The last time I read a horror book I was a 16 years old wandering alone in Barcelona. I carried three things back home from that vacation: a beautiful dog who’s been the love of my life for a very long time, an insane passion for anything created by Gaudí, and the idea that I would never read another horror story ever again. Fast-forward to 20 years later, I’m on Twitter and everyone is raging about how good Ghost River is, and I can’t help but be curious about it. So I do the sensible thing and buy the book, because my take on my own boundaries is that I’ll never be able to move forward if I don’t keep testing them.
Four more months later, I find the courage to actually pick up this book and read it. And here’s my honest review of Ghost River, written by Chad Ryan.
Orphan Rock, that little sunset town in the middle of the Ghost River Nation.
Locals call the land haunted.
Wiser folk call it cursed.
Whatever the case may be, something evil’s stirring under the dirt.
This is the story about the folks who still live out there.
And the dead ones too.
Okay. Remember how I said I would never read a horror book again? I am a convert now. Give me more horror books, please.
I loved this novel to infinity and beyond. It is complex, the plot works incredibly well and sure, it is full of gore, but while it might be a little gratuitous at times, it is never too personal. Yes, horrible things happen, but when they happened to the characters I was rooting for they were never shown on paper, only hinted. I could see the aftermath, how it messed them up, but it never got painful to the point I had to pause reading.
It is so good!
This novel is driven by one of the most interesting sets of characters I’ve read in years. Like Shelby says to Markus, Esther and Minister tried to keep each other’s hopes up, to protect each other despite all the hurt and the massive disaster they were in. I love how their story developed and how unexpected every step was. I love Markus, and how he remained human despite everything he went through. I loved how Shelby’s actions were influenced by how kind Esther had been to her. I don’t usually like kids in fiction, but I adored Elizabeth’s arc and how important her growth was.
Throughout the story, these characters felt like they were trapped, like they didn’t have a choice, but their every action, their every decision shaped their boxes in a way that made the final outcome possible. Their stories mattered.
The hopelessness you breathe throughout the story is infectious and creeps into your veins as you read. ‘The Dark is a prison’, ‘Dreaming is dangerous’ are recurring themes in each character’s arc, and they’re also themes I feel very deeply. But in the end each one of them kept dreaming, kept trying to escape the dark, and what I got from this book is a very positive message. And it feels great. I’ve been trying to shake myself out of my bad mood by reading romance novels, when all it took was a well written horror book. Who would have guessed it?!
Anyway, I also loved how surreal the writing was, to the point that it reminded me of Irvine Welsh. And since he’s an author I love, this automatically puts Chad Ryan among my Authors to watch list.
If I have to find something I didn’t appreciate much though, I’d say that all the epithets and nicknames were confusing at times. I see how they helped create a sense of chaos, but sometimes I had to go back and reread to figure out who was who. While this slowed down my reading a bit though, it is just a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.
For all these reasons my final rating of this book is a solid 4.5 stars, and I can’t wait to read more from this author. Great job.