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Gothic web opera spans generations

By Linda Schoales, editor

Feb 15, 2009: “Refuge of Delayed Souls” is a rich, complex paranormal novel containing multiple mysteries and ghost stories. The chapters move between points in time, developing several plots, as they jump from the present to the past. Nothing and no one is quite what they seem. The mysteries in “Refuge of Delayed Souls” unravel through the eyes of Elizabeth, a woman who can see dead people. This gift leads her to the Refuge of Delayed Souls, a place for those who have not moved into the Light, and for those who are unable to do so.

We first meet Elizabeth as a child when her father is trying to explain to her that not everyone can see ghosts. Her mother wants Elizabeth to have nothing to do with her powers. It’s a bittersweet moment that foreshadows the conflict many of the characters feel about their abilities. The main story begins with Elizabeth as an adult, trying to trace the history of her mother’s family. From there the story moves back and forth between Elizabeth and various people in the past, starting with Billy and Anne in 1940’s England. The characters in the various plot lines are all well-drawn and feel real. Most of them—and there are a lot of them—are distinct enough to remember without using the “Character” link on the web site.

The backstory for this novel is incredibly complex. It reaches back to the First World War and then into the 1600‘s. There is some really lovely imagery and dialog in the story. The pacing works very well, although sometimes it got frustrating when the story jumped to another time, leaving me wondering what happened next. Each chapter is fairly short but they all end with a little twist or “a-ha” moment. There are wheels within wheels within wheels and many of the surprises are actually a little spooky. It’s reminiscent of “Dark Shadows”, the gothic soap opera that included vampires, ghosts and a family curse. This story cries out to be read late at night, in a dark room, alone.

That being said, I did find the writing in the first few chapters a bit rough. There were a few awkward phrasings—especially when a new character was introduced—and I initially had problems following the 1940’s plot line: I mistakenly thought one character (Michael) was two separate characters, and it confused matters for a while. The dream sequences were also a bit disorienting. It might have helped if the chapters were labeled with the month as well as the year they took place in. But, once I got past that point, I found the writing became increasingly better.

Despite a slightly rough start, “Refuge of Delayed Souls” is a big gothic tapestry of a web serial with short, tight chapters. It has memorable characters, intertwining stories, mysteries, ghosts and other otherworldly creatures. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes stories of the paranormal, historical mysteries, or fantasy with a time-twisting plot.

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