Well, I thought that I’d take a look at another one of the interesting books I found when I was sorting through one of my book piles a week or two ago. I am, of course, talking about Rebecca Levene’s 2010 novel “Ghost Dance”.
If I remember rightly, I bought this book from Waterstones in Aberystwyth back in 2010, mostly because of the wonderfully badass cover art (and the fact that the shop actually had a “horror” shelf too 🙂 ). However, I only got round to reading the first couple of chapters at the time. So, it seemed like the right time to read the entire book.
Interestingly, although “Ghost Dance” seems to be the sequel to another novel, it worked reasonably well as a stand-alone novel when I read it. Yes, there are a few random references to an over-arching backstory (that didn’t 100% make sense to me), but the novel pretty much tells its own self-contained story.
So, let’s take a look at “Ghost Dance”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a disturbing description of a mass shooting in rural America. In another state, a rich teenage girl called Alex is picked up by the CIA, who want to talk to her because of a phone call – predicting the shooting – that she placed whilst under the influence of drugs at a party. Reluctantly, Alex agrees to start a training regime and a series of experiments to determine if she has psychic abilities.
Several years later, an ex-soldier called Morgan is having a pint in London when he is called by a member of MI6’s Hermetic Division. A professor has been murdered at University College London and, since Morgan has the ability to use mirrors to see death, they want him to witness the crime and describe the killer. After this, it quickly becomes obvious that the professor was killed due to her research into the Elizabethan alchemist Dr. John Dee.
Meanwhile, in America, Alex is now a rookie member of the CIA’s equivalent to Hermetic Division. Whenever she takes hallucinogenic drugs, she enters a spirit world that allows her to see the truth of things, to time travel, to talk to a mysterious raven and to walk through walls. Although Alex is still reluctant to work for the CIA, she has a case to investigate. There is mysterious cult in San Francisco who claim that their members can separate their souls from their bodies and travel anywhere at will……
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a brilliantly gripping paranormal thriller novel 🙂 Imagine the TV show “Supernatural“, mixed with Mike Carey’s “Felix Castor” novels, mixed with Lee Child’s thriller novels and this should give you a vague idea of what kind of book this is 🙂 In addition to this, it also contains a few intriguing elements from the spy, detective and horror genres too 🙂
The novel’s paranormal elements are fairly interesting and they draw heavily from both Judeo-Christian mythology and Native American mythology. This focus on religious mythologies means that this novel feels a little bit different from the average “gritty” urban fantasy novel too. Thankfully, the novel doesn’t preach at the reader and it contains enough ambiguity for all of this stuff to seem interestingly complex.
This novel also focuses on the awkwardness between European Americans and Native Americans with regard to things like mythology, symbols etc…. too, with the novel’s cult exploiting Native American symbolism for nefarious purposes and a couple of scenes showing a Native American CIA agent feeling a little bit peeved that Alex, of all people, has the ability to spirit walk.
Interestingly, the majority of the novel’s creepiest and most disturbing horror elements come from human evil rather than the paranormal. Yes, there is still some paranormal horror, but most of this novel’s horror elements are creepy because they tap into more realistic fears such as cult indoctrination/brainwashing, serial killers, mortality etc…. Even so, this novel is probably more of a gritty thriller than a horror novel.
In terms of the novel’s thriller elements, they’re really good too 🙂 This novel contains a good mixture between suspenseful moments, mysterious detective segments, plot twists, spy-based segments and fast-paced fight scenes. The frequent jumps between the storylines set in Britain and America not only allow for lots of mini-cliffhangers but also help to add some variety to the atmosphere of the story (with the scenes set in Britain feeling a bit more detailed, gloomy and understated) too. Plus, like in all good thrillers, these two storylines end up joining together in a rather gripping way too.
In terms of the characters, this novel is reasonably good. Most of the main characters are cynical misfits who have bizarre backstories and find themselves in situations that they are reluctant to be in. Likewise, this is one of these stories where most of the characters are morally ambiguous in one way or another, which really helps to keep the story unpredictable. Even so, this is also a novel with a clear (and very chilling) villain for the main characters to fight too. So, it’s kind of like the best of both worlds 🙂
In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is really good. It is informal and “matter of fact” enough to keep the story grippingly readable, whilst also being descriptive enough to give the story some atmosphere too. The narration is also fairly character-focused too, which helps to add some depth to the story too.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At a fairly efficient 277 pages in length, it never really feels long or bloated. Likewise, this novel has a good balance between compellingly mysterious, dramatic and/or suspenseful slower-paced segments and more fast-paced action scenes too. Even so, this is a novel that becomes more fast-paced as it goes along, so the earlier parts are sometimes a little bit slower than you might expect.
All in all, this is a really gripping paranormal thriller novel that blends both of these elements in a really interesting way 🙂 If you’re a fan of TV shows like “Supernatural” and authors like Lee Child, then you’ll probably enjoy this novel 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.