I spent the last week in the snow-blasted wilds of Idaho with the family. We shared presents, Christmas dinner, and many, many germs. Consequently, I didn’t get much time to read even when I wasn’t feeling too sick to read. When I did have the time and energy and wasn’t fevered, I wanted to read something that wouldn’t be too taxing. Sadly, that’s not The Book Thief. I had to set that aside until I felt better. Instead, I ended up reading Amanda Steven’s The Restorer, the first novel in the Graveyard Queen series.
Amelia Grey saw her first ghost at age nine. Her father immediately taught her the rules. Don’t acknowledge the ghosts. Stay on hallowed ground. Shun the haunted. And Amelia has done a good job of following those rules in the years since, even though she works as a cemetery restorer and writes a blog about cemeteries. But then a body—a fresh one—is found at the cemetery she’s currently restoring for Emerson University. Devastatingly attractive police detective John Devlin asks for her help, as she knows more about the Oak Grove cemetery than anyone else in Charleston. Devlin is haunted by the ghosts of his wife and daughter. All her common sense tells Amelia to stay away from him. The case, however, refuses to let her go.
Though she has been good about following the rules up to this point, Amelia has begun to wonder if what she was taught was accurate. She slowly—and not all that willingly—lowers her guard to ghosts. The ghosts give her hints about what’s going on at Oak Grove as more bodies and secrets are uncovered. There are several red herrings in The Restorer, but I didn’t see the resolution coming at all.
Stevens has a less-than-light touch in The Restorer. At times, you can see her consciously rejecting the conventions of the contemporary/urban fantasy genre. Amelia and John strike sparks, but they don’t immediately fall into bed together. Amelia is more real than many other heroines of her genre. She has fears and curiosities and doubts. She reflects on her emotions and thoughts (sometimes to the detriment of the pace of the plot). Devlin is extremely reserved and grieving and haunted. The supernatural elements are low key and well-deployed throughout the book. Stevens is doing new things with ghosts in fiction.
The Restorer doesn’t have a perfect ending. I suspect it will tempt more than one reader to toss the book across the room in frustration. It’s clear that The Restorer is meant to lead straight into the next book in the series. I’m hooked, though.