Friday, March 22, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner: Oldies But Goodies {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney

Oldies But Goodies

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney

by Karen S. Wiesner

After I finished my last writing reference, I'd started to hear about a trend going around writing circles. In direct opposition of everything I'd ever taught in my writing series about the crucial need to go deep with characters, writers were being told that it's best not to include more than basic information about main characters, not even providing last names for them--this supposedly allows readers to fill in the blanks with their own details, making the characters whatever they want them to be.

In my mind, this is a big mistake. How can character development be fluid enough to allow something like that without compromising everything vital in a story? Individual character choices directly influence outcomes. If a character isn't well defined, motives and purposes are constantly in question as well as in flux. Ultimately, characters that have no impact on readers make for a quickly forgotten story.

I want a good balance of character and plot development in the stories I'm willing to invest myself in, and I'm not getting it with most of the new stuff coming out. So I've been re-reading the books that have made it onto my keeper shelves in the past. To that end, here's another "oldies but goodies" review.

The Ghost Prison by Joseph Delaney is said to be a tangential installment of his wonderful The Last Apprentice Series (reviewed here:, and it's clear by the language that it's set in the same world. Billy Calder may well have become an apprentice of the Spook John Gregory in another life, but in this story he's simply a 15-year old orphan boy who seizes the opportunity to gain independence from the Home for Unfortunate Boys by taking a job as a castle prison guard. He's given almost no training. After waking up late for his first shift, he rushes to the prison from the orphanage. His supervisor isn't pleased. Beyond that, night in the prison is anything but boring, given the number of supernatural prisoners that have to be tended to. An illness removes his boss and leaves Billy in charge, forced to take over horrifying duties he doesn't have the experience or skills to handle.

This short tale published just before Halloween in 2013 is intended for 4-7th graders, but don't let that stop you. Why should they have all the fun? This story is one that anyone who loves a good chiller will enjoy just as much as I did. Billy is a plucky Pip-like kid who doesn't give up or give in easily, even when it might be wise to just run for his life and not look back. Scott M. Fischer's black and white sketches all through the book are perfect accompaniments to the fun, suspenseful text. This is a story filled with a well-developed, brilliant personality that allows you to share directly in Billy's conflicts and root for him to triumph.

Next week, I'll review another Oldie But Goodie you might find worth another read, too.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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