Normally if a book has the word ghost in its title, I avoid it. However, the coupling of the word ghost with the word knight intrigued me, and I really enjoyed Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, so I gave her newest release, Ghost Knight, a try. I enjoyed reading this short, fast-paced middle grade novel, with a few caveats which I’ll address at the end of my review. First, the story:
Ghost Knight is the story of eleven year old Jon Whitcroft as he is rather perfunctorily dumped by his mother and her new boyfriend (whom he has given the moniker The Beard) at the boarding school his deceased father attended as a boy. To say that Jon doesn’t want to be there is an understatement; his plotting and planning a way to escape Salisbury begins before he even arrives. Between drawing pictures of The Beard’s tombstone and getting to know his new roommates, Jon discovers that there’s something strange about Salisbury. On Jon’s first night in his boarding house room, he peers out the window to see a trio of ghostly horsemen menacing at him from below. As it turns out, not everyone can see the ghosts; Jon has been chosen by them as a victim because of his maternal lineage–it turns out that one the Hartgill ancestors was murdered by a Lord Stourton, and a ghostly Lord Stourton is out to exact revenge for his hanging on a descendent of his first victim. Thankfully for Jon, he learns from a classmate, Ella Littlejohn, that a certain knight who is buried in Salisbury Cathedral will come back from the other side to help anyone who calls on him. This knight happens to be none other than the illegitimate son (the b-word is thrown about a lot here) of Henry the Second and half-brother of Richard the Lionheart. The knight, William Longspee, has his own tragedy–his heart has been separated from his body and thus he has been separated from his beloved wife for all eternity–er, or something like that. There’s a lot of suspense and some other-worldly violence, including Jon being possessed of various ghosts’ beings/personalities/whatever. (Can you see here I’m not exactly on native soil?) In the end Jon and his friend Ella (with a bit of help from her family) manage to help Longspee settle the matter in a way that pleases him, and Jon grows up a bit and accepts what’s happening in his life in the process.
Extremely conservative readers will find a lot to dislike about this one, I think. I can appreciate a ghost story on one level–the whole idea of fantasy, etc. However, there’s an awful lot of sending so-and-so “back to hell” in this book, as well as the aforementioned ghostly possession (?) of Jon. Ella’s grandmother opines that there is no heaven or hell. There’s a rather innocent beginning romance between Jon and Ella (though some references to kissing and being locked in closets together, with the innuendo that goes with that). Jon’s mother and The Beard live together without benefit of marriage. There’s a bit of cursing in the story, although since it’s British I’m never really sure if it really is cursing or if my Bible Belt sensibilities just say so.
Gah. Why did I read this one again?
Oh, yeah. Cornelia Funke. The story is well written, and I really enjoyed the historical element. I can definitely see a history-loving boy enjoying this story a lot. Whether it’s worth it or not to cut through all the unsavory bits, though, you’ll have to decide for yourself. (Little, Brown 2011)