Review: Queen of the Dead by Stacey Kade

Title:  Queen of the Dead

Author:  Stacey Kade

Publisher:  Disney/Hyperion

Series:  The Ghost and the Goth #2

Other Reviews for This Author:  The Ghost and the Goth

Kade's The Ghost and the Goth was a fabulous debut work that came out in the summer of 2010.  It had humor and snark, but also a surprising amount of emotional depth to it - a depth that you wouldn't initially figure it had based on the packaging and title.  The book read like a well-oiled single title work, so the word that it had two more books following it was questionable.  So many series fall prey to having unnecessary sequels, and often times introduce random mythologies/aspects of the world that never existed until it became apparent that there needed to be more conflict within the story.  Queen of the Dead actually avoids this trend - introducing its readers into new world-building concepts without completely stretching believability, and retaining a great amount of characterization and plot in the process.

Ghost Alona Dare was ready to move into the light - kind of.  After dying in a horrific accident involving a school bus, Alona did not simply move on to the afterlife.  She became a ghost and realized that the world around her was not as nice as it seemed to be.  The world hated her.  She had no allies, and no ability to be noticed.  The only person who could see her was Will Killian - aka the biggest social nobody in the world.  The kid who is silent, wears black, and probably listens to heavy metal music alone in his bedroom.  Then Alona got to know Will, and kind of fell in love with him a little bit.  Or not.  She's not really sure what her feelings are for Will, but they definitely aren't simple. 

Basically, Alona has two things tethering her to the physical world: Will and karma.  Alona and Will teamed up to help a friend, and Alona had the chance to go into the light.  Her sudden change of heart didn't work, though, and she's now stuck with Will.  On Earth.  Unable to move on.  Good for the part of her that wants to make out with him, but bad for the part of her that wants to move on.  Will, meanwhile, has to deal with his feelings for the ghost of the former high school queen bee.  He also has to serve as her constant reminder to be good.  Alona is not the type of person to hold in her feelings.  If she gets carried away with being mean, she risks the chance of disappearing completely and never making it into the light.  She just can't win.

Will uses his ability to see ghosts like Alona to help them move on to the light.  He rights their wrongs and allows them to make peace with their unfinished business.  He's never been sure of what the purpose is behind his powers, but getting to know Alona gave him a lot more sympathy for the ghostly experience.  Meeting Mina, a kick-butt seer that has no sympathy for the spiritual beings, has shaken his beliefs.  Mina shows Will that there is more to seeing ghosts than helping them.  Mina also lives with the idea that humans are to be protected over ghosts.  Will's fundamental beliefs are shaken with the knowledge that there are other people like him in the world - and his wavering human-to-ghost morals could very well spell the end for Alona.

There's nothing like returning to a series with memorable characters.  Alona and Will have not lost their steam in this sequel.  Both teenagers remain as snarky and (in Alona's case) selfish as ever, with minor differences.  Kade carries over the characterization from the first book well.  Alona is more aware of how her personality can be overly mean, and Will is less of a social hermit.  This shifts their dynamic as well.  The two continue to have playful arguments and get on each others' nerves, but there's an added level of romantic involvement that neither of the characters fully explored in the first book.  They're also gentler with each other - more inclined to act like their dating.  One would imagine that Alona's ghostliness would make that an issue, but Kade manages to make its consequences mostly humorous ones that both characters are aware of (as opposed to Tara Hudson's Hereafter, which takes the dramatic boy-in-love-with-ghost plot thread).  This relationship dynamic is so pivotal to the character motivations throughout the book, and it's excellent to see the two teens grow with each other - and also have each other as a weakness.  Alona now has emotional sensitivity to Will, and vice versa, which is huge for some of the things that Kade begins to address in Queen of the Dead.  She knows these characters well, and the character growth is really well done as a result.

