Review: The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

TITLE: The Restorer
AUTHOR: Amanda Stevens
PAGES: 384
FORMAT: Kindle
ISBN: 978-0778329817
BUY IT: Amazon
RATING: 8/10 [I changed this. Because in retrospect, it's definitely more than a 7. Then again, psychology says that any scale with more than 9 parts is useless to the human brain, so don't get too hung up on the numbers, eh?]
RECOMMENDED FOR: Adults, Older teens

My name is Amelia Gray. I'm a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. In order to protect myself from the parasitic nature of the dead, I've always held fast to the rules passed down from my father. But now a haunted police detective has entered my world and everything is changing, including the rules that have always kept me safe.
It started with the discovery of a young woman's brutalized body in an old Charleston graveyard I've been hired to restore. The clues to the killer—and to his other victims—lie in the headstone symbolism that only I can interpret. Devlin needs my help, but his ghosts shadow his every move, feeding off his warmth, sustaining their presence with his energy. To warn him would be to invite them into my life. I've vowed to keep my distance, but the pull of his magnetism grows ever stronger even as the symbols lead me closer to the killer and to the gossamer veil that separates this world from the next.

There aren't a lot of original plots and concepts in the world of crime fiction, but Amanda Stevens has created one in her novel The Restorer, first in the Graveyard Queen series. Ghosts themselves are often neglected members of the supernatural community, but Stevens' ghosts have a special flair and are so well thought out that the reader immediately feels that, (a) this is not just another slumber party ghost story and (b) this is an otherworld they can believe in. Moreover, Stevens demonstrates an authority with her survey of the gentile South and the study of cemeteries that, while essential to a book like this, is difficult to master. Amelia sounds like a born-and-bred Southerner who is truly an expert in her field—not the mouthpiece of an author who has been doing a bit of Googling.

Because I'm an advocate for pulling band-aids off quickly, I'll get to the criticisms first. Then we can get that out of the way so I can leave you with all the fantastic qualities about this book, of which there are plenty. My main criticism for the book lies in Chekov's famous statement: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." It can be difficult when you're setting up a series and not a single book; you want to get everything out there, establish all the rules of your universe. However, there are so many intrigues in this book that only a few of them can be satisfactorily tied up before the end. For example, one of the biggest mysteries in the book (highlight here if you've already read, otherwise avoid the spoiler: The Order of the Coffin and the Claw) becomes entirely irrelevant by the end. There's also one character (highlight: Macon) who could be entirely thrown out. The reader feels a little tricked.

There is also the case of Too Many Suspects. There's nothing wrong with having multiple leads or with making everyone a potential suspect. But you have to give the reader a good reason to favor one person over the other. I found that everyone was so suspicious I stopped trying to guess who the killer was. By the end, I felt that the actual killer was set up so little in comparison with the others that I could not look back and say, "Aha! I should have known!" In addition, the plot races beautifully towards a climactic discovery, but Stevens pulls back, puts the case on the backburner, and lets time pass slowly. Having been filled with so much suspense, I was impatient to get through what felt like filler parts. The ending itself was good, except for one tiny, nitpicky detail. Even in series, I feel that each book should stand alone. You should be able to read it by itself, even if not all the secrets are wrapped up. The reference to the sequel in the end didn't allow me to feel the satisfied end-of-book feeling I enjoy, when you may not know what's next for the character but you're happy to see this chapter (ha) in their life closed. Again, nitpicky.

Before you jump to crazy conclusions . . . I did love this book. I don't usually go for strong romantic plots, but I'm obsessed with graveyards and I just couldn't resist. I'm glad I tried it. Stevens is a beautiful writer. While she may harp a little on some themes in the beginning (e.g. Amelia wondering over the identity of Devlin's ghosts and taking a bit too long to suspect what seems an obvious suspicion), it's barely noticeable in the face of her clear, detailed writing. Some of the images she presents of the graveyards and of the Southern scenes are absolutely breathtaking. However, she sprinkles these in carefully so there's never a flowery feeling. This lets the reader move through at a quick pace—which is good, because I was so enthralled with the mystery that it was difficult for me not to peek ahead. Stevens owes me several very groggy days because "one more page" became "one to two more hours of reading." Amelia's ghostly abilities mesh perfectly with her role in the investigation—but in ways that cleverly avoid the cliché of "dead man wants me to find his murderer."

Amelia herself is a wonderful character. She's strong and clever but has plenty of insecurities, making her much more relatable than some of the gorgeous talented heroines you see. Even though she's strongly attracted to Devlin, she still takes control of her own life—another romance trope I was glad to see avoided. The grave restorer concept is made absolutely believable and is a wonderful, original take on the idea of a murderer leaving secret clues. It's like The Da Vinci Code with a morbid twist. Amelia's (and Stevens') love for the graveyards resonates so strongly through the text, and the facts about graveyards, Southern custom, and Gullah superstition are given in manageable amounts and made perfectly understandable even to total newbies. Besides, what's more pretty and poetic than a murder in the South that centers around Victorian cemetery poetry? I'm not a big romance reader so I was more focused on the murder, but the romance between Amelia and Devlin is definitely gripping. You want them to be together and you can feel the tension in Stevens' writing.

I could keep talking about all the wonderful bits I especially liked, but we're running long. So I'll leave you with this. It's a fast-paced, highly original, tightly written murder mystery with strong characters and twisted intrigues.


  1. Thank you for the excellent review! I am looking for a good read and am bookmarking your blog for future reviews!

    1. Thank you very much! Hopefully I can be of some help. (: