Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ghoulish Song (Zombay #2) by William Alexander

This sequel to "Goblin Secrets" is a simpler read at 166 pages. The plot is a straightforward adventure in which a girl, Kaile, plays a flute that separates her from her shadow. The flute was given to her by a troupe of goblins that she invited to play at her mother's bakery. Her superstitious family thinks she is dead and has a funeral. Kaile attends the funeral and says she's alive and well but they ignore her thinking she's a ghoul. She sets off for answers by finding the owner of the flute to understand its history. The flute is made from a bone and she doesn't know if it is human or not. A series of mishaps and adventures propel her to find answers that she doesn't always wants to hear. When the river threatens to flood Kaile is afraid for her mother and realizes she must listen to the river if she wants to save her mother and the town.

Alexander has unusual plots that are not very predictable. While I struggle a bit with visualizing this author's settings because he doesn't do much world building, he has interesting characters and a dreaminess or creepiness to episodes that create a strong mood. At times this book seemed like it was going to get violent such as Kaile getting tossed into a furnace, but then the author pulls back on the tension making it less scary for younger readers. The theme of teamwork is played out in a unique way. Kaile is bossy with her shadow and doesn't respect its feelings. The shadow is afraid of the dark and is disagreeable most of the time. The two don't get along and it isn't until they work together that they can play the flute in harmony.

The overarching theme is about listening to each other. Kaile's mother doesn't listen to her. Kaile doesn't listen to her shadow. The townspeople don't listen to Kaile. When people don't listen to each communication breaks down and people get hurt. In the end Kaile learns to listen and her mother learns to stop and notice Kaile. Alexander shows change in characters but it is subtle and might be missed by readers. For instance, the goblins are prejudiced by the other townspeople and while the theme isn't explored in this book like the first, it is still evident and Kaile is outraged by her parents treatment of them. Kaile also doesn't want to take responsibility for her part in causing the problems in her family and her life. She does at the end but only when her Shadow admonishes her for not admitting her part in causing the Inspection to fail and resulting in her mother's punishment.

Sometimes I felt like there were so many themes and ideas that I wished more were explored in depth. The story about the girl drowning and getting separated from her shadow felt rushed. The tragedy is explained but I can see readers might confuse it with the river ghoul's story. The ghoul is made up of people who drowned for other reasons such as murder or suicide and it is revealed so close to the other girl's drowning that some might not realize they are separate. I might be being too picky, but I wished there was a clearer separation between the two because it's such an important revelation in the plot.

This is the only steampunk writing I've ever come across and am not very familiar with the genre. The odd gearworks and how they are worked into the storyline is not for everyone. I've had many students not particularly care for it because it is so different. Even my fantasy lovers don't always like it. I still am trying to figure out who to recommend this book to when I do book talks. Maybe its best for my hard core fantasy lovers or science fiction readers. Maybe it requires an older reader even though it is written for younger. Maybe it's more of a sixth grade level book. I'll be interested in how this second book fares because it seems less confusing than book one. We will see...

3 Smileys

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