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Phantom Faces

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Success Stories

by Melissa Amen


ISBN 1 4137 1990 2
PublishAmerica, 2004
208pp, paperback
Retail price $16.95

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams

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At the end of this book there are four pages entitled: "Praise for Phantom Faces". This section is exactly what it’s called, unmitigated praise for this book by various authors who, I presume, are also published by this publisher. I believe all these people do Melissa Amen a considerable disservice by completely abandoning their critical faculties; they are not being kind, they are being cruel. How can an author improve without their faults being brought to their attention? For, make no mistake, Ms Amen certainly has faults as a writer. Faults which can be corrected with the right advice.

Phantom Faces starts as a romance between Rebecca and Ryan. Ryan proposes and Rebecca accepts but points out that there’s a difficulty in her getting married. It turns out that the difficulty is an old Indian curse on Rebecca stretching back to 1875; anyone who marries her will die after ten months. There is only one way to deal with this, go back in time and stop the curse before it is cast. They have a sťance and, as easy as that, Rebecca and Ryan are in the past, in the American West circa 1875.

Up until now everything is fine (apart from the proof-reading, which I will get to), but once they are in 1875, the story rather escapes from the author. Firstly it was a romance, then a supernatural tale, now it’s a western and pretty soon it becomes a feminist tract and always, it’s a soap opera. Rebecca and Ryan are almost completely forgotten about for most of the book, while we spend time with Evan and Lily and their trials and tribulations trying to find suitable staff for their hotel and surgery; with Gregory and Little Deer as they build up to the origin of the curse, and with the completely pointless arrival of the British aristocracy and its relationship to Lily. And let’s not forget Clay and Carmen and the building of the house and the flitting in and out of the novel of various ghosts.

Melissa Amen has lots and lots of ideas but, in this book, she uses too many of them at once, with the result that it all ends up as something of a mess. Also, she needs to do rather more research. I really do not believe that any woman, no matter how strongly she felt about her status would, in the American West of 1875, call herself a feminist. Neither do I think that a couple getting married at that time would decide to "try for a baby". Both the term "feminist" and this latter phrase are anachronisms. Again, with the British aristocracy bit, apart from the fact that it’s completely unnecessary and distracting, Ms Amen’s understanding of it is neither correct nor in keeping with the feminist ideals she obviously espouses. This answer to a question of what will happen if one of the characters (I don’t want to give away too much of the plot) doesn’t accept her title: "Then the land will be without a leader. The people will rebel and there will be a war until the land is ravished [sic] and no one wants it."

Lastly, the proof-reading. You will have already noticed that "ravished", but how about this, the third sentence of Chapter Twenty-Five: "It was an appropriate look considering they had just seen a ghost, but the others people if Dover’s Bend and everyone one the train gave the worried, puzzled looks."? I have just double-checked my typing and that is exactly as it appears in the book. Unfortunately, it is not a one- off occurrence. It is almost per page. I really don’t think anyone from Publish America looked at this novel in a serious way before they published it.

I am very conscious that this review will appear to be a bit of a hatchet job on Melissa Amen’s novel. It is not meant to be. Anyone who puts the time and effort into producing a novel intends doing it again. They need an honest appraisal so that their work can improve. Melissa Amen is not short of ideas and is filled with enthusiasm. I sincerely hope that my review will not dent the latter. I just believe she needs to plan her work more carefully and certainly exercise more discipline. I wish her every luck with her future writing.