by L. Lee Lowe
Copyright: © 2007
Let’s go back in time to the hey-day of radio when stories were read on a weekly basis and the family gathered around the radio to wait for the next installment. Or when newspapers or magazines published novels a chapter at a time. The speculation of what would happen next would be discussed with the anticipation mounting as you waited for the story to continue. Author L. Lee Lowe has brought this concept back with her young adult fantasy novel, Mortal Ghost, by publishing it one chapter at a time via blog. She then published the book in installments via podcast and as an e-book, and then finally as a POD with Lulu.
L. Lee Lowe believes that work should be made accessible to all, and therefore, there is no charge for the e-Book downloads, or reading from the blog, and the book published is priced at cost of printing. Mortal Ghost is one that would not have been broadcast during family hour due to subject matter, and on the blog site Lowe advises it is not recommended for readers under 16, but is an excellent story for the intended readership.
I love the concept of the serialized novel. The thought of being able to publish one chapter and have the opportunity of instantaneous feedback from your target readers is very attractive. The only problem with that concept is that I tend to write – rewrite – rewrite – rewrite and have to force myself to stop and call it finished. If I had feedback from all quarters saying what they liked, didn’t like, I would continue the tweaking process and never finish the book. And let’s face it, not everyone is always going to agree, so there would always be a comment indicating something that might need to be tweaked.
I was also relieved to learn that Lowe had completed the book before starting to publish it online. Think of the pressure if you didn’t have a completed novel to start with? Would the next chapter be done in time to publish on the designated date? Would your characters behave nicely and let you in on the secret of what happens next or turn ugly and refuse to speak to you until the deadline passed? Would your readers get fed up with your incalculable schedule and never return to finish the book? Speaking for myself, I find that I am unable to write under that kind of pressure.
The cover of Mortal Ghost is extremely eye-catching and provides a hint of what is to come inside. The dramatic cover art is the work of Australian artist L.M. Noonan. It is definitely better viewed in large size so that you get the full effect of the details which are on the torso behind the reflected light of the fire. This cover is the essence of the book, distilled into an image, beautifully done.
Where is the line between imagination and reality? Can you be swallowed by a memory? Are the memories that you hold, yours or do they belong to someone else? Is it possible for a healer to kill?
Mortal Ghost is a magnificently descriptive novel which poses all of the above questions and more. At the heart of the novel is a modern day teen-age love story, full of hesitancy, misunderstandings, and tenderness. One might call it typical, except the love story is only one layer of a many-layered book. Meet Jesse. A sixteen year old runaway, who is living on the street and earns money doing odd jobs, like washing windows or mowing lawns, in order to buy food. Jesse is far from your typical teen-ager. In addition to being extremely well read, especially since he has been in and out of foster care from the age of 9 and on the street otherwise, Jesse has the power to heal wounded animals and is a fire-starter. Jesse lost his entire family in a fire at the age of 9 and carries around the guilt of not being able to save his mother and younger sister from the fire.
Meet Sarah. A self-assured, independent, ballet dancer, with a fiery temper who brings Jesse home to meet her family. Her mother, Meg, a psychiatrist who works with troubled teens and “sees” things that haven’t happened yet or she hasn’t been told. And her father, Finn, an international photographer, who uses that as a cover for another profession which his family knows nothing about. Against Jesse’s inclinations, he ends up staying with the Andersen family and is learning to trust someone other than himself. The Andersen’s see Jesse as the opportunity to redeem themselves for where they failed their own son, Peter, who left home and was not heard from until he died in suspicious circumstances.
The very core of the story revolves around Jesse – who is he and how did he come to have these powers? No one seems to know, least of all Jesse himself. He is shaken to his foundation by a discovery that Finn has made and reveals to him after taking him to a secret laboratory so that Jesse’s powers can be studied.
‘Tell him,’ Ayen said.
‘Tell me what?’ Jesse asked.
Finn looked at him for a long while before answering. Finally he sighed. ‘You’ve told me about the fire that killed your family.’
‘And?’ Jesse’s voice was loud and angry.
‘And that no one survived the fire.’
‘How can you possibly think I need reminding? Get to the point.’
‘Jesse, no one survived the fire. We’ve checked the records. Not a single member of the household. Not even the boy.’
Jesse stared at Finn, the colour draining from his face as he took in the import of Finn’s words.
‘That’s impossible. There must be some mistake,’ Jesse said.
‘Not unless you gave us false information.’
‘I’m no liar!’
Ayen interposed in a tranquil tone. ‘There’s no error. We’ve seen copies of the coroner’s report, the police records, the death certificates. All records of Jesse Wright end with the fire-school, health, even church. Nor has social services ever heard of you.’
Now Jesse is struggling with the question of who he is and how he has memories of everything that has happened in addition to the other strange occurrences that continue to plague him. While at the laboratory, he spends some time with something that is known as the prototype, a computer which has baffled the scientists working with it by creating things on its own. The connection with the prototype haunts Jesse as it invades his thoughts, taunts him and tries to manipulate his actions.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mortal Ghost and L. Lee Lowe’s love of words and the craft of writing comes shining through the descriptions that are beautiful to the point of poetic. Her use of symbolism seeks to underscore the underlying theme of life and death. My only criticism of the work is that with the continual shifts of point of view and changing between present and past tense, there are some transitions which are a little awkward, and caused me to have to reread in order to ensure that I understood what was happening. Mortal Ghost has more twists and turns than an old-fashioned mountain road. This book contains a love story, enemies, rape, dysfunctional families, glances at the drug culture, as well as paranormal abilities and a computer trying to gain control. If you are someone who likes all of the questions answered and all of the story lines tied up in a nice bow by the end of the book, then Mortal Ghost is not for you.
However, if you are willing to open your mind to the possibilities where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred, where a boy exists, but has died, where objects appear and disappear, and where at the end you have more questions than answers, then Mortal Ghost is well worth reading. I look forward to L. Lee Lowe’s next novel, which is currently in progress, for the pure joy of the language as well as where the wings of fantasy will take the storyline.
Originially reviewed for the Lulu Book Review
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