ARC Review: Ghostland

Jory Strong
Berkley Trade
ISBN-10: 0425226069
ISBN-13: 978-0425226063
Urban fantasy romance
April 7, 2009

From the author’s site:

In a post-Apocalyptic world where supernaturals have emerged from hiding, wealthy humans delight in decadence while the religious gain power through temptation. For the masses, fear reigns from birth to death, and the afterlife holds beings that only the bravest can summon—or dare to desire…

Taken from her home and family, shamaness Aisling McConaughey has no choice except to enter the “ghostlands” in order to learn the fate of a wealthy man’s mistress. But there is always a price to pay for the use of her power. To save the woman’s life she must summon the Djinn prince Zurael en Caym—and yield to his savage, sensual rage.

Zurael fears nothing except being called and bound to a human’s will. He intends to kill Aisling after she’s served as bait to find an enemy in possession of an ancient tablet. But the more he tastes of her innocent spirit, the more he’ll use his fiery touch and seductive whispers to keep her hungry for his mercy—even as they weave an erotic spell that he cannot escape…

Powerful forces threaten both their worlds, leaving Aisling and Zurael with an unbearable choice. Follow their hearts…or stay true to their honor and risk losing an eternity of pleasure.

Right away I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this book. It doesn’t take long at all to get the gist of the author’s worldbuilding. In this case, I was pretty pleased at the post-Apocalyptic background since it happens to be one of my favorite scenarios. I think Strong does a good job of developing this aspect with just enough details. I appreciated that there wasn’t an overload of detail for what had essentially become a barren existence for the majority of the people left on Earth. Things on the earthly plain are run by angels, yet creatures such as werewolves and vampires have now come out to play as well. Another realm housing spirits and other creatures – demons – is the ghostlands. Deep within it are the Djinn, who are divided into different houses. It’s from amongst one of these that Aisling draws Zurael when she’s forced to use her shaman powers to aid a woman that’s been kidnapped. Drawn from the relative safety of her adoptive family, suddenly Aisling’s powers are the only thing keeping them alive. It’s a deadly game, one she’ll have to approach from many sides before she can figure the entire ordeal out. Hopefully, when it all ends, she and those she loves will still be alive.

I found it hard to connect with Aisling at first, and I admit it was a little distressing. She seemed a bit too stiff of a character, and some of her actions I just plain did not understand. At first. I felt like questions kept rising and rising and wondered if they’d be answered. I feel like I learned a lesson in patience thanks to this book. There were things that Aisling kept agreeing to do – helping people for the most part. I kept thinking, has no one apprised this young woman on the wisdom of not talking to strangers, let alone agreeing to help anyone with any request they’d make on her shamaness powers. Again – patience, and I had it in spades by the time things did begin to unfold. I began to wonder if Aisling seeming a little stiff wasn’t just due to her being taken out of her element, a thriving rural farm, and thrust into the dangers of a big city. By time the plot progresses, and I began to see how intricately Strong meant for things to unfold, Aisling was also coming along quite nicely as a heroine.

Zurael of course was none too pleased at being summoned against his will, and such actions are immediately condemned by his kind and retribution exacted on offenders. And though he plans to meet out punishment for Aisling in the form of death, there’s something irresistible about her. Instead, he chooses to aid her in her quest to find out who is behind a dangerous street drug.

As with Aisling, Zurael took a little getting used to. I didn’t believe he had strong feelings for Aisling, although in hindsight, I do suppose lust-at-first-sight is believable, especially considering the circumstances he and Aisling meet under. There were times I wished the two would cool their ardor and focus on the plot. There was more than one time I felt the plot was really getting going good only to come back to their passionate attraction. While this was frustrating, all too soon there was a turning point in the book where not only did the plot take off in leaps and bounds, but so did the romance between Aisling and Zurael. Finally, their passion became more than lust and I began to see some real instances of feeling between them. I didn’t really feel invested in their romance till that point.

Considering all that, it’s usually been the case with my reading material that if a book is going to be a little slow, it’s usually ranges in the middle to the end. I think Ghostland wins, despite a slow beginning, because of that great initial worldbuilding that morphed later into an ever thickening (and interesting) plot plus a genuine, caring romance between the hero and heroine. There comes a point where there is literally no one they can trust, except one another. Too many people want to use Aislings powers, and some obviously not for good. As things begin to become clearer, there comes a couple of interesting twists, one involving the angels that run Earth and where exactly they come from. Aisling also has some close encounters with some vampires, who I hope to see more of in future books. As things progress, we see too that things are not over for the Djinn either, so I expect we’ll see more of them and the ghostlands in future books.

