The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney

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The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A short novel with brilliant images, that just disappoints in its waywardness, with half given to exposition, half to drama, and the whole thing made throwaway by a moist tissue of an ending.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: September 2013
Publisher: Andersen
ISBN: 9781849397773

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Meet Billy Calder. The young orphan has got a job, which is lucky as he's nearly too old for the Home for Unfortunate Boys. Unluckily it's a job at the local spooky castle, which is the town prison. It's sat looming above everyone and has generated a whole host of legends and ghost stories among the people below. More unluckily, the truth behind those ghost stories is even worse than the public imagination. Even more unluckily, Billy has been singled out for the night shift. And we find out just how Billy's luck runs out completely when we learn who requested him to work nights…

Billy is introduced superbly in this book. It's his first-person narrative that allows instant access to the sights, people and fears surrounding him. Added to this are the best things in these covers – the brilliant illustrations, providing a fantasy bent to what could well be an timeless story set anywhen, but pictures that are wholly evocative, dramatic and crafted. Scott M Fischer has instantly become a favourite of mine.

But while the pictures are fantastic, and the words are clear, concise and engaging, the book has a third factor that for me really lets the side down. It's its structure. We're halfway through and all we’ve had is exposition. Fine, you think, as BAM we get a mid-way jolt that livens things up no end. But, and I'm being careful about spoilers, the book is, purely and simply, structured very poorly. It is 50% beginning – a mood-setting beginning that would be cherished for richness anywhere else – and 50% middle – again, a dramatic, crafted middle that is certainly appealing. But the whole thing is thrown away by providing a sliver of an ending that is a punchline one would use in flash fiction, but not in a stand-alone book following such a hugely successful career such as Delaney has had until now.

It's clear the man can write – he has a great imagination, and an important ear for clarity in his drama and in his characterisation. But this fell down as just too flawed for me. I relished the pages – only one or two of which are on spreads without some form of fine illustration – but boy, the way things pan out? I'll concede that this is not a novel – it's a short story that takes forty minutes to read aloud, and I'll concede that you can do anything with the form of a narrative as long as it makes it successful and enjoyable. This one has everything to completely make it successful and enjoyable, but the fact that act one was 40-odd pages, act two was 50-odd and act three was 2, really hurt my sensibilities. Bring it to a young fan of spooky fantasy, and they may well relish every turn and engage with every story-telling hook, but my individual, instinctive response was to not appreciate all the glories I'd been shown, purely because of that structure.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

There is some brilliant spookiness and ghosting to be had in the much longer Lockwood and Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud.

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Buy The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney at


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