Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
Ginger is a medium working in the top-secret Spirit Corps during WWI. Ghost Talkers is a blend of historical fiction, paranormal, and alternate history. The spirit corps has used magic–which is real but takes a paranormal bend–to bind soldiers’ ID tags so that they report in after death and act as Ally spies. This means the Spirit Corps has allowed the Allies to gain an important advantage in WWI.
I’ve not read Kowal before, but she blends historical fiction with light paranormal elements to create a unique story. The main characters–Helen, Ginger, and Ben–have a lot of charm, which helps, but the real star is the tone of this novel. If you’re a historical fiction fan, you’ll probably love this book. I loved this book. It had everything good about historical fiction combined neatly with unique paranormal plot elements. It’s rather light on fantasy elements (sans ghosts), but Ginger’s powers as a medium are used deftly and often enough that they don’t feel forced or like an unnecessary side note. Magical realism can rub me the wrong way sometimes because it’s often ‘oh yeah, and magic’, and it’s super obvious when an author wants to be ‘more literary’ and not play up the fantasy elements of their work. This book never short-changes or apologizes for being fantasy, and the historical details are added flourishes.
Oh, did I say I loved this? I did.
It was obvious to me that, at some point, Ben was going to die. I thought that he and Ginger would go on a secret mission first, and then he’d die in the course of action. While that did happen, Ben’s death happened way earlier in the story than I expected. If Ben’s death would’ve been the first event in the novel, though, it wouldn’t have worked well, either. Kowel tricks you with the slow build-up, which made me think Ben would live longer than he did. Instead, his death kicks off a murder mystery and spy mission. The only nitpick I have is that I thought the main, tantalizing question–who killed Ben and why–wraps up too soon. But it’s a great pay-off, and I was totally tricked into THAT SPOILER I’M NOT MENTIONING HERE BECAUSE IT’S A REAL SPOILER. 🙂 Suffice to say, the plot works to keep you guessing.
There are plenty of twists and turns in this story, too. The initial mystery is who killed a British gunner. The ghost claimed it was a British officer–a spy. Ben tracks down this lead, and he’s murdered. Then, the mystery transfer to the more personal ‘who killed Ben’, which creates plenty of tragic and beautiful moments of Ginger interacting with ghost Ben. If you like light romance (sweet romance), this is a book for you, too. I loved the relationship between Ben and Ginger, and Ben’s slippage into ghostly insanity tugged at my heartstrings every scene. Ben doesn’t pass on immediately, but he’s emotionally falling apart, and Ginger has the man she loves but is inevitably going to loose him. It’s subtly and sometimes beat-you-over-the-head tragic, but always amazing.
Rating: 5 stars. Loved it. This book blends historical fiction and fantasy superbly.