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Ghostland by Jory Strong
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May 31, 09


Reviewed by Marisa O’Neill
Publisher: Penguin
3.5 Stars

After reading Ghostland I had to take a breath. A compelling and well written paranormal romance, Ghostland is a unique and fascinating tale of a post-apocalyptic world filled with other worldly creatures and danger in the here and now.

Jory Strong delivers a strong and powerful book about a world in the aftermath of death and destruction; a world where only the rich, powerful and connected have a chance at a life worth living. It is a bleak world, stark and filled with treachery and deceit. The darkness is almost palpable. I had a very strong reaction to the almost oppressive construct of this world and the mythology that Ms. Strong has created. It reminded me a great deal of the world created by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Not in any specific sense, but in a more general sense. Ghostland has a pervasive sense of foreboding. This is not a bad thing. As a matter of a fact, I was surprised that it evoked these feelings at all. On the back cover blurb there is much reference to the fact that it is an erotic romance and a ‘passionate story’ with ‘never a dull moment’ where you should be prepared to be ‘in a constant state of arousal’. Now I must say there is a very strong sexual element between the protagonists, and the romance is one of the central foundations of this book. However it was the world that Ms. Strong placed her characters in that really shook me up. It also made me question what I want when I read a romance book. More and more authors are giving us such amazing and well crafted books that encompass so much more than a story whose central focus is one man, one woman and their happily ever after (HEA). The world building in many romances, particularly paranormal romances, has become intricate and intense. Ghostland is that ‘breed’ of book.

As with all paranormal books the supernatural element is right in the forefront. In this post-apocalyptic world people with supernatural powers are no longer in hiding, yet they are regulated and used by the rich, the powerful and the Church. The book opens with a chapter that immediately gives you a clear sense of the world you’re about to immerse yourself in. You can feel it.

“FEAR rolled through the San Joaquin farmland with the rumble of a heavy truck. Children were called in from their chores and women abandoned their laundry without putting it on the lines. Heavy doors and barred windows were closed and locked as prayers were said to whatever gods might still linger in a world altered forever by war-born plague.”

Aisling McConaughey is one of those people who live on farm in San Joaquin and the truck roaring through the country side is coming for her. Aisling was an orphan left on the front door of a farm, her parentage is unknown but she is a woman with supernatural powers; a shamaness who can walk in the ghostlands. The ghostlands are where the dead wait for “judgments or rebirth …”. It is a place where she can question the dead who are still in a state of limbo and find answers for those still living. The men who have come for her, need her to walk in the ghostlands and find a missing woman.

Going to the ghostlands is not an easy task and always exacts a price. With her familiar by her side, Aisling travels to the ghostlands and sees a vision of the woman she seeks in the midst of a deadly ritual and about to loose her life. Since Aisling has no physical presence in the ghostlands she is powerless to help the woman about to be sacrificed. Her familiar begs her to call upon a spirit, the Djinn prince Zurael en Caym. Zurael answers her summons and saves the woman; however no human as ever had the power to summon him. Her ability to summon him means she holds power over him that could destroy his life. This is Zuarel’s greatest fear, to be bound to the will of human. Throughout his existence Zurael has known that to be called to the will of a human, would mean his destruction. His only recourse is to kill Aisling. However, the plot twists again when he finds out that an artifact that can destroy his race is missing and he must use Aisling if he is to find it. Set on his mission, Zurael appears in the human world to find Aisling, use her to get the artifact and then destroy her.

The mythology and rules of the world Ms. Strong has built are very elaborate and intricate and sometimes confusing. There is a lot of action in this book and many characters are introduced. I had to slow down sometimes and re-group to find the threads. That being said she has created strong characters that follow a through line that adheres to their back story. And while their motivations are not always clear, they do tend to strengthen the story line. Her prose when describing the places and people in it are textured in such a way that you can easily visualize each scene. The relationship between Aisling and Zuarel is at turns both frightening and endearing. She’s created a heroine who has a quiet sense of self that is just awakening. Her youth and inexperience coupled with her sense of right and wrong is a good counterpart to Zurael’s commanding and authoritative power. The book ends with an HEA and on a hopeful note between Zuarel and Aisling but with a big question mark for the world as a whole. It left the door wide open for the next installment. I am curious and eager to find out what happens to the rest of the people in this stark world where a good life has a chance at re-birth.

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