Book Review: Wings to the Kingdom / Author: Cherie Priest / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
Cherie Priest is a versatile author who has ventured fearlessly into the realms of urban fantasy and steampunk. This, the second title in her Eden Moore trilogy, shows she's just as good at the traditional things-that-go-bump-in-the-night ghost story. It's detailed, robustly plotted, pleasantly old-fashioned and the perfect summer read for anyone who prefers cemeteries to the beach.
A few loose ends from the first book linger, but basically it's a stand-alone tale. On the vast battlefield park at Chickamauga, Georgia, where thousands were slain during the American Civil War, spectres of the fallen start popping up and making feeble but very creepy attempts to communicate with the living, to the consternation of tourists, rangers and bewildered locals. Before long the sightings attract media interest, culminating in the arrival of a pair of slick celebrity ghost hunters, who bowl into the nearby town of Chattanooga hoping to rope the spooks into their TV show.
Conscious that she's earning a reputation for herself as something of a freak, Eden Moore, Chattanooga's resident psychic and spirit wrangler, is desperate not to get involved. But nonetheless she's drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery, which involves missing Confederate gold, a shadowy gunman and Old Green Eyes, a hairy eight foot tall ghoul that is reputed to haunt the battlefield.
Wings to the Kingdom isn't for those who crave continual bloodletting and a new twist to every page. Events unfold at a leisurely, almost stately, pace, and the satisfactions that Priest offers are of a more low-key kind. There's the cosy feeling that comes from watching Eden mulling over dusty old legends and indistinct EVP (electronic voice phenomena – see what you learn from reading Starburst) in the company of her underwhelming sidekicks, preening would-be ladies' man Jamie and Benny, a geeky fan of all things occult. And then there are several excursions under cover of darkness to the battlefield – set-pieces from which Priest wrings every last icy chill.
A sense of place is crucial to most successful ghost stories, and this is no exception. Over the course of the novel, the Chickamauga battlefield park emerges as a personality in its own right, much like Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Seemingly benign and family-friendly by day, by night it's treacherous and unwelcoming, a place of impenetrable pea-soup fogs and dangerously subsiding graves.
Priest is meticulous at evoking these night terrors – obscure movements in the darkness, shapes looming out of the fog. Where she lets herself down is with Eden herself, who's a bit too closed-up and self-sufficient to be a completely engaging central character. Eden's also the narrator, and this is problematic because, while Priest's rather literary prose style is well suited to creating an unsettling ambience, it's not really credible as the voice of a college-age girl. But these caveats aside, Wings to the Kingdom is gilt-edged horror, an exercise in the supernatural that exudes class. Kudos to Titan for bringing out such an accomplished trilogy.