Wenedlin Gray is a natural linguist, a largely self-taught polyglot fascinated by eastern cultures, art, and stories. She is the author of a spacefaring trilogy that involves shape-shifting foxes who stow away on a Chinese lunar mission that goes awry, called The Vulpecula Cycle.
The Haunting at Pine Peak, which won a Moonbeam Book Award, is romantic horror fantasy with political intrigue, appealing ghosts and ambitious zombies. I recommend reading the Afterword first, as it explains the significance of names without being a significant spoiler.
Princess Birdsong, youngest of the sixteen royal children in the kingdom of Zu Dang, shocks and offends her father, King Chiningmen, when she flatly refuses to marry the court magician chosen for her - not by herself, nor even her father, but by the odious advisor Kimon. King Chiningmen, clearly under the influence of the baneful Kimon, banishes his favorite child to the mountain fastness of Ice Pine Peak, a royal villa that used to be a monastery, there to languish until she comes to her senses and agrees to the alliance.
Birdsong is adventurous enough that this fate does not dismay her. And her instinct for self-preservation that prompted her to fend off her insidious suitor proves to be quite sound. In her absence, disaster overtake the royal family as a necromancer attempts to resurrect the past by draining the living to raise the long dead.
Far from the doomed city, Birdsong, accompanied by her brave friend Weimudan, explores the forgotten secrets of the villa and, prompted by odd dreams, discovers a mystery that concerns her father. She also falls in love with a handsome young guard, whose family has lived on the mountain for as long as memory can recall. But the villa’s overseer, Limtamm, is hostile to Birdsong and may be treacherous.
The stalwart princess has the advantage of allies: Weimudan, Weimudan’s fiancé Zhijian, the guard Azuma, and two sisters of the household. The action alternates between scenes of court intrigue, dark magic, and the adventures of the six young friends, who strive to restore the fortunes of the beleaguered province, even when that entails confronting supernatural presences. Are all ghosts and undead to be feared, or are some gentle enough to befriend, even love? Can rose tea protect one from worse than cold, exhaustion and worry? Are sixteen offspring enough to preserve the royal line? As the zombie populace grows, that last is increasingly in doubt.
In style, a mixture of Dream of the Red Chamber, Jane Eyre, some of Kurosawa’s films, and manga, The Haunting at Pine Peak is appealing YA fantasy. ~~ Chris Wozney