Sylvia Kelso

Blackston Gold, Volume 1

ISBN: 978-1-43282-532-4

Publisher: Five Star (Gale, Cengage Learning)

Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack

The Solitaire Ghost is something of a departure from Kelso’s earlier novels. Although this too is a fantasy, it is more or less contemporary, being set in 2012, and it is set in an Australia only fractionally different to ours rather than the more distinctly fantastical worlds she has previously favoured. She has maintained strong characterisation and interesting plotting, although she has adopted a more straightforward writing style.

The Solitaire Ghost is volume one of Blackston Gold, with the story being completed in The Time Seam.  The novel simply stops dead at a critical point; to get any sense of completion you will need to read volume two as well. Most readers will not find that a hardship, I think.

Dorian Wild is a successful solicitor, happy in her relationship and friendships, and with a nice stable future in front of her. Then one day she gets in the elevator to go up to her office, and watches as a ghost walks out of the floor and places a miner’s panning dish on her head while he rebalances his load. Her future shatters. It’s bad enough when she’s seeing ghosts; once her friends and lover start seeing him as well, it becomes urgent to work out who he is and why Dorian has begun to see him. The urgency increases as he physically impinges on her time and Dorian suspects he is not a ghost, and is somehow connected to the megacorp which is driving her into heartbreak, mystery, and danger.

Truthfully, I read the two novels back to back and as they are one continuous story it is a little hard now to separate which of the later plot events happened in volume one and which occurred in The Time Seam. Kelso has constructed a detailed plot which will quickly draw most readers in, with both an intriguing conspiracy and a convincing ghost/time travel story which avoids the common pitfalls of time travel plots without getting too convoluted. Kelso tells of Dorian’s twin dilemmas concurrently: the problem of the ghost and the problem of the dishonest megacorp. Dorian finds it impossible to separate them, and most readers will find them equally compelling. Both are credible and interesting.

For me, the third element, a romantic subplot, was a little less convincing. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but I somehow didn’t quite believe in Dorian’s emotions and reactions in this regard. I can’t say more without spoiling a significant plot element. Suffice it to say that a complicated tangle of emotions was dealt with in a way that didn’t ring true; perhaps it was all a little too easy, in the end.

The characters are strong and individual, and Kelso does well to give vivid life to both a woman of our time and a man from the past. Both are believable, particularly Dorian, who is surrounded by friends who are also well characterised and who give her extra dimensions. She is an intelligent professional, as are her female friends, and it’s interesting to watch their approach to a problem which is far beyond rational. At the same time, the plot involving the megacorp well and truly grounds the plot in issues we’re familiar with.

Kelso has built an interesting world which is credible as one that’s just a touch in our future. The technology makes total sense, and in fact for much of the novel it isn’t all that noticeable that it is, in fact, set slightly in the future and in a world that’s not quite ours. This is in part because of the strong world building, but it’s also because the characters are strong and interesting enough to make their world believable, too.

The Solitaire Ghost is an enjoyable novel, although some may find its complete lack of resolution irritating. This won’t be a problem if you read the sequel at the same time. Neither are long books; indeed some might say that together they make up the weight of one “regular” fantasy novel. Importantly though, The Solitaire Ghost offers strong and interesting characters, an intriguing and involving plot, and credible world building. If you read this, you’ll almost certainly want to read the sequel, and that will provide the sense of resolution lacking from this instalment.