Alan Campbell, video game designer and fantasy novelist, continues creating intriguing worlds with the first in the Gravedigger Chronicles, Sea of Ghosts. This is a fun, dark, creepy, and heartbreaking book full of typical fantasy tropes twisted around in exciting ways. Campbell’s fashioned characters I’d love to have a cup of tea with, even if I spent the entire conversation terrified they were going to kill me. Everyone plays their hand close to their chest and keeps an ace up their sleeve. Each character is rife with secrets and are a little too eager to manipulate those around them for their own malevolent purposes.
Sea of Ghosts is the story of Granger, a soldier turned enemy of the state turned jail warden who suddenly finds himself entrusted with the care and protection of a petulant teenage girl named Ianthe with mysterious and suspicious abilities and her mother. They run afoul of Maskelyne, a sociopathic treasure-hunting metaphysicist, an arrogant emperor with more ego than political savvy, Unmer sorcerers brought low by the Haurstaf coven of psychic witches, trove-addicted dragons, drowned mermaid zombies, and a sinister creature from an unknown universe. If that’s not enough to entice you then maybe we shouldn’t be friends anymore.
At its heart, Sea of Ghosts is a pretty basic search and rescue plot pitting Granger against a host of characters both villanous and righteous claiming the right to exploit young Ianthe. While the characters and plot seem to suffer from too much trope and not enough novelty, they are still highly entertaining. Campbell does a damn fine job of sucking you in whether you like it or not.
The book I started was not at all the book I finished. Without revealing too much, I sat down with a fantasy book about dragons and sorcerers and ended with a book about entropy and astronomy. It also took a little too long for the story to get going, but once it did I felt like I was on bullet train. I was almost sad to see the story end, especially on such a nail-biting cliffhanger.
Even though a lot of thrilling things happen in some very thrilling ways, Sea of Ghosts still feels somewhat like a 430 page prologue. This book seemed more concerned with world building and character definition than the overarching plot, though I’m sure there are enough clues and hints in book one to give the rest of the Gravedigger Chronicles a solid skeleton on which to grow. Campbell’s woven a tale stuffed with too much potential. I usually prefer canny nuance to giant neon signs flashing a plot point, but I wish this book had a little more “Doctor in a Laurel and Hardy movie” obviousness and less “Schlechter Wolf” subtlety. That being said, I trust that Campbell knows where the story is headed, and, frankly, I can’t wait.
Alex Brown is a digital archivist by passion, reference librarian by profession, writer by moonlight, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare…