Friday, September 13, 2013

Creepy Ghost Story, Stunning Illustrations

Premise: Billy wishes he had never taken a job as a prison guard. Now that he has been transferred to the night shift, Billy's discovering that this is no ordinary prison. Not only do the haunted cells have a history of killing their inmates, but the prisoner in the Witch Well must be tended every night. Sooner or later, it will be Billy's turn.

Title: Ghost Prison
Author: Joseph Delaney
Length: 112 pages
Genre: Fantasy (Horror)
Series or Stand Alone: Stand Alone
Content Appropriate For: Grades 5-8
Format: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via

Three adjectives that describe this book: spooky, dangerous, mysterious

Delaney's new work is a departure from his famous Spook stories such as The Last Apprentice. Rather than a full-length novel in a well-developed world, Ghost Prison is essentially a short story designed for maximum creepiness. And boy does it deliver!

Ghost Prison is a classic ghost story. The setting of the prison is almost a character in itself, deftly described as Billy patrols the passageways. The character development is also strong. Billy's first-person narrative is a perfect fit for this story. And the ghosts occupy every corner without being too overbearing. The plot moves quickly, too. I found myself glued to the text past my bedtime.

But the real star of the show is Scott M. Fischer. His illustrations are incredible. With black and white drawings on nearly every page, I found myself anticipating the next image with as much eagerness as the next plot twist. I wish that I could find some samples to include with this review, but for now you'll have to settle for exploring Fischer's website.

Here's the thing, though -

Ghost Prison is a short story, masquerading as a novel. Ghost Prison uses the classic ghost story structure - heavy on the set-up, with a quick terrifying punch at the end. Where the opening and middle of this narrative are well-crafted and thoroughly engaging, the ending is essentially a one-liner. It feels almost as though Joseph Delaney had this one story, but didn't want to flesh it out into something stronger. Maybe it would fit better in a collection of ghost stories.

As a short story Ghost Prison is worthy of five stars, but it's not really fleshed out enough to stand alone. Still, I'll definitely be giving this book to my dormant readers who like to be creeped out.
4 stars

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