fantasy and science fiction book reviewsGhosts of Rockville: Search for the Dominion Glass by Justin Heimberg

Ghosts of Rockville: Search for the Dominion Glass, by Justin Heimberg, is a middle-grade paranormal mystery with a reading twist: a “magic-view” bit of square plastic which, when placed over most of the illustrations in the text, reveals hidden messages or images. It’s an interesting idea, and one which probably will enhance the reading experience for young readers, but to be honest, it doesn’t enhance it enough because the underlying story and characters are relatively weak.

Jay Winnick and his friends (Pam, the seemingly late bloomer in a family of psychics; Brian, popular jock in public but smart guy with his secret friends; Danni, the CSI-Forensics expert) are paranormal investigators. But one day, a mysterious blank piece of paper leads them into their most serious case yet, involving secret societies, martial-arts-wielding librarians, dangerous ghosts, rhyming puzzles, crop circles, a villain who’ll seemingly stop at nothing, and a quest for the Dominion Glass: a magical artifact with which one can summon and control spirits. Jay is particularly and personally interested in the Dominion Glass due to the possibility that his own father, whom he hasn’t seen in years, may be a ghost.

The characters are not very sharply or richly drawn. You get the feeling you could encapsulate them in a few words and be done with it, and one never feels any sense of attachment toward any of them. It’s only toward the very end, in one of the climactic scenes, that one feels a sense of depth to them, but it’s all over far too fast.

The action moves with a bit of a jerky motion — swiftly at times and then coming to a sudden halt, though not for any seeming effect. It all feels just a bit arbitrary, as do the puzzles that are placed before the children in somewhat formulaic fashion. One feels that Jay’s attempts to communicate with his father are meant to lend an emotional depth and weight to the book, but this is hindered by the cartoonish villain and generally light tone, which sometimes devolves a bit too much into middle-grade humor, as when a medium or “channeler” has a “super booger” exude from him while in a trance (it’s actually a spirit’s ectoplasm entering our world). Little of the storyline or events feel organically connected; we just feel moved on from one puzzle to another, each of which we’re pretty sure will be relatively quickly solved. And unfortunately, all the clues lead pretty much nowhere as the book ends without any resolution, simply coming to a halt where we assume we’ll pick up in book two.

But that’s if we pick up book two. Unfortunately, Ghosts of Rockville: Search for the Dominion Glass doesn’t leave me wanting to. The premise, even without the gimmick, has potential: a group of kids investigating paranormal events, one of them having a much more serious and emotional reason for doing so. The puzzles could lend a nicely interactive bit to the story, and the magic view lens, while admittedly gimmicky, could have been used to decent effect (say, by having the readers not always know when exactly to use it so they’d have to be detectives themselves).

But unfortunately, the potential just isn’t met and the book falls down in its most important aspects: character, action, prose. I’ll give the follow-up a shot, as sometimes second books are surprisingly better, but for now my recommendation is to hold off on GHOSTS OF ROCKVILLE.

Ghosts of Rockville — (2011-2014) Publisher: When Jay Winnick receives a mysterious blank piece of paper in the mail, he doesn’t think much of it. After all, it’s not such a weird thing to a kid who routinely subdues poltergeists, fends off deadly apparitions, and otherwise meddles in the affairs of the undead. Plus, there’s nothing even on the paper… Soon, that “nothing” thrusts Jay into the most perilous quest of his young ghost-hunting life, a paranormal puzzle involving spirit boards, crop circles, an ancient secret order, and just about every ghost type in the Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. At least he’s not alone. Joining Jay on his quest are his best friends and fellow ghost hunters: Danni, a forensics expert and lover of all things disgusting; Pam, a psychic of dubious ability at best; and Brian, a closet brainiac and nerd who lives a double life disguised as a dumb jock who just happens to be the most popular kid in school. Together, Jay and his friends must find the key that will unlock a mystical artifact that holds the power to control the spirit world. At stake is nothing less than the balance between life and death.

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  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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