cover image American Ghoul

American Ghoul

Michelle McGill-Vargas. Blackstone, $26.99 (332p) ISBN 979-8-212-22456-7

McGill-Vargas’s deliciously unsettling debut adds a vampiric twist to the Reconstruction-era United States. From an Indiana jail cell, Lavinia, a formerly enslaved woman, recounts her life—starting with her first meeting with Simone, a vampire whose existence led Lavinia to her current predicament. At the time, the recently freed Lavinia is working at a brothel in Georgia, but she leaves with Simone to travel the country as her “ghoul,” responsible for guarding Simone’s coffin during the day and helping her to find meals and hide corpses. In Indiana, Lavinia makes new friends—particularly King, a fishmonger who lives on the shore of Lake Michigan and takes Lavinia under his wing. But, as the bodies pile up and Simone’s hunger grows, vampire and ghoul find themselves increasingly at odds as Lavinia’s desire to set down roots and build a life clashes with Simone’s needs. At times their relationship resembles a road-trip buddy comedy; at others the horror is palpable. The depth of social commentary, touching on the intersections of superstition and prejudice, serves as a stark counterpoint to the narrative’s more lighthearted elements. It’s Lavinia’s distinct voice that makes these tonal shifts work. Readers will be drawn in. Agent: Melissa Danaczko, Stuart Krichevsky Agency. (Sept.)