• Bella Dean Joyner

Book Review: Ghostland and Afterlife, Book 1 and 2 of the Ghostland Trilogy by Duncan Ralston

Dear reader,

It has been a while! Last I posted, I was still on the other side of the world in South Korea. Now, we're back in America. Quite the change of pace. Quite the change of scenery.

Since we spoke in January, I welcomed a wee little guy into our family. Everyone, if you haven't already, please meet Phoenix!

Phoenix developed aspiration pneumonia at three weeks of age, and we were not sure he would make it. However, after weeks of antibiotics, bottle feeding, and lots of attention, he pulled through and received a diagnosis of pectoral excavatum. He will always have a weakened rib cage that frequently presses on his lungs and causes difficulty breathing. Eventually, he may need surgery. But for now, he's happy, healthy, and loving life and cat nip.

Somehow, it always seems as if unpacking takes substantially longer than the actual process of moving. Now that I'm finally able to wade through the boxes in my house, I've found the time to read again. First up on the block for you is Duncan Ralston's Ghostland Trilogy.

Can I first marvel at this cover? Oh the nostalgia! It reminds me of one of the first horror movies I ever watched, though I've long forgotten the name. The setting was a carnival, not quite an amusement park, but the atmosphere was the same. A group of teenagers stayed after hours on the fairgrounds and were butchered quite deliciously by monsters masquerading as carnies. If anyone ever figures out the name of that movie, let me know!

Ralston's Ghostland is on Kindle Unlimited and sells for $2.99 as ebook, $14.57 as paperback.

I will begin this with a disclaimer. At the time of my initial readings of both Ghostland and Afterlife, I noticed a few issues with missing words, head-hopping, inconsistent details, and double verbs. I did reach out to Ralston who assured me it was an editing error. He then released a public apology to his readers, a complete class act! It was great seeing an author so concerned with the quality of the manuscript he distributed to his readers!

Because I have already addressed the editing issues I found within the novels, I won't be mentioning them anymore throughout the rest of the review. However, I dare say that Ralston's tales far outshine any sort of grammatical or style issue found within.

Of the two, Ghostland was my favorite. This is purely a personal preference based on my inner child's raging desire for an amusement park like this to really be a thing. A theme park where customers can see verifiably haunted exhibits in their real habitats? Explore a decrepit asylum where the deceased residents still scream? Walk through a decaying prison where the ethereal inmates still occupy their cells? I'm game! Packing my bags right now! When are we leaving? I don't care that it all obviously goes horribly wrong. I want this to exist!

The level of backstory that Ralston develops for Ghostland is unparalleled - maps, websites, individual ghost backstories. He builds a rich background for a demented writer immersed in his own wickedness. Ralston could very easily take any one of the mentioned exhibits in Ghostland and create separate novels based on each entity's sordid, gore-filled history, ultimately creating his own horror franchise.

I did struggle with the ages of his two main characters, Ben and Lilian. Ben is every bit the lovable loner, but he has a complexity and a maturity underlying his lack of confidence that makes him seem older than his supposed years. Lilian also feels more like a peer to her therapist, Allison, than she does a teenage patient. This was highlighted even more so by Lilian's unchanging resolve and mannerisms after the separation from her therapist. However, despite this, the bonds formed among the characters while they fight to escape Ghostland are rich, believable, and easily invested in.

But what about the antagonists? There are so many! Think Silent Hill meets Disneyland. The theme park oozes knife-wielding serial killers, possessed dolls, and infected holograms. Though, the most prominent of all is Rex Garrote with his macabre house of tortured souls.

While reading, I had to keep reminding myself that Garrote was not actually a real writer. Ralston's attention to detail throughout the novel, including quotes from Garrote's fictional works, makes the novel a believable homage to an author that never existed. Garrote is spectacularly cunning, overwhelmingly manipulative, and wickedly omniscient - the perfect threat.

Ralston does end on quite the cliffhanger, which caused me to catch my breath! However, the epilogue catches your free fall of the final chapter and delivers you safely to the sequel.

Afterlife, like Ghostland, is available on Kindle Unlimited, is $2.99 for ebook and $14.57 for paperback.

The cover art for Afterlife does not strike me like Ghostland's does. Garrote is front and center, which makes sense since he does play a larger part in this novel. I also still feel like we're trying to fit Lilian and Ben into these little adolescent boxes that they never quite squished into in the first place. However, as far as creativity and inspiration go, it's stellar!

This novel threw me for a loop. Ghostland was chronological without much deviation. Ralston really stretched his legs in Afterlife, creating a labyrinth of time jumps and a myriad of new characters. There was quite a distance between the subplots that made it almost an inconvenience to shift gears, but each of the storylines progressed the narrative arc towards quite a suspenseful culmination at Duck Falls.

I would have liked for there to have been greater involvement of the ethereals from Ghostland in Afterlife, but alternatively, we were exposed to more of the misdoings of the humans responsible for Ghostland existing and those protesting that existence.

Ralston relied less on gore and more on suspense, which I loved. However, I did feel as if the ending was a little rushed. Had the final action sequences been fleshed out instead of switching to a different point-of-view, it would have been superb. Aside from that, the twists and turns in Afterlife will not disappoint. I look forward to the third installment. Would definitely recommend!

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