The Kingdoms of Savannah

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The Kingdoms of Savannah

by George Dawes Green
Published by: Celedon Books
Publish Date: 2022
Genre(s): Fiction, Gothic Thriller, American South, BIPOC
HB&W Rating: 3
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Thank you to the publisher and author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Synopsis

Savannah may appear to be “some town out of a fable,” with its vine flowers, turreted mansions, and ghost tours that romanticize the city’s history. But look deeper and you’ll uncover secrets, past and present, that tell a more sinister tale. It’s the story at the heart of George Dawes Green’s chilling new novel, The Kingdoms of Savannah.

It begins quietly on a balmy Southern night as some locals gather at Bo Peep’s, one of the town’s favorite watering holes. Within an hour, however, a man will be murdered and his companion will be “disappeared.” An unlikely detective, Morgana Musgrove, doyenne of Savannah society, is called upon to unravel the mystery of these crimes. Morgana is an imperious, demanding, and conniving woman, whose four grown children are weary of her schemes. But one by one she inveigles them into helping with her investigation, and soon the family uncovers some terrifying truths—truths that will rock Savannah’s power structure to its core.

Moving from the homeless encampments that ring the city to the stately homes of Savannah’s elite, Green’s novel brilliantly depicts the underbelly of a city with a dark history and the strangely mesmerizing dysfunction of a complex family.

Synopsis source: Goodreads

Review

A gothic, Southern thriller? Sign me up! I was super excited to read this book, but this ended up being just okay for me. Gothic? Yes. Southern? Yes. Thriller? Meh…not so much.

I enjoyed the setting and I think that the author did a great job of using the dark side of Savannah as the setting for his story. Much of the history was unknown to me and the story should be read if for no other reason than to shed light on it. That said, the historical aspect of this book is probably the only thing that saved the story for me.

The writing felt disjointed and amateurish at times with very little finesse. I’m not talking about the colloquial way that he would write certain speaking parts because I think that can lend to the overall vibe of a book. It just felt kind of…lazy? I don’t know if that’s the right word, but I’m going with it. The story felt a bit disconnected as well.

We are told that Morgana has a strained relationship with her children and we see that her children aren’t close with one another either. Dawes does little to embellish on this and yet this strain between Morgana and her children seems important to the story, though I honestly don’t know why. He also refers to a generally perceived view of Savannah as a town out of a fable. I can understand that this is to juxtapose the perception with the harsh reality he uses as his setting, a poisoned apple, if you will. However, I have never heard anyone ever refer to it as such and even a quick Google search brought up nothing, so it seems like there might have been a better way to do that, like, I don’t know, an early scene of Jaq’s previous documentary project showing all the qualities of the city that make it fable-like? It just didn’t connect for me.

What promised to be a sinister sounding plot turned out to be a bit anti-climactic. The plot was unsurprising and was a bit too easily resolved. The pacing was off for the thriller aspect and I think the plot got lost a couple of times. There wasn’t enough edge-of-my-seat action or much in the way of building suspense to qualify as a thriller in my opinion. I will say that while I saw several other reviewers comment about the format (5 long chapters), it wasn’t as bad as other books I’ve read. It did, in fact, have plenty of stopping points within those long chapters, so this didn’t bother me.

Lastly, the characters were mostly two-dimensional. There were several, but I didn’t have any problems keeping track of them, nor did I mind the multiple POVs. I just didn’t feel like any of them came off the page. I would love to have seen more of Morgana, because she struck me as the most interesting character, even more so than Jaq, who I liked for her forthrightness, values, and fearlessness. Morgana was hands down the most interesting character in the entire book, but we saw pathetically little of her. Instead we get Ransom and Jaq primarily. Ransom was….I don’t even know how to put it into words. I don’t feel like I got to know him well enough to say, really.

The most sinister part of the whole book wasn’t the plot but the history, which is all based on fact, like the acts and manipulations committed by Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar, the “witchification” of Alice Riley, and the attempt to forget an important part of black history dating back to the American Revolutionary War–the story of the black men and women who sided with King George and upon his defeat refused to return to slavery, instead setting up a fortified village on a small “uninhabitable” island where they lived for years, much to the consternation of southern slave catchers. This is what kept me from disliking this book, and the fact that the author, somewhat clumsily, gives more information about it at the end of the book along with suggestions for additional reading. I love that the author set out with the goal to shed light on parts of history that many might wish be kept secret.

I also liked the author featured homelessness and made it a central part of the story as well. Several scenes take place with homeless characters and in homeless camps, humanizing this marginalized group that we too often turn a blind eye to.

In the end, what I liked wasn’t enough to earn this one more than 3 stars from me. It was just okay. If you enjoy history, social justice, and a good gothic setting, you’ll like this well enough. Just don’t go expecting a pulse-pounding, super complex thriller, because this isn’t it.

Have you read this book? What did you think?


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