Mystery, murder, and music abounds in Erica Waters debut novel Ghost Wood Song, a haunting Southern Gothic tale about grief and supporting your family no matter the cost.
The story follows a southern girl named Shady Grove, who loves bluegrass music and can summon ghosts by using her deceased father’s haunted fiddle. She lives in a trailer park just beyond the woods haunted by ghosts, with her mother, older brother, little step-sister, and step-father. Tensions run high between her step-father and brother, but Shady keeps her head down. While her home is not the happiest place on earth, Shady finds solace in her music and playing with her friends and bandmates Orlando and Sarah.
Of course, any happiness in Shady’s life is quickly snuffed out. One day she gets a call that her brother Jesse has been convicted of a murder. Determined to clear his name, Shady decides she will have to make some ghosts sing in order to find the truth of what really happened. But raising ghosts is no safe endeavor. You never know who or what you might summon.
All in all, Ghost Wood Song is a solid fantasy debut, with an excellent setting and an engaging plot and characters. However, the pacing of the second half of the book starts to lose steam, and aspects of the story are either brushed over or are solved too easily.
The Southern Gothic aesthetic, which is an American continuation of the Gothic fiction seen in classic novels like Jane Eyre, is one of my favorite aesthetics to read, and Ghost Wood Song did not disappoint. I loved the old, haunted woods where ghosts whispered between the branches. I loved Shady’s old house, which was a genuine haunted house, complete with cobwebs, creaky stairs, and a dead girl in the ceiling.
The characters surprised me as well in this story. Shady’s step-brother Kenneth, who I first thought was going to be a stereotypical, step-sibling prick, was actually a guy with a really good heart. I also loved Shady’s best friend Orlando, and his love of bugs, and Cedar, the bluegrass, rodeo cowboy. Waters did an excellent job of creating characters with loads of Southern charm. Also, Shady’s loyalty to her brother Jesse, despite everything pointing against him, felt believable and not cliche, not because Shady thought Jesse could never do something like that, but rather that she knew it was possible that he did, but Shady was taught that no matter what, you don’t give up on family.
It is unfortunate the most disappointing part of the novel was the magic. Waters builds the tension about the dangerous past of Shady’s father’s fiddle and the mysterious shadow man and his hordes of killer wasps, but when all is revealed in the second half of the book, I felt extremely underwhelmed and confused as to why this magical, ghost-summoning fiddle existed in the first place. There was no resolution with the monstrous shadow man either, as well as for several other ghosts we met along the way. For being the main hook of Ghost Wood Song, I wish the magic system and its lore were more fleshed out, rather than being flashy plot devices.
In the end, Ghost Wood Song is a solid read for fans of spooky woods and southern charm.