Chris Palmer asked me to read a story written by him and J Bean Palmer, "Elsbeth and the Call of the Castle Ghosties". It's the third in a series but each one is a stand alone. It's about Elsbeth's ancestors calling her to old country to fight them against someone trying to steal the family's ancestral land. I will examine plot, characters and polish before assigning a grade.
On the whole I have good things to say about the plot.
The prologue, for instance, is fantastic. It encapsulates the premise in a concise and poetic manner while also wrapping it in the airs of an epic. This book is not an epic but this prologue made me eager to read the rest regardless.
The build up to the main action, traveling to Ireland, builds up that eagerness. An acquaintance of Elsbeth, the South Wind, blows her ship across the Atlantic Ocean. She knows something strange is happening because South Wind wouldn't do that on his own. It's a sense of mystery that drives the story forward. There's also an amusing explanation for how the kids survive the long trip: the boat belongs to Robert's Uncle Preston and Uncle Preston really likes peanut butter so there's this huge stash of it on the boat.
I like the event in Ireland itself too. There's a good development of events, some interesting world building and a plausible reason for why the kids are solving the problem instead of adults. Thus, no use of the Adults Are Useless trope.
It's the climax and resolution that I dislike. There's this Idiot Ball that leads to the climax which creates a forced crisis. Then it's like the ball breeds and lots of people are holding one. It's jarring. Because of this idiot ball, the sense of triumph afterward falls flat for me.
However, even here I liked how the crisis is resolved. It's clever, it's foreshadowed instead of an Ass Pull, and it's karmarific. My only gripe is the path there.
Characters are also good. 9 out of 10 times it's a good idea to show rather than tell when it comes to character development and that is the case here. Rather than talk about Lisa Lee being smart, the reader sees her give exposition on ocean currents or mentally calculate the odds of something happening. Then there's this quote about Veronica. It fits her so "perfectly" that Tvtropes would call it an Establishing Character Moment:
"Veronica sped in right beside her on her perfectly clean new bike, perfectly dressed in crisp navy and white, perfectly prepared for a day at sea. In other words, perfectly Veronica." (2nd page of the 2nd chapter)
Gorgeous Banks also makes a good villain. He's introduced at the castle's doorstep, trying to charm his way inside while the local kids' parents are away. There's this sliminess to him and veiled menance. He convinces Robert to do something terrible for him by appealing to his love of treasure hunting. When parents warn their children about the "bad stranger", this is the guy they're talking about.
The three ghosts are good too but my favorite is Durst. He is what happens when an epic hero becomes a grumpy old man. He's a sympathetic character but at the same time, the contrast is comical.
My problem with the characters is the drop in IQ of the heroes as they go into the climax. Also, Gorgeous Banks decays into a caricature of greedy polluters and evil bureaucrats around the same time.
For the grammar, I am of two minds: 1.) The many sentences starting with "and" or "but", among other things, make the book sound like it was written by a nine year old. 2.) The story is written for nine year olds from the perspective of a nine year old, and I am a Grammar Nazi.
Pacing, on the whole, is good. I feel like the plot spins its wheels in one specific spot, but this spot is short and easy to overlook.
If it weren't for the problems in the climax, I'd have no qualms about giving this book a B+, but as it stands I have those qualms.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Elsbeth and the Call of the Castle Ghosties" a C+
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