Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Pros: brilliant premise, some heart-wrenching scenes, great characters

Cons: a few off notes

July 1916, the Great War continues and so does the work of the Spirit Corps, taking reports and messages from the British dead.  Ginger Stuyvessant is a medium, doing her duty both with the ghosts and at the hospitality tent that acts as their cover.  When a message comes through suggesting that the Spirit Corps is being targeted, her fiance and military spy, Captain Ben Harford, starts to investigate.

I absolutely loved the premise of this book.  Mediums who used the ghosts of the dead to track enemy troop positions?  What a brilliant idea.  If, of course, also a horrific one as it’s entirely dependant on your side dying.  I loved that part of the mediums’ job was assuring each soldier that their death had meaning. 

The cast was great.  I loved Ginger’s pluck and her relationship with the members of her circle as well as the deep love she has for Ben.  Ben is also a good character, trying to protect Ginger while acknowledging that part of what made him fall in love with her was her adventurous spirit.

I was impressed that Kowal brought in an Indian squad as well as a West Indian woman, and horrified by how they were treated by the military brass.

Given that it details wartime, it’s not surprising that there are some heart-wrenching scenes.

A few minor things bugged me, like at the end I got Edna and Aunt Edie confused.  There was also an ending scene with a character that rang a bit false to me, which I’ll explain in more detail in the spoiler section.

The mystery was well done with a good number of twists and turns to the investigation.  Ginger and Ben certainly work hard to find out what’s going on, taking a lot of physical - and other - punishment.

I really enjoyed this novella.  It’s only about 200 pages, but it took a while to read, simply because of the heavy subject matter.  I would love to see more done with this setting/premise.   


It’s made clear earlier on that Ben doesn’t like his cousin, Reginald, because the man is a bully who picked on those beneath him.  The end scene with Reginald makes it seem like Ben disliked him unfairly, perhaps because he was poor.  One act of kindness doesn’t negate numerous years of petty abuse, even if that abuse was directed at others (others who would have been Ben’s servants when he took over the household, and who will now become Reginald’s servants instead).

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