Rating: 3.75 stars out of 5
Evan is away from home for the first time in his life as a freshman at Rove University. He should be excited about being independent and the prospect of meeting new people and making friends. But Evan is miserable. Homesick and feeling more alone than he’s ever been, the only reason Evan is at Rove instead of a commuter college is due to his parents insistence. Evan is trying but nothing is working.
Then Evan notices a young man sitting high above the courtyard where he is eating. Long dark hair and lean, the student seems without fear as he leans far out over the ledge. But at next glance the student is gone and Evan is left to wonder at exactly what he saw. Then he spots him again when Evan walks down to the pond near the university. The young man, Gabriel, warns Evan not to fall asleep on the rock,otherwise he might drown. Then with a smile, he vanishes once more.
Who Gabriel is Evan isn’t sure, he only knows that when he is at his most miserable and defeated, Gabriel appears to talk and make him feel better at being away from home. His classmates and some teachers say the university is haunted and that the ghost roams the campus at night, playing pranks and sometimes helping those in need.
Evan doesn’t believe in ghosts. Maybe he should.
Haunted Halls by M Raiya is a sweet, unusual paranormal romance whose characters, especially that of Evan, are the real draw here. Evan is that true homebody. He adores his parents and the only place he wants to be is back home in his small town in Vermont. But his parents worry about Evan limiting himself at this age so they send him off to Rove University hoping that this unwanted separation and independence will be good for him. They extracted a promise that he will stay there a year. If he toughs it out and still wants to come home after that then they will let him. Such a normal situation and the parental concern is so very realistic. I am a fan of this author and this set up is exactly the reason why. A typical introverted teenager who is always on the outskirts of high school social circles and with very different interests from the popular kids is leery of the unknown that is Rove University. This starting point is one that almost everyone can relate to. And then Even arrives at Rove and everything changes.
It’s hard to go into too much detail because of the chance of revealing story spoilers, but to say the least this is not exactly the ghost story that you are expecting. M Raiya has a few twists in store for the reader. Just when you have anticipated the reveal, Raiya shows she have something very different in mind. And that’s both the best and most frustrating aspect of this story.
Haunted Halls takes its name from the clever idea that a student marked through the words Hallowed on a plaque to change it to read Haunted Halls after the campus ghost that is said to haunt this university. Raiya has two congruent plot threads going that will eventually converge as the story heads towards its dramatic resolution. The first concerns Evan during the first weeks of his arrival at Rove. Depressed and lonely, he is in a delicate mental and emotional place. And that’s when he meets the mysterious Gabriel. Each time Evan is at his lowest, the ever elusive Gabriel manages to appear, almost out of thin air, to bring Evan out of his dark place and make it better. The second thread appears when Evan meets two students who are interested in the campus legends and together the three of them start to investigate in the ghostly appearances and past history of the university and town. As the story draws down to a conclusion the closer the two threads become until they connect in one shattering moment.
I really loved this short story and only a couple of things kept it from being a perfect little gem. The first is hard to explain but the reason behind Gabriel’s appearance and the ghostly rumors is one of the most interesting and least fleshed out elements of this story. The fascinating idea behind it just begs for a deeper explanation for it as well as more plot time. Raiya only gives out small bits of the past, the pivotal surprise at the heart of this story, and its nature. So the idea is never framed out completely to the readers frustration, especially as it plays such an enormous role in its impact on all the major characters here. One of the problems behind that lack of substance to this segment of the story is the word count. The promise of this complicated story line would be hard to fulfill at a larger page count let alone 21,000 words. And the fascinating concept here is such a great one that I wish Raiya had given it the spotlight in the story that it deserved.
But those issues aside, I throughly enjoyed Haunted Halls. Growing up I grabbed up all the ghost stories I could find, and this short story brought back all those happy memories of romance, and ghosts and unlikely endings that would ever be my favorites. It’s a quick, charming tale of love and the unexpected. Pick it up for a fun, fast read.
Cover art by Aisha Akeju who is quickly becoming one of my favorite new artists. Great cover. Its perfect for the story inside.
Expected publication: May 7th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC
original titleHaunted Halls
Buy Link at LT3 Press