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Dark Souls, by Paula Morris

Updated on February 22, 2016

I bought Paula Morris's first young adult novel, "Ruined" at the book fair at my son's school. Though the book had weaknesses, I thought that Morris had a lot of potential as an author of books for young adults. I was thrilled to see that Morris had a second young adult novel that was released in 2012, "Dark Souls." And the potential I saw in her first young adult novel definitely is coming into flower here.

"Dark Souls" is the tale of Miranda Tennant, a 16-year-old girl from the Midwest of the United States (she has lived in Illinois and Iowa, specifically). Her brother, Rob, was driving Miranda and Miranda's best friend, Jenna, home from a party. As they drove through the cornfields a car came out of a side street without stopping, or even slowing. The impact flipped the car that Miranda, Rob, and Jenna were in over, and Jenna died instantly. Miranda and Rob survived, but there were consequences for them, too. Rob ended up with a debilitating case of claustrophobia. Miranda, on the other hand, watched Jenna walk over to her, brush her hand through Miranda's hair and then walk away through the cornfields. At this point, Miranda realized that she could see ghosts.

The action of the novel actually begins six months after the accident. Miranda and Rob's parents, Peggy and Jeff, have decided that their children need a change of scenery. So, when Peggy gets invited to conduct a performance of "Dido and Aeneas" in York Minster and there just happens to be a symposium on Richard III (Jeff's area of expertise) in York that same week, the Tennant family goes to York.

They stay in a rental apartment in The Shambles, a medieval street which is a well-known tourist destination. Their first night in York, Lord Poole, the man who invited Jeff to the symposium, takes them to dinner and to the shrine of St. Margaret Clitherow, a 16th century Catholic martyr. However, the people who set up the shrine were mistaken as to which was actually St. Margaret's house. Miranda realizes that her ability to see ghosts has followed her across the Atlantic Ocean when she sees the saint's ghost emerge from the correct house.

Miranda meets Nick, a young man who frequently appears out of nowhere, and who, he claims, has been seeing ghosts longer than she has. Nick first approaches Miranda while Miranda is being pestered by the ghost of a small child who wants to show her where her body, and those of other children, are.

Nick explains that ghosts appear when they have unfinished business. For example, the little girl Miranda meets, whose name is Mary, was a resident of a school for homeless children that was in York over 100 years ago. The owner of the school received money from church organizations to take care of the children, whom he farmed out as slave labor. The owner pocketed the money rather than spending it to feed and clothe the children properly. As a result of this ill-treatment, the children began to die, and the owner of the school hid the bodies so as to keep receiving the money for children who no were longer alive to need it.

Meanwhile, Rob has met a young woman, Sally, with whom he is taken. Sally is home from college for Christmas and spends her days working in a tearoom and her evenings working in her parents' pub, the White Boar. When the staff of the White Boar just up and quits, Rob begins "helping out," which is the euphemism that Rob uses for working for free at the pub. Acts of vandalism start happening at the pub, beginning with the trashing of the cellar, though there is no sign that anyone has broken in.

Morris lived in York for several years, so it is not terribly surprising that most of the historical and geographical information checks out (the part of me that breaks out into metaphorical hives when I remember how some authors butcher both geography and history is thankful for it). The fire in York Minster in 1829 and the Martins both check out, as does the burning of York Castle. There was a "ragged school" on Bedern where, reportedly, the owner killed the children and/or let them die from abuse and neglect, and there are reports of ghosts in all of these places. She also not only got Margaret Clitherow's house right but she also correctly identifies (though not by name) the business in the building at the time the book was written. I cannot find any evidence of an empty, boarded-up building in the Shambles, though.

In 2002, I spent one night and a few hours of the following day in York. We briefly went to the Minster and spent a very little bit of time in the Shambles. I was not there long enough to develop any sense of direction, even, but, strangely, I do remember the parking lot that the Tennants walk through on their way to Clifford's Tower.

Overall, I really loved this book and am looking forward to the next young adult book that Ms. Morris writes.

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