Sunday, May 12, 2013

Review: Ghoulish Song by William Alexander

I think I would have really liked Ghoulish Song, by William Alexander, if I hadn't already read Goblin Secrets. I expected this second book to expand the world Alexander introduces in the first.  Instead, it contracts it.

However, taken on its own, Ghoulish Song has many creepy pleasures to offer.  It focuses on a baker's daughter who comes into possession of a flute carved from a dead woman's bone.  The first time Kaile plays the flute, her shadow becomes separated from her body, and her parents, believing she is now a ghost, hold a funeral for her right in front of her eyes.

The girl sets out on a journey to find out whose bone the flute was made from, so she can reattach her shadow (who, by the way, doesn't like her very much).  But her journey is interrupted by a group of musicians who believe the girl's flute may be capable of more than separating shadows from bodies. 

At first I was delighted to find that Ghoulish Song focuses on a character who appeared briefly in Goblin Secrets In case you hadn't guessed, Kaile is the same baker's daughter who offers a meal of fresh bread to the goblin troupe in the first book.  In fact, Ghoulish Song takes place during the exact same time frame as Goblin Secrets, and focuses on the same problem: the river is rising and the city of Zombay may be swept away.

While at first, this overlap between the books made me feel like I was in on a secret, it eventually made me feel like nothing was at stake.  I already knew from the first book that SPOILER ALERT the bridge of Zombay wasn't going to be swept away by the rising river.  So while Ghoulish Song shows that other people played a role in saving the city, that role is way less epic than the role Rownie played in Goblin Secrets, which makes Ghoulish Song a less exciting read.  END SPOILER.

Also, at the end of Goblin Secrets, I wanted to know more about the world in which the story took place--most of all, I wanted to know how and why some people changed into Goblins.  I really thought that Ghoulish Song would answer some of my questions.  But it showed me a smaller part of the city than I had seen in Goblin Secrets, and that was disappointing.

On the plus side, Ghoulish Song stands on its own just fine, and in some ways is a better choice for my elementary school library--it's slimmer, scarier, and has a much better cover.  And I continue to be impressed by the way Alexander structures his novels: Goblin Secrets was divided into three acts and had elements of a play-within-a-play; Goulish Song is divided into verses, like a song, and turns out to be a ghost-story-within-a-ghost-story.

I wonder what it would be like to read the books in the opposite order.  I have a feeling that reading Ghoulish Song will make some of the students at my school interested in reading Goblin Secrets, and that would certainly be a good thing.

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