1917. At Blackwater Abbey in Devon, a storm is brewing. Lord and Lady Highmount invite renowned mediums, bereaved parents, and one troubled young soldier into their home, all in the hopes of contacting their sons, lost to the war ravaging Europe – much of it powered by the Highmounts’ own armaments.
Thrust unexpectedly into their midst are Donovan and Kate, sent under top secret orders from the government to investigate possible collusion with the Germans. But when Kate reveals a frightening ability to see the dead, and with terrible secrets in the past of almost every guest, there’s plenty lurking in the shadows of W.C. Ryan’s A House of Ghosts.
Unrelenting in its twists, turns, reveals, and wraiths, once the story really gets going, it’s bloody hard to put it down. An exciting blend of paranormal and historical fiction, A House of Ghosts is filled with atmospheric writing, well crafted and distinctive characters, and a twisting plot that will leave the head spinning. The séance scenes are suitably spooky, the wartime intrigue is a mix of historically plausible yet morally horrifying, and the wild weather of the isolated island might as well be in the room with you, such is its vivid description.
But, whilst the blending of the trauma of the First World War with the old favourite tropes of eerie Gothic horror feels right, the actual joins between the genres of A House of Ghosts aren’t quite so seamless, and it occasionally feels like the (excellent) ghosts are shoehorned into the (excellent) wartime historical fiction. Indeed, I’m a little hard pressed to recall exactly what purpose the multiple spirits and psychics actually served in the grand scheme of things. Donovan’s straightforwardness, in particular, doesn’t help much in this regard, as his adaptability and acceptance can jerk the reader out of the well-crafted creepiness. After all, if the Only Sane Man isn’t bothered, why should we be?
A House of Ghosts draws to a close with the hint of a sequel, with Kate, Donovan, and the (quite literal) ghosts of Donovan’s past heading off on another assignment. With these two at the helm, and with the frightening shadow of the First World War still looming over them, hopes are high for any further stories in this Gothic horror meets wartime world – even if the spooky is occasionally sacrificed for shellshock.
W.C. Ryan’s A House of Ghosts is available now through Bonnier Zaffre