Review: The Visitor by Amanda Stevens
This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“My name is Amelia Gray. I’m the Graveyard Queen.
Restoring lost and abandoned cemeteries is my profession, but I’m starting to believe that my true calling is deciphering the riddles of the dead. Legend has it that Kroll Cemetery is a puzzle no one has ever been able to solve. For over half a century, the answer has remained hidden within the strange headstone inscriptions and intricate engravings. Because uncovering the mystery of that tiny, remote graveyard may come at a terrible price.
Years after their mass death, Ezra Kroll’s disciples lie unquiet, their tormented souls trapped within the walls of Kroll Cemetery, waiting to be released by someone strong and clever enough to solve the puzzle. For whatever reason, I’m being summoned to that graveyard by both the living and the dead. Every lead I follow, every clue I unravel brings me closer to an unlikely killer and to a destiny that will threaten my sanity and a future with my love, John Devlin.”
My first exposure to the Graveyard Queen series was on a whim, back when it first debuted. I chanced upon the ARC on NetGalley, requested it, and was thoroughly hooked. I eagerly waited for new books, devoured them when they came out, and then thought that the series had ended with book three. I was happy when I looked on the author’s website and read that she was planning to continue Amelia’s story. And now, finally, the fourth book is on the cusp of being released. I was unaware that it was on the horizon until, again, a chance encounter on NetGalley brought it to my attention. Again, I requested, and again, I devoured it.
In my opinion, Stevens’s writing has two big things going for it: plot and setting. These are the elements that had me so engrossed in the earlier books, so obviously, that was what I was looking for as I read through this newest one. And did what I find satisfy me? Well…
Let’s start with the plot. As usual, the author has crafted a solid mystery and woven in some truly creepy supernatural elements. There’s nothing gory or overly horror-ish in her stories; rather, she excels at creating a sense of disquiet, that feeling that you get when you think you see something out of the corner of your eye. The creatures in these books are almost never physically ugly (or if they are, they’re not described in great detail), but there’s never a doubt that they are, indeed, evil–or at least, otherworldly.
I was a little disappointed with how Amelia’s story started progressing, because, to me, it felt a little forced. I have to wonder if Stevens began inventing this part of Amelia’s family history after writing the first three books, because while it’s not out of place for what came before, it does feel a bit tacked on. Of more interest to me is Devlin’s backstory. There have been hints of it strewn throughout all the books so far, and some of those hints are starting to come to fruition. Reading the bits that the author did let out, I’m eager to see more in the next couple of books.
As for the setting, I was both intrigued and disappointed here as well. For me, one of the strongest elements of this series is the atmosphere invoked by the author’s descriptions of the location. Not only does she evoke the visuals of South Carolina, but she successfully captures its “feel” as well: the slow pace of life, the everyday outlook of the residents, the smells and sounds of a sultry afternoon or clear evening. Within this, there is the specific atmosphere of the cemeteries. It’s here that Stevens incorporates something even more ephemeral: the traditions and superstitions of the South. She does so with tombstone imagery, with funeral customs, and with mourning rites. You get this wonderfully well-rounded picture of life–and death–in the South.
And some of that is missing here. Amelia does not spend much time in cemeteries in this book, and the one she does enter is completely unique in its tombstone symbolism, grave layouts, and function. It robs the story of some of that weight of history that came from the old cemeteries in previous novels. Granted, the headstones are part of a larger mystery here, almost a coded message, but I really missed that looming atmosphere of the Charleston graveyards.
While I liked this book on the whole, there were things from earlier books that I missed seeing. This may be exacerbated by the fact that I just re-read the entire Graveyard Queen series to this point in the space of a few days, to re-familiarize myself with the story. I think that, once the next couple of books are out and I can look at this story arc in its entirety, I will be more forgiving of how this one was presented. Taken in isolation, and when compared with the previous novels, this one left me wanting a bit more. Still, if you liked the first books in this series, don’t hesitate to pick this one up. Believe it or not, I’m being overly nitpicky because I am so fond of this series and these characters.