Individually, Will and Alona are still entertaining as well.  Alona is a character that readers would normally get frustrated with.  She can be extremely selfish and rude, but she's more aware of that in Queen of the Dead than in The Ghost and the Goth.  Alona's emotional issues are also on display.  She has to overcome a giant roadblock in letting go of the material world.  She can't separate herself from her old life.  Her possessions.  Her parents.  She refuses to leave them behind in an attempt to feel like she's alive.  It's ridiculous but all too understandable, and it makes her actions seem impulsive in a way that makes sense - as opposed to just plain stupid impulsive actions, which don't have much of a derived focus to them.  Will is, as always, the sensible one of the two of them.  A lot of his character growth revolves around the moral dilemma of ghost vs. human.  The reader is very tense when Will brings up this dilemma as well, because there is a very strong fear that Will will decide to put humans over ghosts, thus abandoning Alona.  Kade really sticks the reader with tough character situations.  There is not direct right or wrong, but she makes it clear that Will and Alona have a lot to work through before either one of them can complete their character arc.  It's sad but refreshing at the same time, and the ending of this novel is more of a bridge to future emotional resolutions and issues to come in the final book.

Kade also does a lot with the introduction of Mina and the other seers.  This element was touched on in the first novel with Will's father's ability to see ghosts.  It started off as dramatic backstory, however, and it was intriguing to see Kade put that at the forefront of this book and show that there was more to it than meets the eye.  It also allows for new characters and machinations to occur within the plot.  Kade doesn't just make it some blatant good vs. evil escapade, either.  She instead uses it as a way to explore whether or not a living soul is different from a non-living soul.  Is the couple that the reader initially roots for really going to work out?  The reader wants to believe that Alona and Will's happy moment will stay happy, but Kade brings a level of reality to the situation by showing the opposition in the group of seers.  The political aspects within the group of seers also add some heaviness to the plot.  What is most surprising is that this element doesn't feel tacked on.  Instead, Kade makes it clear that Queen of the Dead aims at broadening the storyline and world-building.  She grounds the world more instead of disconnecting it from the original novel.  There's a lot to be said with that.  The one world-building aspect that does have me on the fence is the aspect of Alona's inability to enter the light at the end of the first book.  It makes sense based on her karma/goodness value - which isn't very hot even after the end of the first book - but the general idea seems to be that going into the light is a permanent scenario.  It doesn't take long to dispel that initial assumption, but it does make the reader question things in the beginning.

Kade's writing style makes everything shine.  There's so much emotion within these pages, but there's also so much humor.  Alona can make the reader laugh and smirk with some of her lines, and Will isn't devoid of humor either.  That combination really works for creating a memorable novel.  The way the plot moved was also rather excellent.  Kade makes it go by fast and uses the character growth to really make it a page-turner.  There are also some events that happen later that are extremely tense and scary.  The ending is arguably one of the worst out there.  Not because it's badly done, but because the cliffhanger is ridiculous.  Kade doesn't just end the novel, but she instead has her characters in a situation that requires a level of resolution for the reader to be truly happy with the storyline.  The problem is that the reader just cares too much about the characters and their romance to want the story to end there.  Kade also leaves a lot open with the group of seers in order to make the final book a potentially explosive series of events.  Readers looking for another stand-alone work won't be too thrilled about Queen of the Dead, but the way that Kade dealt with things is still respectable and intelligent.

There's nothing to be disappointed with in this second installment in Kade's series.  The characters are as excellent as ever, and the plot only grows in its complexity and emotional resonance.  Kade does things so well, and she manages to make the read light without losing the seriousness of some emotional situations.  Queen of the Dead is a book that will have you itching for the final novel - although it may just leave you sad at the thought of Alona and Will's story being finished.

Cover:  These covers are so cute, although I think the male model's paleness doesn't work with the shades of pink and blue.

Rating:  4.5  Stars

Copy:  Received from publisher/publicist for review  (Thank you, Disney/Hyperion!)

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