Title: The Gravedigger’s Brawl
Author: Abigail Roux
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Cover Art: Reese Dante
Genre: contemporary, horror, mystery/suspense, gay romance
Length: Novel (235 pdf pages, 66k words)
Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars
A Guest Review by Feliz
Summary Review: A delightfully moody ghost story with two adorable heroes and a colorful cast of remarkable supportive characters.
The Blurb: Dr. Wyatt Case is never happier than when he’s walking the halls of his history museum. Playing wingman for his best friend at Gravedigger’s Tavern throws him way out of his comfort zone, but not as much as the eccentric man behind the bar, Ash Lucroix.
Ash is everything Wyatt doesn’t understand: exuberant, quirky, and elbow deep in a Gaslight lifestyle that weaves history into everyday life. He coordinates his suspenders with his tongue rings. Within hours, Wyatt and Ash are hooked.
But strange things are afoot at Gravedigger’s, and after a knock to the head, Ash starts seeing things that can’t be explained by old appliances or faulty wiring. Soon everyone at Gravedigger’s is wondering if they’re seeing ghosts, or just going crazy. The answer to that question could end more than just Wyatt and Ash’s fragile relationship—it might also end their lives.
The Review: One of the themes of this book, according to the publisher’s website, is “gaslight culture”, something I’d never heard about before, so I went researching. To little avail, by the way, the internet wasn’t very forthcoming with a definition. The closest I could get was a literary genre called “gaslamp fantasy” which, according to Wikipedia, is “an attempt to modernize literary Gothicism”–think The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, for example. (for those who want to know more, a link to the corresponding Wikipedia article is here)
However, The Gravedigger’s Brawl and its characters don’t entirely fit this description. Sure, the story has a decidedly Gothic feel to it, not lastly due to its setting in a 1909-built supposedly haunted house and due to some of its protagonists’ penchant for wearing Victorian Era style clothing. For want of a better definition I’ll go with the one that Noah, Wyatt’s friend and colleague, gave to Wyatt with reference to Ash:
[Noah said] “He’s a sweet guy. Don’t let the gaslight bent throw you off.”
“The what?” [Wyatt asked]
“Gaslight. It’s like steampunk without the steam. Or the punk. Victorian throwback, gothic without the emo?”
“Are you speaking English right now?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“He’s quirky and he likes things like suspenders and top hats and riding crops. And I didn’t tell him you’d be coming to meet him so you can play it . . . however it is you academic types play it.”
As for Ash, Noah was spot on. Ash owns a metric ton of different tongue rings (some of which do intriguing things, like glow in the dark or vibrate) and yes, as it says in the blurb, he indeed matches them to his suspenders–and he knows how to use them to give Wyatt a good time between the sheets. (I’ve never particularly cared for tongue piercings. It isn’t that I minded them in any way, I’d just never thought I’d want one. But I do. Right now, after reading what Ash can do with his, I really, really want one…) Ash is highly popular among Richmond’s party crowd for his fairing (a term that I was unfamiliar with but apparently is something like show-bartending, like with flying glasses and mixing drinks while juggling three bottles at once) but he’ll just as well wait tables without batting an eyelash. He has a foible for ghost stories, can tell half a dozen off the top of his head, but he doesn’t actually believe in things that go bump in the night. Until, after a head injury, he suddenly starts to have strange things happen to him.
You’d think two men couldn’t be more different than Wyatt and Ash. Where Ash is outgoing, Wyatt is reserved. Where Ash is laid-back, Wyatt is apprehensive. Where Ash revels in his job and just enjoys making a living from what he loves doing anyway, Wyatt tends to bury himself in his work and to take himself and his job overly seriously. While it might’ve been a case of opposites attract between them at first, they soon discover they’re not that different after all. It’s not only their mutual interest in history or the fact that they, apparently, go very well together in bed. Or that they’re both gifted with a fast, sparkling wit that makes for some delicious banter between them. In his own way, either of them is a very intense character; both are capable of letting themselves be taken up in something. Of the two, Wyatt is the one who shows the more visible character growth, but Ash doesn’t get off unchanged either, if only for the fact that he’s the one who personally suffers the most harm from the supernatural powers that are at work here.
This book actually had another main character, the house itself. It weren’t only the people who worked at Gravedigger’s, nor the tavern’s customers who breathed life into it, the building seemed to have a capricious, stubborn personality of its own that went beyond the alleged haunting. With its history and its particularities it was the perfect setting for this book, offering just the right mix of reasonable deniability and obscure phenomena to create a fittingly eerie mood.
Despite the “ghost” theme, this book wasn’t gloomy at all. Yes, strange and sometimes disturbing things happened in the story, but the characters still retained their humor, their optimism and the pure joy that comes from being alive. Even though it’s set in Richmond, Virginia, this book reminded me a little of New Orleans. Rich with mystery and history, dark and sparkling with life like a New Orleans funeral procession.
This story had enough goosebump to make it pleasantly creepy, yet not so much that I’d have wanted to hide under the bed. It had magic and ghostliness, glow-in-the-dark flying bottles and an angel being groped by a horned demon, a museum curator who could’ve been Indiana Jones’s grandson and a couple of villains Alfred Hitchcock could’ve taken lessons from. Not to mention a colorful cast of supportive characters some of which were headstrong enough to merit their own stories.
I warmly recommend this unusual, enjoyable read.