|Series: stand alone (for now)||Rating: 4.5/5|
|Date of Publishing: April 9th 2019||Genre: fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery|
|Publisher: 47North||Available: Amazon|
|Number of pages: 427||Author’s website: http://www.craigschaeferbooks.com/|
Quote of the Book
“I believe that ‘finding the book you’re looking for’ is an overrated notion,” the man replied. “Far better to explore, and let the book you need be the one which finds you.”
Irresistibly drawn to mysteries, if only to debunk them, reporter Lionel Page exposes supernatural frauds, swindlers, and charlatans. His latest case is an obsession—at least for an ancient and wealthy heiress: verify the authenticity of a lost Edgar Allan Poe manuscript circulating through New York City’s literary underworld. But the shrewd Regina Dunkle offers more than money. It’s a pact. Fulfill her request, and Lionel’s own notorious buried past, one he’s been running from since he was a child, will remain hidden.
As Lionel’s quest begins, so do the warnings. And where rare books go, murder follows. It’s only when Lionel meets enigmatic stranger Madison Hannah, his personal usher into the city’s secret history, that he realizes he’s being guided by a force more powerful than logic…and that he isn’t just following a story. He is the story.
Now that the true purpose of his mission is revealing itself in the most terrifying ways, it may finally be time for Lionel to believe in the unbelievable.
I’ve got an ARC copy through Netgalley in exchange of an honest review.
I’m probably going to write a long and gushing review and bore you to death, so here is the bottom line: GO AND BUY THIS BOOK! I practically read it in one sitting – well, 80% of it anyway. I stayed up until 1 am even though I knew I was going to hate myself for it, but I HAD to know what happens.
Lionel is a famous reporter in Chicago whose career was built on debunking fake healers, magic users and generally anyone who cheated people out of their money. He always looked for proof of magic existing but all he found were liars and disappointment. As good as he was digging up secrets he was just as good at keeping them. But of course no one can hide from their past and his is about catching up with him. To run it off for a few more days he makes a deal with the mysterious Regina Dunkel who sends him to New York in chase of a very rare first manuscript of one of Poe’s short stories. Which starts as a simple investigation and an easy case turns into a complicated maze of lies and mystery. Lionel’s world turns upside down and it’s time for him to unlearn everything he knew and believed in.
“Ugh.” She rolled her eyes. “Ever wonder why that’s the conversational default? People always want to know your job. Not what you love, what you hate, but what you do to earn money. What does that say about us as a society?” – Maddie
Schaefer has a talent for writing a bit cynical, sarcastic but at the same time charming and relatable male protagonists. I really enjoyed reading about Lionel and the way he dealt with hard pressing situations. His no-nonsense attitude and his stubbornness. I seriously didn’t envy Brianna, his boss at the Chicago News for having to deal with him. Not that you could get mad at him, but the way he jumps into dangerous situations not caring about anything but the story can be such a pain in the ass. And a nightmare to sort insurance out afterwards. All that said, I would love seeing Daniel Faust and Lionel get together at one point. The way we slowly learn about Lionel’s past is really well done and I liked how it was worked into the plot to give the story more layers.
Lionel crosses two women’s path and they set his world upside down. There is cold, ruthless Regina Dunkle, whose role in the grand scheme of things isn’t revealed until the endgame and whoa, I didn’t see that coming. Then there is Maddie. At first I liked her, she was mysterious and obviously had a past and some (in)visible scars, and some interesting tricks. She cries blood for one thing. I was intrigued by her and how she’ll fit into the picture. She was a bad-ass and liked her view on things.
“We are all a story,” she told him. “I’m a character in your story; you’re a character in mine. And we’re both part of the story of New York, along with eight million other people. It’s all fiction, it’s all true, and just like you were taught as a child, there’s a world of possibility on every new page.” – Maddie
Then she started to annoy me because I couldn’t wrap my mind around why she did let Regina treat her the way she did. What could be so bad that she punishes herself this way? Of course we get an answer and if I didn’t see Regina’s true identity coming then I’m sure as hell didn’t expect to learn THAT about Maddie’s past. And Lionel, like a champion took everything in stride. Maaaybe a bit too easily at that, but then he hardly had time to sort things out as everything kept happening. It’s a small miracle he didn’t freak out right there and then.
“His thoughts raced too fast to put the words together, because the words he wanted to say – the truth, mostly – wouldn’t come out. When he’d crashed to a dead stop, they’d crashed along with him, lying in a broken pile at his feet.”
As for the plot, I liked how Schaefer blended Greek mythology with Poe, and witchcraft and ghouls. The concept is a bit of a cliché with a sceptic protagonist with a secret to hide which comes back to bite him in the ass while he discovers the world is not exactly as he imagined, while of course meeting and falling for a gorgeous woman. And honestly, that’s fine. Schaefer’s characters are coming into life and feel very real and complex. You feel like you’re walking right beside Lionel as he discovers New York for the first time. And, as I said, Schaefer mixes things very well. I have to give him extra points for using lesser known figures from Greek mythology!
I had a few issues though, mostly minor things that didn’t make much sense or weren’t really explained: for example, at one point, Lionel asked for help from Brianna, digging up some info about a secret society, and she agreed to set some interns on the matter. But then this gets dropped as Lionel find his own way to them. In the end we didn’t learn much about the society itself apart from their role in the plot. Another thing I didn’t quite puzzled out is how Maddie found Lionel when he got into trouble. She popped up conveniently at the right time to save the day, but how did she know where to find him? Well, okay, this is really just me nitpicking, as probably she did it the same way as Lionel found the place in the first place. Still.
The ending. While some of the revelations caught me off guard, there was one I suspected toward the end. But overall it left me a bit underwhelmed for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, this book is really great and a total page turner, but the last big confrontation left me, well, underwhelmed as I said. The story built up nicely until the scene in the train tunnel, but from then on, it was a bit rushed maybe. Even though the big revelations come right after each other, and you basically have no time to blink. The confrontation scene I mentioned was used more like to show off who is who than a satisfying cathartic end.
That said, I still like Craig Schaefer’s style of writing and the worlds and characters he creates. I had quite a few lines marked as I read and let me tell you, it was damn hard to choose just a few for this review! He really does have a way painting a scene, an emotion to make us feel what he wants us to.
“Strobes washed his vision in flashing white and scarlet, ambulance lights, turning the crowded club into the scene of an accident. Bodies writhed in the glow – dancing, fighting, bounding against each other like pinballs of flesh and bone.”
Considering everything, I think Ghosts of Gotham is my favorite novel from Craig Scheafer so far, and definitely not the last I’ve read. Ghosts of Gotham is fast paced, magical and one that is hard to put down. I don’t think I’m far from the truth if I say that this was only the beginning of a series that would rival his Daniel Faust one. I urge you to give it a chance if you like: Greek mythological figures in a modern setting, protagonists with mysterious and dark past, magic, characters you can enjoy hating and wondering about (Regina), and a mystery which means leaving bodies all over the place. In short: it has everything you might wish for!
Great review. I’m reading Sworn the Night right now and loving it. I’ll look to read this one at some point too.
Thanks Paul! I liked Sworn to the Night! I need to get to the third book of that trilogy soon…
I’m so glad someone else loved it. I reviewed this a few weeks ago and was gushing about it too!
Yay! It was such a good book! One of my reviewer buddies liked it too, actually the people over at Fantasy Book Critic are a huge fan of him 🙂