Title: Restorer
Author: Amanda Stevens
Publisher: Mira, 2011
Series: Graveyard Queen, Book 1

THE BOOK: Amelia Gray is a young woman with an unusual job: she restores cemeteries for a living. Working in and around her home base of Charleston, she has built up a reputation as an expert in meticulous restorations of historic burial places. She learned the trade from her father, and grew up watching him work as a caretaker at a local cemetery. But it appears she inherited more than a professional aptitude from her father. She also shares with him the ability to see ghosts, and this ability has forced her to follow strict rules, the most important of which is that you don’t ever look at the ghosts or acknowledge them in any way, or you will never be free of them. This and other rules she learned from her father have kept her safe, until she stumbles upon a dead body of the fresh variety in the Charleston cemetery she has been hired to restore. Devlin, the detective investigating the crime, would be right up Amelia’s alley if not for the ghost of his wife and child that follow him around town. Can she help him solve the murder without losing her own life?

MY TAKE: Between the interesting (if not completely fleshed out) worldbuilding of Amelia’s ghost-sensing abilities, the brutal murders that add a sense of urgency to the unfolding plot, and the catnip that is forbidden attraction, there are a lot of things to love about The Restorer. First and foremost we get a great strong heroine who is NOT a cliche in the urban fantasy-mold of wise-cracking, ass-kicking Buffy clones. More brain than brawn, she has an interest career as a cemetery restorer, one that seems like a weird choice for someone so vulnerable to the dead. The setting is lush and vibrant: deep South, but without an over-reliance on folksy dialogue or stereotypes to put the frame across. Instead we get perfectly placed details that let you almost smell the jasmine and feel the brush of moss from a live oak tree. The romance is tantalizing, but for this first volume in a series, the obstacles are also huge. Not to be too spoiler-y but this will probably be developed more in later books. Fine writing and pacing make this a great introduction the series.

THE GENRES: Fantasy (Urban Fantasy): Not super urban — let’s face it Charleston is more sleepy and charming than hustley-bustley. But still under the general family umbrella of urban fantasy with the supernatural abutting the normal world and our protagonist as the bridge. For fantasy worlds, even if they are not full-fledged secondary worlds (think epic fantasy), you usually get a lot of attention paid to the rules of the world. The Restorer is a little light on that, perhaps saving something for future volumes. Why does she see ghosts? How many kinds of ghosts are there? How are the Other ghosts released later different from the regular spirits she sees? Not many answers yet.
Horror: Although some urban fantasies borrow the monsters from the horror genre and leave everything else behind, this novel takes along some of the best bits from horror. With the Stevens’ worldbuilding and use of ghosts we are definitely dipping into the Gothic tradition, and The Restorer expertly builds the tension and chilling atmosphere found in a good Gothic. Amelia’s ghosts are sincerely scary, never played for laughs.
Mystery: Starting with the brutal death in Amelia’s cemetery, we have several dead bodies that turn up in The Restorer and our heroine is inextricably drawn into the mystery of who is behind these crimes. We get traditional mystery elements with the character of John Devlin, a classic brooding detective who both wants Amelia’s help and wants to keep her at a distance. There are some great twists and turns that keep the reader guessing about who’s behind the brutal killings, all of which keep you turning pages and keep the pace brisk.
Romance: There is some great heat between Amelia and Devlin. With any good romantic plot you need to throw some obstacles at your hero/heroine. The obstacle here is the metaphorical AND REAL ghosts of Devlin’s wife and child, which pose a special danger for Amelia because of her abilities. But Devlin and his ghosts also keep drawing Amelia, and without spoiling anything, this relationship will probably be a big part of future series installments.

RATING: 8/10 Excellent


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