Afterlife – Ghostland 2.0: Duncan Ralston
Reviewed By Steve Stred
Well, well, well.
What do we have here? Canada’s bad boy of social media returns with the follow up to his well-received ‘Ghostland‘ novel with a sequel. After the events in book one, I was eager to see what Ralston had in store for us with the nefarious Rex and the survivors from the first book.
Now, I’m going to attempt to stay completely spoiler-free, but if you haven’t read the first book, I’d say it might be best to read that and then check out my thoughts.
What I liked: Picking up shortly after book one, ‘Afterlife‘ fills in some dots as to what’s happened in the time since the incident in Duck Falls and we find out some of the reality of what the surviving characters are going through.
Ralston has really done his homework here with this one, ensuring we get a great plot point from out west, working its way into the current narrative while throwing back to the initial instance with Rex all those years ago. I loved finding out a bit about that time as well as how the incidents with the psychics really ramped up the tensions around the ‘ethereals.’
As the story gets going, Duncan leaves no stone unturned to give us emotion-packed moments as well as furthering the reality of what Rex is attempting to do.
I’ll say this – Ralston has truly come into his own with this release. And while I haven’t read all of his work (yet), this is the most confident piece I’ve read from him. He knows what each and every character needs to be doing to get us to the endpoint, which in this case is setting up book three.
What I didn’t like: Two minor things. First, I think it would’ve been nice to have a refresher/summary of the events and characters from book one. It took me a minute to recall who each one was as the story unfolds. Second, and this is just me being a bit of a headache, but I hated a specific character at the beginning who knows about the events but doesn’t share he knows them with Lilian. It drove me batty the way he interacted at the start, but as I said, Duncan has each chess piece moving exactly how he needs them to.
Why you should buy this: This is a perfect follow up to the first book and from that we get to see how Duncan has crafted a narrative that has flowed nicely from book one to book two and will be closed off in book three. This story has everything readers will love – emotional depth, redemption, grief as well as scares, gore and carnage.
Duncan has really outdone himself with this one and now we get to await the arrival of book three.
5 Questions for the author
Steve Stred talks to Duncan Ralston
1) How far along in Ghostland were you before you knew there would be a book 2? Was it always a planned trilogy?
I wrote Ghostland with the idea that it could be read as a standalone title or could spawn at least one sequel. I always knew there was more to the story I wanted to tell but I didn’t have any deliberate intentions of writing a sequel or sequels until a few months after the release of the first book. It was relatively successful and I’d ended it with the opportunity to write more in that story “universe,” so I thought it would be wise to get right on it. My biggest task was to not make this book just a cashgrab, rinse-and-repeat effort. First of all, nobody in their right mind would start that park right up again – we’ve all learned from Jurassic Park this is just not a good idea. So I knew it would be a different story than the first, I just didn’t know how different until I started writing the second draft, where everything changed and I scrapped the original outline – for the better, I hope.
Midway through writing that draft, I realized it would have to be a trilogy – even without the new characters, there was far too much to leave it at just one sequel. There was a war coming, a potentially global war. It needed to feel a tad more epic – in the literal sense – and to be set up accordingly. So, Afterlife became a sort of pre-apocalypse novel and the third book in the trilogy will be apocalyptic, at least for the people of Duck Falls (if not the rest of the world). Not that this book is lacking in action and violence!
2) For Ghostland you did an extensive promo campaign and then had the interactive ebook feature. Did that experience reground you for Afterlife where you really focused on the book itself and not as much peripheral stuff?
Ghostland easily lent itself to promotion. It’s a theme park. There’s marketing inherent to that concept, and the idea of haunted theme parks in general seems to strike a chord with many horror fans. It’s definitely something I love. Also, even though the antagonist (Rex Garrote) is over the top, I wanted to ground him a bit in reality. So the “viral” Mandela Effect campaign about the horror author from the ’80s no one else remembered served that purpose.
Afterlife didn’t have that same inherent marketing potential, but my focus being mostly on the book itself is more down to the fact that the story has a lot more working parts. As the second part of a trilogy, not only does it have to be a satisfying story on its own, it also serves to set up the final chapter, the third book. So it’s kind of a juggling act. I hope I was able to do both well enough. Time will tell, I suppose.
3) With this being a book two, it really allows authors the ability to have more emotional moments, as the characters are now known and readers root for them. Knowing that, did you strategically work hard to have some moments where you knew readers would be sad or mad at what happens?
I didn’t consciously attempt anything different than what I normally do. When you’re writing there are moments that feel right and those that feel wrong for the story, or dishonest. I try to stick to the first and edit out the second. But those emotional moments I strive for are for myself, firstly. If they work for me, I’m happy (or sad, which sometimes goes hand in hand when it comes to stories). If they work for the readers, then I’ve done my job.
4) Ghosts have always been an interesting story narrative as they can do whatever the author decides. For your trilogy, did you make yourself a batch of rules as to what your specific ghosts can or can not do?
Oh, definitely. I love the idea of ghosts. There’s just so much that can be done with them, and that has yet to be done. They’re definitely my favorite of the horror “creatures.”
In the first book the “Know Your Ghosts” guide at the end is pretty much the rules for the ghosts we’d seen in that book and for many in this one. There are other entities that haven’t been fully explained yet who follow their own set of rules. But of course, it’s fiction so those rules can be played with as necessary until they’ve been set in stone.
5) What’s next? When can we expect book three and what can we expect to see in it?
I’m starting Book 3 right away, so depending on how that goes – we could see it by the end of the summer. As for what you can expect, I’m not sure I can get into that too much without venturing into spoiler territory. But there will be casualties. We’ll learn more about Garrote and his evil house. And we will return once again to Ghostland, where it all started – and, maybe, where it will all end.
Beyond that, I’m tinkering with a few ideas I’m not comfortable disclosing just yet. They’re still story babies and very fragile. Though I can say I’m still working on that spiritual sequel to Woom, and I hope to get started on one of the Rex Garrote-penned novels in 2021, as well.
Afterlife – Ghostland 2.0
Sinister forces gather in Duck Falls. Soon, this small American town will become a battleground for the future of humanity.
Six months after the “Ghostland Disaster,” Duck Falls has become a reluctant tourist trap, and a new home to the activist group Ghosts Are People Too. When the Return to Ghostland televised event ends in yet another tragedy, ghosts once again fall under scrutiny… along with the effectiveness of the Recurrence Field.
Away at college, survivor Lilian Roth has discovered she’s able to communicate with spirits. She and her best friend, Ben Laramie, use the skills they’ve acquired to free ghosts from their hauntings.
But Rex Garrote, the mastermind behind the Ghostland Disaster, is raising an army of ghosts to slaughter every living person on Earth. Left with no choice but to fight, Ben and Lilian must recruit their own army of freed ghosts, and prepare them for war.
Will it be enough to save the world?
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
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