Title: The Ghosts of Heaven
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (Macmillian)
Release Date: January 6, 2015
Acquired Via: Publisher
Timeless, beautiful, and haunting, spirals connect the four episodes of The Ghosts of Heaven, the mesmerizing new novel from Printz Award winner Marcus Sedgwick. They are there in prehistory, when a girl picks up a charred stick and makes the first written signs; there tens of centuries later, hiding in the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who people call a witch; there in the halls of a Long Island hospital at the beginning of the 20th century, where a mad poet watches the oceans and knows the horrors it hides; and there in the far future, as an astronaut faces his destiny on the first spaceship sent from earth to colonize another world. Each of the characters in these mysterious linked stories embarks on a journey of discovery and survival; carried forward through the spiral of time, none will return to the same place.
The Ghosts of Heaven... This is not an easy one to gather my thoughts about. I think it may be easiest to break it down by quarter (there are four shortish stories that make up the novel).
Quarter One: Whispers in the Dark
This story reminded me a lot of Hunting the Ghost Dancer by A.A. Attanasio, which is funny because I haven't read that book in nearly twenty years and can't recall the last time that I even thought about the book. *thinks about it* Okay, all they really have in common is that they're both set in prehistoric times. But still! I thought about that other book a lot.
Anywho, this story is told in free verse, which I liked, surprisingly. I don't care much for being caught with poetry unawares. (I do like poetry when I'm expecting it, mind you.) Once I got into the groove of it, Whispers in the Dark was easy to read in that aspect.
That being said, Whispers in the Dark was pretty dark. The tribe that the girl lives with doesn't have the easiest lot in life, and things just keep getting progressively worse for everyone. The girl begins seeing the spiral in everything as she's dealing with the - excuse my language - shitstorm. Of course, it was impossible to put down because I had to see what would happen next. 4/5 Stars
Quarter Two: The Witch in the Water
I didn't really take the time to look at the symbolism in The Witch in the Water because I got so invested in the characters early on, and I spent the rest of the story frustrated and pissed off. Anna and Tom Tunstall are the children of the village's healing woman, who has just died. When Anna started toying with the idea of taking over her mom's "business", I just knew that it wasn't going to be a good thing. We all know how women who practiced healing arts in the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries were treated.
I think what pissed me off the most (and it should) was the way Anna was treated and perceived by the men in her village. Heaven forbid she should tell someone no and try to do things her own way while she tried to care for her special needs brother. I did start to see a little of a pattern here where history can repeat itself if we don't recognize what is wrong and do something to stop it. 5/5 Stars
Quarter Three: The Easiest Room in Hell
The Easiest Room in Hell was an interesting one to read, though my least favorite of the four stories, as it is set in an insane asylum. It took me a while to get my bearings as to what was actually going on at Orient Point, but I think that was part of what made the story special. You don't know who is crazy or who the villain is (if there even is one).
I suppose my problem with The Easiest Room in Hell was my discomfort regarding Verity, the main character's young daughter who is living with him in the asylum. (He's a doctor, not a patient, by the way.) I just knew that Charles Dexter or someone else was going to do something awful to the girl, so I spent my entire time reading just waiting on something terrible to happen. If Sedgwick's purpose was emotional manipulation, he did it very, very well. 4/5 Stars
Quarter Four: The Song of Destiny
Dear Marcus Sedgwick,
If you ever find this review, please, please, please consider writing a literary science fiction novel. You blew me away with The Song of Destiny, and it's the best sci-fi short story that I've read in years. Seriously, you're right up there with Bradbury and Heinlein. You kept me on the edge of my seat, and you pulled off having an unreliable narrator admirably. Despite me not getting all of the closure that I hoped for in The Ghosts of Heaven from this story, it is far and away my favorite of the quartet.
If it makes any difference, my birthday is coming up. I think February 6, 2018 is not an unreasonable release date to shoot for.
P.S. I give The Song of Destiny 5/5 Stars.
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To satisfy FTC guidelines, I am disclosing that I received an advance copy of the novel from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. It has in no way affected the outcome. All expressed opinions are awesome, honest, and courtesy of me.