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BOOK REVIEW: Shadows of Ghosts

A drawing of a Centaur.

Author: Stefan Haucke
Publisher: MacTavish
Publication date: Nov. 27, 2013
Genre: Fantasy, fiction, young adult

Whenever a book can weave real history into a fictional story, especially for books geared toward pre-teens and teens, it’s a good thing. What I wish I could’ve seen more from Stefan Haucke’s book, “Shadows of Ghosts,” however, is a little more creativity with his allegory of the American Civil War drama.

“Shadows of Ghosts” is about a prince named Cal Lanshire who has to be kept in hiding with his real identity a secret while his father’s kingdom, Enara, tries to settle a civil war with its southern provinces over the slavery of Centaurs, a half-human, half-horse species. The story begins to unfold when Cal’s father, the king, is assassinated. Cal is taken onto an adventure, both thrilling and scary, to return to his kingdom to claim his throne before General Macton, the Parliament’s speaker and supporter of Centaur slavery, claims the throne in the absence of the king’s successor, which would be Cal.

It’s quite evident that the American Civil War was a major influence to Haucke’s book. The comparison of the treatment of the Centaur race mirrors that of the African American race during the 1861-65 Civil War and the hunt for the king’s assassin is a replicated scene from the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, President Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.

Much of this direct comparison between the U.S. Civil War and Enara’s civil war happens in the beginning of the book. Throughout the book, however, there are just a few examples of racism against Centaurs, specifically Ellsben, a Centaur who befriends Cal and helps him and Cal’s best friend, Mont, reach the king’s trusted soldier, General Grintar, who is leading the king’s army against the southern rebels.

Although the characters in “Shadows of Ghosts” were interesting, I felt the book was way too much like the American Civil War, like I was reading about the Civil War but names were replaced. I would’ve liked to have seen more uniqueness.

Also, the author dedicated a lot of ink to the Kozal character, who enters in the middle of the story and helps Cal and his gang along their journey. I thought Kozal was an interesting character but not so much so that we would read about his story past a page. I thought the other characters deserved more in-depth description. Even the relationship between Cal and his father was too brief compared to Kozal’s background story. I would’ve like to have seen more substance with the Ellsben character, for which his struggles are the foundation of the story.

Although it wasn’t my kind of book, and despite the glaring similarities to the American Civil War, it wasn’t a bad read. The struggles Cal and his small gang faces have a sort of Huckleberry Finn feel to them and Mont is that free-spirited character that we all were or wish we were as a child. Mont’s wit and stubbornness shows through well enough in the story that he becomes my favorite character.

It was entertaining to follow the friendship between Cal and Mont as they formed a solid bond as best friends throughout the book.

Although I think Haucke’s allegory of the American Civil War was a bit too direct with the struggles of the Centaurs and assassination of the king, and although I believe he missed a chance to make the struggles of the Centaurs a bit more revealing, the book eventually brings on many entertaining adventures for Cal and his gang. Following the growth of Cal and Mont’s friendship is also as intriguing as any other storyline within the story in “Shadows of Ghosts.” This book should entertain pre-teen/teenage readers who like fantasy, American history or like to read about adventures.

Reviewed by Ryan Schlehuber "Scoop" on 25 March 2014

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