Witches. Pirates. Ghosts. A curse. A tropical storm that threatens to reveal secrets long buried. And a cat called Bacon who may or may not be possessed by the spirit of a familial treasure hunter. ISLAND OF BONES ticks plenty of boxes this spooky season, as long as you’re more willing to suspend disbelief than the story’s sassy heroine.
Gaby Triana is best known for her Young Adult novels, including international bestseller Wake the Hollow, which flirt with both romance and the supernatural. But in her new series, HAUNTED FLORIDA, Triana pursues a life-long passion for horror as she makes a move into writing for adults – something she describes as her “true calling”.
Following the death of her beloved Grandmother, Ellie Whitaker, 26, heads out to Key West to visit the house that continued to haunt Leanne Drudge through her final days and to help her finally rest in peace. However, Ellie soon finds her quest for the truth leads her, both metaphorically and literally, into the eye of the storm.
It is this storm that truly carries the narrative; a slow build that sets the nerves on edge, a rising heat that makes the chills all the more… chilling, all hell breaking loose as Hurricane Mara finally hits. In fact, the storm’s real strength is not the devastation that it brings to the Cayo Hueso, but its undeniable connection to Ellie’s mental health and the awakening of latent abilities she has potentially suppressed since childhood. While Ellie’s determined rationalisation, constant references to her “covert OCD”, and dependence on medication can take the reader out of the moment, the precursory waterspouts pull you back in, hurling you onwards as you brace yourself for a dramatic climax that is satisfying, if a little protracted.
In terms of skill, dialogue is not necessarily Triana’s strong point. Many interactions feel forced and unnatural, and Ellie can come across as a little immature, which may prove that old habits as a YA writer die hard. But Triana excels at describing setting, with her prose displaying moments of pure poetic brilliance that could extend throughout the novel with a little more attention and a strong editor.
The largely female ensemble represents womanhood across generations, with even those cast in the role of villain acting with strength that comes from their own agency. Triana often takes us back to 1951 and the conservative prejudice that saw female sexuality and empowerment as a threat – the whore and the witch. Our modern-day heroine is relentless and surprisingly fearless considering her circumstances, and not just those that arise from stepping inside a stereotypical haunted hotel. Newly unemployed and single, you’d be forgiven for assuming early on that her path to “finding herself” will lead Ellie into the arms of a new lover, but this is not the case. It is somewhat refreshing to encounter a main character so completely undistracted by her own romantic escapades. That’s not to say there is no romance to be found in ISLAND OF BONES and Triana crafts a relationship so pure and enviable that it certainly gives Ellie, and the reader, something to aim for when the time is right.
On the surface, ISLAND OF BONES provides a drama-packed battle with the evils of human jealousy and greed against the backdrop of a swirling assault of ghosts and nature. But scratch away the veneer and you will uncover a reminder that supressing your true potential can be detrimental to your mental wellbeing. So be you, face your ghosts and pursue your passions just as Gaby Triana has done with this novel.