Series: Dreaming Cities #2
Publisher: Tor (July 12, 2016)
Length: 176 pages
MY RATING: 4 stars
After loving Guy Haley’s first Dreaming Cities novella, The Emperor’s Railroad, I have to admit being beyond excited to get my hands on The Ghoul King. The post-apocalyptic setting, zombies, Angels, dragons, guns, and mysterious yet relatable Knight Quinn mixed to create the perfect kind of genre blending speculative fiction which I adore. Hell, even Haley’s narrative style of allowing an elderly man named Abney to relate his adventure in the wilds of the Kingdom of Virginia as a young boy with Quinn, Knight of Atlantis, worked wonderfully, adding such a mysterious tone to the story that I had to know more.
In The Ghoul King, the author actually begins the tale by focusing on the mythical Angels of Pittsburgh, which we heard tidbits about in the first installment but never truly understood. This opening section told from these “divine” beings point of view, giving a reader so many delectable morsels of knowledge about who and what these creatures might be. Their true nature not totally revealed, but enough of the curtain pulled away to make it clear that the common people’s belief in them as representatives of an angry god might not be exactly true.
As the story continues, Mr. Haley continues to use third persons to relate the continued adventures (or trials) of Knight Quinn. This time we follow along behind Jaxon. This middle-aged man is an intellectual for his time, less in star-struck awe of Quinn than the boy Abney from The Emperor’s Railroad, willing to analyze the knight’s motives, and better understands what Quinn might truly be. Jaxon’s maturity and insight (He has knowledge of the Gone Before times and lived through the Angel Wars where the Dreaming City of Columbus was destroyed.) allowing a reader to gain a different perspective on the mysterious Quinn, transforming him into an even more compelling person.
After a rather slow beginning spent on introducing the new characters and setting up the reasons for a dangerous mission, The Ghoul King begins to pick up speed quickly. Jaxon and his associates (a group of technophiles led by the charismatic rebel leader Rachel) adding Quinn to their crew, tagging along behind the knight as they head into the shattered remnants of the Dreaming City of Columbus. Their mission and his are not quite the same however, but they all are somewhat aware of the ancient technology they will inevitably find in the ruins – though Rachel’s true purpose remains hidden until a shocking revelation toward the end.
What is especially compelling in this novella is Quinn. Sure, he had some stellar moments in the first story, but there he remained more mysterious knight than awe-inspiring person. Here, though, this Knight of Atlantis struts his stuff, ready to push his way on stage with other post-apocalyptic protagonists like Roland Deschain of The Dark Tower Saga, the Father from The Road, or The Vagrant from Peter Newman. His cool demeanor, wise council, fighting skills, steadfast determination, and unpretentious yet tough kindness turning him into someone a reader will empathize with and be willing to follow along behind as he crosses this burned out future America on a quest which isn’t quite certain to a fate which is still unknown.
As for the worldbuilding itself, I can’t praise Mr. Haley enough for what a wonderful job he is doing bringing this post-apocalyptic America to life before our reading eyes. After finishing The Ghoul King, I can’t get out of my mind the creepy atmosphere of the Dreaming City of Columbus, the perverse abominations roaming the world, and the terrifying specter of artificial intelligence gone mad with power. This world coupled with the tantalizing amount of back story on how this place came to be and who Quinn really is just made me salivate for more. And even though the tone of the ongoing tale has subtle changed into a more technological thriller with lots of horror elements, I am fine with that, because Quinn’s as-yet-unrevealed quest to right a grievous wrong is so compelling I’m okay with the more fantastical elements of the narrative slowly slipping away.
I have to admit that over the last few years I’ve been gravitating more and more to novella series, because of time constraints on my reading. (Work, family, kids, and everything which goes along with them takes a lot of time.) At the top of my “Must Read Novella” list is Dreaming Cities. Guy Haley has really struck pure gold with this post-apocalyptic series, which is fast-paced and easy to digest in a short time, yet filled with amazing worldbuilding, creepy atmosphere, and perplexing mysteries. Honestly, I want this series to keep going on forever. It is really that good. So good in fact that I have no criticisms to air other than my need to know when the next chapter in Knight Quinn’s adventure is set to hit the virtual bookshelves.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.