Written by Amber Benson & Christopher Golden
Published by Ballantine Books
Chris Golden has been a favorite author of mine for quite a while. Ever since my wife first told me I had to read his Shadow Saga series, I’ve been pretty much hooked on his work. When he teamed up with “Buffy” star Amber Benson a few years back to create Ghosts of Albion, a Flash-animated series for the BBC online, however, I somehow completely missed the entire thing.
No worries there as it’s still online (click here to see it), and now that I’ve read the duo’s first novel based in that world, I’m definitely going to be checking it out.
Ghosts of Albion: Accursed starts after the events of the BBC series “Embers” and finds brother and sister William and Tamara Swift dealing with the new-found power that has recently been handed down to them by their grandfather; they are now the Protectors of Albion, a position of great secrecy among British citizens but of the utmost importance to the future of Great Britain.
But what is Albion? To put it simply, it is the very soul of England. Copious amounts of history and magic come with the Protectorship, and though Will and Tamara were somewhat aware of their grandfather’s importance, they never had any idea of just how vital his role was until the duties were handed down to them. When the novel opens, they’re more or less comfortable with both their powers and position and have learned to harness them to the point of causality. This comes after long bouts of practice and intense study with the help of the ghosts of the title, spirits tethered to this world to serve as support for the Protectorship.
Throughout England women are being assaulted and raped by men who have suddenly turned bestial in both action and appearance. The women become pregnant, and within a few weeks their bellies are swollen, but they’re not giving birth to human children. What comes out of them, usually by bursting through the stomach as opposed to the traditional route, are hideous toad creatures that soon fill the streets of London’s slums. At the same time statues of an Indian goddess start showing up in the homes of some of Britain’s high society, who transform into hideous lizard creatures and then set out to assault and rape women. As if all that weren’t bad enough, fully-grown monstrosities are following a beautiful young woman around and eating British citizens.
Who can get to the bottom of this madness? Only the Protectors of Albion of course, but unfortunately it takes quite a while for the information to get to them. By the time it does, the plague has almost reached Buckingham Palace.
Ghosts of Albion: Accursed is a nasty piece of work set in the 19th Century, and both Golden and Benson showcase a strong sense of place and time in their writing style. The Swifts are part of the British elite because of their heritage, so a lot of their actions and day-to-day activities had to be researched by the authors to make sure it all made sense, and they did an admirable job with that aspect. There’s also a lot of political subtext going on with the Indian population of Great Britain taking great offense to the country’s imperialization of their homeland, a topic I’ve never read much about but the team obviously researched thoroughly.
And then there’s the horror. The opening chapter alone is enough to make your stomach turn, though it never gets quite that nasty again. There’s a lot of bloodshed, heads being torn off, and bodies split open; and the simple fact is what the Swifts and their ghostly companions are dealing with are monsters. There’s something very pure and raw about that to me; these creatures were summoned from the depths of hell to kill and eat the citizens of England. Ultimately there’s an intelligence behind the summoning that has to be dealt with, but when the characters’ knowledge of the beasts’ origins is limited, it seems as though a plague of reptilian monsters has taken over London. And it’s a bloody one.
Unfortunately, one of things lacking from Ghosts of Albion: Accursed is a sense of pacing. Right before heading in to see all the dead and dying of London’s slums, the siblings, their vampire friend Nigel, and the ghosts all have a long conversation about personal matters that doesn’t have anything to do with protecting England or dealing with the monsters. Often there were great action set pieces being led up to that were suddenly interrupted by the characters doing things you really wouldn’t have time for if you were out to save your home. Overall it was distracting and served to take me out of the story a little too often, but I suppose that can be a pitfall of having two writers working rather than one.
There were other inconsistencies that cropped up as well. I was never able to figure out what the toad creatures that were coming out of the women turned into other than hideous toad creatures since the full-grown men were the ones changing into lizard people. I supposed the toads served as the eyes and ears of the more important demons, but the way they came into the world indicated a larger evil than what they were ultimately responsible for.
Those minor gripes aside, Ghosts of Albion: Accursed was a great read and helped to expand on (for those that have seen the BBC series) or create (for those that haven’t) an interesting new world filled with its own rules and characters, all against a backdrop that is utilized far too little in the literary world for action-focused stories: 19th Century London. It was a dirty time, a time when there were just the super rich and devastatingly poor, which lends itself to all sorts of potential nastiness that could have been going on at the time. Throw the supernatural in the mix and two characters who are just trying to have a life while at the same time prevent the destruction of England by malevolent forces, and you’ve got the recipe for a series that could go on for a very long time.
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