me to do?”
The swing stopped, and I had a sense that Shani’s spirit was already starting to fade back into the netherworld.
Come find me.”
Just as Amelia knew would happen, after the initial contact, Shani escorts Amelia through a whirlwind of paranormal events. Basically, every time Shani pops up, creepy stuff happens. While Amelia is stalking Devlin from the bushes outside his house (hey, love makes you do some crazy stalkery things sometimes, she was just looking out for him, okay?) Shani appears next to her and actually makes physical contact for the first time.
“Her hand was in mine, the frost of her existence chilling my whole being. She clung to me as she gazed out across the yard.
I was horrified by the contact, and my first instinct was to jerk my hand away. Already I could feel my strength waning. But, ghost or no, she was Devlin’s daughter. I couldn’t turn her away.
Her gaze lifted, and when she saw that she had my attention, she lifted a tiny hand and pointed to the cluster of bushes from which the cat had bolted. I almost expected to find Miriama’s ghost swooping down on me.
Instead, I saw the gleam of human eyes in the darkness.”
There was someone else hiding in Devlin’s gardens guys! Eeek! But beyond that, the romance element in this book is so dang tragic. Amelia pines for Devlin and in his own way he pines for her, but he is so deeply tormented by the sudden deaths of his wife and daughter and he is not ready to let their ghosts go. Because he is well and truly haunted, Amelia fled from him during the first book, The Restorer. Now that she is back in Charleston, she is having to face the fact that she is stuck in the middle. She cannot let him go or move on, and yet neither can he from his ghosts.
“How many afternoons had I spent curled up in the shade of an old, drooping live oak or with my back pressed against the warm granite of a weeping angel, devouring the pages of my favorite Gothic novels, fueling an imagination already primed by the ghosts? Back then, I’d dreamed of having someone like Devlin. A darkly charismatic man with even darker secrets. As a lonely teenager, nothing had seemed more romantic than doomed love, nothing more beautifully melancholy than unrequited passion.
How stupidly naïve I’d been. There was nothing remotely beautiful or desirable about being denied the love of one’s life as I had been so cruelly reminded tonight. Even without the threat of the Others, Miriama would always find a way to keep Devlin and me apart.”
As our favorite tragic loner Amelia progresses through her investigation to find out how all the key players, alive and dead alike are connected, once again, she is visited by Shani. Only this time, it becomes very clear that the visits are not only escalating, but the messages are escalating in their urgency, as well.
“Shani wasn’t alone. Something had followed her to my house. Something dark and malevolent. I could feel it out there in the garden even now.
I heard a whimper as Angus [her dog] pressed himself against me. I wanted to cry, too, but I didn’t make a sound. Instead, I just stood there clutching the polished stone at my throat, my thumb working frantically over the smooth surface. My gaze was riveted to the windows where a message began to appear. Not a heart this time. Not a request or a plea, but a bold, angry demand that repeated over and over in the frost:
HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME.”
Holy cheese on a cracker, freaky! This scene pretty much prevented me from getting a good night’s sleep. I was thoroughly spooked the heck out. Obviously, Amelia doesn’t get much sleep that night either, and as if things are not spooky enough, Amelia finds herself once again in working in the Oak Grove Cemetery, the major setting of the first Graveyard Queen book, The Restorer. Just look at how beautifully illustrated and macabre the setting is:
“Oak Grove had once been the site of a large plantation with underground slave quarters still echoing with misery. Aboveground, it was lush and Gothic, the once parklike setting typical of the Rural Cemetery Movement that had migrated here from England during the Victorian era. The gravestone symbolism was some of the finest I’d ever encountered – willow trees and urns signifying sorrow and the soul’s mortality, hourglasses depicting the fleeting passage of time, roses in various states of bloom that denoted age at time of death. A dove marked a tiny grave near the gates, the bird of peace a symbol often found on the headstones of children.”
Yep! We’re back to THAT cemetery and it is just as intense as the first go-around. Things start to take a super duper eerie turn when it becomes apparent that there are ties between the murders and a powerful hallucinogen root used in rituals in the Bwiti religion from Gabon, Africa. From this root comes something called “grey dust” that allows people to actually die and commune with the dead, and supposedly return. With Amelia’s discovery of rumblings about “grey dust” while she is eavesdropping on a conversation, naturally she starts to ask around about it. Once again, she finds herself suspended between two worlds, pushed and pulled between her past and the present, the alive and the dead, and she knows she cannot continue on in this limbo. The ghosts will find her and suck her dry if that happens.
Elaborately depicted settings and world building, spooky ghosts, and ultimately, whether Amelia and Devlin can ever truly have their Happily Ever After, are what make this book so compelling.