Picking Up the Ghost
by Tone Milazzo
Cover Artist: Erik Mohr and Mara Sternberg
Review by Meagen Voss
ChiZine Publications Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781926851358
Date: 15 August 2011 List Price $15.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
If Salvador Dali were an author, his work might resemble Tone Milazzo's Picking Up the Ghost. Okay, maybe Milazzo's book has a little more structure than Dali's melting pocket watches. But there is no doubt that Milazzo can paint a world with words, and the surreal setting he created for this coming-of-age adventure is both dazzling and terrifying.
The story takes place in St. Jude, a town in Mississippi that has little to offer its residents besides hardship and crumbling buildings. Cinque Williams is an average city kid with a single, working mom until a bizarre creature steals his heart. With a burning hole in his chest, Cinque suddenly becomes aware of strange, magical creatures roaming around St. Jude. Once a wise--but not terribly helpful--African convinces Cinque that he's not going crazy, Cinque sets out to find his stolen heart. On his journey, Cinque crafts his own unique form of magic and figures out how to enlist the help of ghosts as he faces wayward magicians, powerful gods, and an ancient fish creature that has an appetite for magic. Cinque may be a quick study, but he only gets so far before he realizes he has to contact the one ghost who can help him find his heart--the father he never met.
Milazzo's debut novel is heavily influenced by Voodoo and other African magic traditions. He successfully combines magic lore with a gritty, urban environment to create a rich fantasy world populated with unique characters and creatures. His story, though it initially appears to be a typical boy's-quest-to-find-his-father plot, is filled with delightful twists and surprises. At times, I was a little bugged by how quickly Cinque figures everything out with very few mistakes (though some of the ones he did make were doozies), but I think I can forgive Milazzo for that because Cinque's character ultimately shows readers an inner-city kid who can solve problems with his brain instead of a gun.
Despite the lack of firearms in the story, this story is still violent and graphic at times, so it's not the best read for those with weak stomachs or parents looking for something to read to their kids at night. Urban fantasy fans who don't mind a plot without smut or a sexy werewolf/vampire/witch would enjoy this story, especially fans of Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint. And even if you're not an urban fantasy fan, I definitely recommend this book. Milazzo has unique style that is downright weird, but has a literary quality to it. I think we can expect more great stories from him.