It is the final week of Mardi Gras and the guides of Spirits of Yore ghost tours have a story for you. Walk the crumbling streets, stay on the sidewalks, don’t lean on the buildings, and listen as the history of the French Quarter unfolds through the ghosts who haunt its streets, and the guides who keep their tales alive.
Each chapter of Ariadne Blayde’s Ash Tuesday follows a different guide as they struggle with their personal demons, celebrate their small triumphs, and share their favorite ghost stories with the tourists who deign to wander their city for a short spell. As with any great novel set in an old city, Ash Tuesday makes New Orleans herself, with all her chaotic beauty and horror, as much a character as any person walking the page. Blayde lives and New Orleans, and has worked as a tour guide in the Quarter, and her obvious knowledge of the geography of the city, the kinds of people it attracts and repels, and the kinds of ghosts that linger there is obvious in every line.
This is a book for lovers of New Orleans, lovers of ghost stories, and lovers of history, but more than that it’s a story for lovers of people. The net of characters, tour guides, acquaintances, sometimes-rivals, frenemies, and lovers that Blayde brings to life are wholly unique, each with their own, rich lives that readers are privileged to see. The good, the bad, the baffling, and the in-between all come to life (or death) between the covers of Ash Tuesday, and the inescapable humanity of it all is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.
Blayde is an author with an ear for dialogue, a heart for creating characters, and enough grit under her fingernails to get the texture of her setting right. There are dozens of canned phrases to throw around about how spectacular Ash Tuesday is, but at the end of the day the highest praise I can offer is: I bought a copy of this book for someone I love.
Ash Tuesday is a novel worth sharing, and this reviewer can only be grateful that Blade chose to share it with the world.