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Wings to the Kingdom – Cherie Priest

Review: David Stonehouse
Publisher: TitanBooks £7.99 available now

Wings to the Kingdom is the second in Cherie Priest’s Eden Moore trilogy. Readers already familiar with the first book Four and Twenty Blackbirds will know that these are dark and brooding Southern Gothic tales centred around a young woman whose family’s black magic history has made her an unwilling weather vane for all sorts of supernatural activity. When we catch up with her again Eden is trying to keep her powers under wraps but word has got around that she can talk to the dead and a steady stream of the hopeful and desperate finds its way to her door in search of news of their missing loved ones.

Keeping her head down isn’t really an option, however. In the nearby Chickamauga National Park the ghosts of the Civil War dead are walking and trying to communicate with terrified day-trippers and celebrity ghost hunters have arrived to investigate. Worse, for reasons best left unexplained (Book 1 spoilers, I’m afraid), Eden finds herself face to face with the local giant supernatural bogeyman Green Eyes on the site of an ancient Cherokee burial ground. Like it or not, Eden is soon neck deep in a mystery full of local myth and legend and, quite possibly, a very real murderer lurking in the shadows with motives of his own.

Priest is a very accomplished writer. She has a deft touch in creating convincing and believable characters and, like all good horror writers, knows exactly how and when to ramp up the tension. Set pieces are genuinely creepy and moments of violence and horror come with a sudden brutality. She also cleverly interweaves flashback chapters giving tantalising details of her mystery with the unfolding events of the main plot.

On top of her undoubted storytelling skill Priest has two big aces up her sleeve that put these stories above the average fare. First is the character of Eden Moore herself. She makes excellent company, brave and warm but also slightly dark and uncomfortable with the responsibilities that her powers have placed on her shoulders. She also has a nice line in dry wit that doesn’t quite hide her brittle fears as she leads herself and her little Scooby gang into danger. The other massive plus point is the setting. Cherie Priest moved to Chattanooga in 1994 and her love of the place fills these books. There is a great sense of history and a sort of melancholy nostalgia that permeates her descriptions of the town, its environs and the giant Chickamauga National Park. It all feels wonderfully real and authentic, constantly reminding the reader that the world of the present is never too far removed from the people and events of the past. The locations are, apparently, pretty accurate and the legend of Green Eyes is as well known in Georgia as Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. This mixture of affection, local knowledge and skilful writing is pretty irresistible.

That said, for all its strengths, this book never quite manages to reach the heights of the opening story. This is a mystery that Eden wanders into whereas the first had the added grip of being a puzzle wrapped up in the dark and murky corners of her own family history and it will take a lot for Priest to top the bravura opening of Four andTwenty Blackbirds with its snapshots of Eden’s childhood. However, while Wings to the Kingdom might not have the vice-like grip of its predecessor it still remains a powerful and exciting read. Cherie Priest’s brand of Southern Gothic is gripping, sassy and fun. Above all it reflects the author’s great affection for her adopted hometown and its myths and legends. The Eden Moore books are a treat and well deserve Titan’s decision to give them a UK release. The final book in the trilogy, Not Flesh Nor Feathers, is on the way soon and I, for one, can’t wait to read it.

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