Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Haunting of Velkwood

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About the book:

From Bram Stoker Award­–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a chilling novel about three childhood friends who miraculously survive the night everyone in their suburban neighborhood turned into ghosts—perfect for fans of Yellowjackets.

The Velkwood Vicinity was the topic of occult theorists, tabloid one-hour documentaries, and even some pseudo-scientific investigations as the block of homes disappeared behind a near-impenetrable veil that only three survivors could enter—and only one has in the past twenty years, until now.

Talitha Velkwood has avoided anything to do with the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, drifting from one job to another, never settling anywhere or with anyone, feeling as trapped by her past as if she was still there in the small town she so desperately wanted to escape from. When a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to come back to enter the vicinity, Talitha claims she’s just doing it for the money. Of all the crackpot theories over the years, no one has discovered what happened the night Talitha, her estranged, former best friend Brett, and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago. Will she finally get the answers she’s been looking for all these years, or is this just another dead end?

Award-winning author Gwendolyn Kiste has created a suburban ghost story about a small town that trapped three young women who must confront the past if they’re going to have a future.

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I won an uncorrected Advance Reader Copy of this book from Saga Press, via Goodreads Giveaway--thanks so much! Here are my thoughts:

I congratulate Kiste on conjuring a unique type of haunting--not a house, not a thing, but a whole dang neighborhood! And I don't know whether "Talitha" has ever been a common given name but I suspect that its appearance here, when it was famously used in the gospel passage in which Jesus brings a dead girl back to life and says, "Talitha koum," (“Little girl, I say to you, arise!”), is not coincidental. (Please note, however, that this is not a religious story.)

From page one I was engrossed and creeped out. The build-up toward the protagonist's return to her abandoned phantom block was suitably worrisome and nerve-wracking. Her arrival there is heartbreaking and utterly chilling, as are the consequences of that and repeated visits. The mood is somber throughout which, coupled with how difficult things become for the protagonist the more time she spends in the shadowy realm, ratchets the tension up exponentially.

I felt the pacing was somewhat sluggish in the second act. As well, I found the writing style a bit immature in places--I know this is an uncorrected copy but I think the author uses a certain kind of repetition for emphasis, or to snare the reader emotionally, and this not likely to be "corrected." (And maybe it's not something requiring correction but just something not to my taste--whatever the case, those moments took me out of the narrative.) I will say this, though: the climax of the story is so violently satisfying that I cried, and I honestly can't remember the last time a book affected me that way.

"The Haunting of Velkwood" engaged me so strongly that I practically inhaled it over the course of four days, and I'm definitely interested in reading more by this author. Recommended for fans of the Channel Zero series (which, if it hadn't been cancelled, would've been an excellent adapter of this story.)

The Haunting of Velkwood is due to come out on March 5, 2024.

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