REVIEW SUMMARY: More of a story with ghosts than a ghost story.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Eden Moore uses her ability of seeing dead people to solve the mystery of Old Green Eyes.
PROS: The wonderfully somber atmosphere; the ghosts play a more active roll here than in the previous book.
CONS: The mystery is not very complex. The steady pacing is perhaps a bit too slow.
BOTTOM LINE: A fine companion for a cold, quiet night.
To call Cherie Priest’s sophomore novel Wings to the Kingdom a ghost story might be misleading as that conjures up (to me, anyway) images of haunted houses and scary spooks. Priest’s novel is more subtle than that. It’s a rather quiet story where the ghosts are secondary characters rather than the source of don’t-open-that-door scary moments. And that suits the story quite well since it lends to a wonderfully somber atmosphere.
That atmosphere centers on Eden Moore’s ability to see dead people, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because grieving-but-hopeful people futilely approach her to use her abilities to help them in some way beyond her means; she is unfortunately unable to contact the dearly departed at will. She sees ghosts only when they want to be seen. But her abilities are also a blessing in that they help her get out of a scrape or two when she’s solving a mystery.
The mystery in question revolves around a military park in Chickamauga, Georgia, where thirty-five thousand lives were lost during the Civil War. The fields at the park are said to be haunted by the famous ghost named Old Green Eyes who guards the dead that rest there. Well, “stuck there” is more like it as they lack the wings to reach the kingdom of Heaven. Even so, Old Green eyes protects them by making trouble for those who would desecrate their memory. But lately something is wrong. The guardian is missing and the dead are making unscheduled appearances, scaring the daylights out the locals and pointing off in the distance. What are they trying to say? Where is Old Green Eyes, their protector? Is there a new menace on the historic battlegrounds? Eden Moore wants answers. To get them, she enlists the aid of her friends Benny and Jamie. They lack Eden’s abilities but nonetheless believe she has them. Together they set out to solve the mystery. (Zoinks!) But it’s Eden’s less-than-sane cousin, Malachi, who unknowingly leads Eden to her first clue. Throw in a couple of celebrity ghosthunters to make the sleuthing more difficult and a separate thread with an ex-con named Pete, and Eden has a little more than she can easily handle.
Fortunately the character of Eden is a bit more proactive in this sequel to Four and Twenty Blackbirds. Before, Eden was somewhat a somewhat reluctant victim of her abilities and the danger was somewhat contained within her dysfunctional family tree. In Wings to the Kingdom, Eden is a bit more accepting of her talents (even if she’d rather not have them) and she uses them to help solve the mystery. One of the improvements over the previous book is that the ghosts are a lot more helpful this time around. To help Eden ease her burden, the story also introduces some people who share her ghost-seeing ability, though I felt more relieved for Eden than she did for herself.
The story is delivered with Priests’ fun and to-the-point writing style. There is no unnecessary meandering on lengthy and useless descriptions when there are things to be done by the characters, spit spot! Yet Priest retains complete control of the pacing. The book reads like it’s on cruise control – not too fast, maybe a little too slow – but steady. Even the initially disconnected thread explaining how Pete the ex-con comes to be involved is delivered with the same sure hand. However the slow-but-steady pacing does contribute to the excellently somber mood of the book; that and a few creepy scenes where Eden communicates with the dead. (Bonus for Southerners: the legend of Old Green Eyes is real!) The mystery that unfolds along the way is not very complex and the reader will probably figure it out about 100 pages before Eden does – no, it’s not Old Man Smiters who would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids! – but the book delivers its best when the two threads (Eden’s and Pete’s) start to merge. (Re: the excellent chapter where Pete enlists the aid of a Cherokee parolee to help with his scheme.)
Wings to the Kingdom strikes me as a book that, while not perfect, is the perfect companion for cold, quiet night…especially near Halloween.