Four linked stories boldly chronicle madness, obsession, and creation through the ages. Beginning with the cave-drawings of a young girl on the brink of creating the earliest form of writing, Sedgwick traverses history, plunging into the seventeenth century witch hunts and a 1920s insane asylum where a mad poet’s obsession with spirals seems to be about to unhinge the world of the doctor trying to save him. Sedgwick moves beyond the boundaries of historical fiction and into the future in the book’s final section, set upon a spaceship voyaging to settle another world for the first time. Merging Sedgwick’s gift for suspense with science- and historical-fiction, Ghosts of Heaven is a tale is worthy of intense obsession.
***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Macmillan Children’s.
Let me preface this review by stating that this book according to the front matter can be read in any order. It’s split into four separate stories that are interconnected through at their foundation the symbol of the spiral. I read these stories in the order provided. I did not flip around but followed them in the order the author organized them in. That being said, the stories flow chronologically from the dawn of man to a science fiction rich space odyssey. Each story is markedly different in terms of style, theme, and time frame but around the same length. I strongly prefer two stories over the others and from what I’ve processed, this is because I prefer the Gothic and the Ray Bradbury-esque darkness of the later two parts.
The Ghosts of Heaven is a bizarre and puzzling read. From the very beginning, Marcus Sedgewick gets into the science behind the spiral in extremely technical lingo that was complex and a tad boring for someone who is not a big fan of science or space. It read like a textbook and while it served as a pseudo instruction manual for the stories, it felt well out of the spectrum of YA. I’ve never read Marcus Sedgwick’s work, so I am unfamiliar of his particular style, this might be the norm.
From there, each story varies in technique and voice. The first is of the discovery of written word and employing it. It follows a day in the life of a young girl who seeks the mystery in a cave where men go to draw on walls in order to protect the hunters. The protagonist is scared, bewildered and in awe of what power these symbols hold-they’re magic and have the force to save their hunters from peril. This section was fairly predictable, slow, and sort of like a retelling of the quintessential experience of the cave with plays on Plato. What intrigued and delighted me was the way Sedgwick tackled free verse narrative poetry to deliver this story. It was inventive and fun, and immediately drew me in to the everyday life of a young girl in her tribe. Her hopes and dreams were clearly outlined and moment of epiphany near the end sparked both chills and terror.
A second young girl, this time in the era of the witch trials. Told from varying perspectives of the priest and the protagonist, a unique insight into the practices of a small village are born. The ways in which they honor the dead, their superstitions, and their dependence on the grace wives are all epitomized in this section as well as the tiny minds of a village who in fear and petty jealousy will turn on each other with little incentive. Overall, the general gist of the story is one tried and true. A redheaded girl of unfortunate background is targeted and hunted town because of her beauty, her dabbling in natural healing, and the wounded pride of an elite. There were no surprises, the style was bland, and while it transported the reader back in time, the spiral was never explained, not a focal point at all, and it seems that every time the spiral is found, it leads to only one thing-death.
Following the lives of a new doctor in an Insane Asylum and a patient, this section has a dark, Gothic tone. There’s a sinister uncertainty and air of defeat that permeates the plot. There are mysteries and lies that abound, you don’t know what’s what and there are shocks that may knock you off your feet. Glimpses of madness and obsession, haunting poetry and twisted views of what’s hidden in the darkness are horrifying and inescapable. Here we begin to see that the spiral is indeed everywhere. Since the beginning of time it has been waiting, lurking, patient for discovery and between the seemingly rational rants of the patient, Dexter, and the nightmares of the doctor as he struggles to find the rational explanation behind Dexter’s debilitating fear of the spiral symbol, the threat of insanity, of succumbing to this paranoia is overwhelming. Mixed in with the story is philosophical and depressing poetry about death and ghosts. It’s haunting, chilling, and slowly but surely takes hold in the form of a waking nightmare for both the reader and the doctor.
Part IV is set in the future, one where man has a viable planet to colonize and 2500 people were chosen to embark on a journey into the future. Science fiction colors the plot as all sorts of gadgets like life preservation pods, space suits, ships, and death/stun guns are coupled with the skill of expect hackers who understand engineering more than anything else. The main character wakes at 10 year intervals but begins to notice something strange. His crew is dying but there’s no mechanical or physical explanation for their deaths. Borderline OCD, he becomes possessed by the need to uncover the truth of what is going on in the 10 year spans while he is sleeping on the space ship ride to New Earth. Miniscule clues present a grim picture of things that offer no explanation, things that are impossible. In a style reminiscent of Wells and Bradbury, the terror and wonder combine to form a dizzying spiral into madness and transcendence. Towards the end, as the pieces fall into place, there’s severe confusion and moments where little makes sense.
The cover is beautiful.