Other interesting characters pepper the book, but none so much as Aisling’s “pet”, a ferret named Aziel. It’s clear from the beginning that he’s special, but even I didn’t realize how much so till the end of the book. Yet another way in which the author managed to surprise me.

A little bit more on the worldbuilding. Aisling is brought by a priest, an influential man, to the city of Oakland, which is run by humans, whereas other cities are run by vampires or other such supernatural creatures. In Oakland, due to the nature of some of Aisling’s agreements with a few people, we get to see the seedy and dangerous side of the city, one being a row of nightclubs that host games that result in people being fodder for the werewolves and other carnivorous creatures that roam the night. Those that are smarter are locked tight within their homes till the sun rises again. While the Church has a presence in the human-run cities, it too has it’s darker side. It’s no wonder Aisling discovers enemies at every turn.

There were a couple of scenes that I felt could use more clarity, involving displays of Aisling’s power or some other such magical encounter. I had to go back a couple of times on some of them to make sure I was understood everything clearly. Aside from those few scenes, I felt that the book flowed well, especially when things became more complicated. When you get to the end of the book appreciating how the author manages to answer all your questions, you just know you had a good ride getting there. Such was the case with Ghostland.

I think what’s impressed me most with this first in a new series is the author’s dedication to the worldbuilding. Most of the times I’m more impressed if the characters grabbed me. I ended up really enjoying Aisling and her djinn lover, but what hooked me into looking out for the next book is the author’s imagination. Spider-Touched releases August 4, 2009 and I can’t wait to see how Strong’s new world continues.

Rating: Four Scoops

For more about the author and her work, visit her site.

On Monday, April 6, we’ll be doing an interview and giveaway for a copy of Ghostland. Hope to see you there!

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  1. I think Aisling seems stiff because she is emotionally detached due to her situation. I was really impressed with the world building and Jory took chanced with using religion and the church having such power.

    Loved your thoughts :D

  2. I’m with Doug. Great worlds get me every time.

    Also, while I was sort of interested in this book (I’ve read some mixed reviews, but now I wonder if they stem from the fact that the book seems to cross genres–which I like, but sometimes bothers other people,) I was really intrigued by your post from yesterday on book 2. I figured I’d have to read book 1 to understand the set up for book 2. Now, reading this review, it seems like I will have to add Ghostland to my out-of-control booklist, for its own sake. :-)

  3. I just won a copy of this the other day! Jory is mailing it to me and I’m really looking forward to it!

    Great review, but I just skimmed it for now. I’ll come back when I’m done reading it!

  4. I’ve added this to my wishlist because the premise sounds like it’s completely my sort of thing.

    However, I hope the ferret isn’t too cute. I’ve just read Guardian of Honor and have used up my cute furry animal quota for this half of the year.

    Also – what’s with urban fantasy romance? The UF purist in me is screaming Nooooooooooo!

  5. Awww, LesleyW, no more room in your heart for ONE more cute, furry animal?

    And no room for UF romance? I has a sad. :(

    It’s just another new genre, right? No? *sniff*

  6. Actually, I’ve recently heard the genre called Urban Paranormal. Anyway, this sounds great. I like a book to pay attention to worldbuilding, though I get worried when animals get involved. I always think they might get killed.

  7. Fantastic Review Kmont!

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this book and your thoughts have only served to highten my need for it.

    It seems to me that a lot of first books in a series suffer from a slow start. The author just has so much information that needs to be written that at times the plot takes a back seat. I like that you mention that Strong doesn’t overload the reader with a lot of detail. The slow start seems to be attributed more to Aislings “stiffness”rather than information dumping which I feel is easier to manage.

    While you mentioned some weakness with the author turning to the romance vs. the continuation of the plot at times, this makes me happy. I am first and foremost a romance reader so I enjoy author dedication to the romantic elements of the novel especially with urban fantasy.

    Hopefully my own copy of ‘Ghostland’ will be making it’s journey soon to my hot little hands. Thanks for a taste!

    Have a great weekend!

    :) VFG

  8. Oh no, no. It was the lust that I felt detracted from the plot. When their romance became more believable and not so sex-oriented, then I felt it all flowed together much better. No, the romance eventually became very nice.

    I hope you enjoy it, VampFanGirl!

    Carolyn Jean, I had not heard that phrase, but it could work too. The author describes the books on her site as urban fantasy romance.

    Jessica, hope you enjoy the book!

  9. I have so enjoyed Jory Strong’s books and when I heard about this one, I was excited and still am after having read your review! Sounds so neat! Thanks for the review to read.

  10. Pingback: Ghostland by J. Strong | Literary Escapism

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