Book: “Ghost Talkers” by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publishing Info: Tor Books, August 2016
Where Did I Get this Book: the library!
Book Description: Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Harford, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.
Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.
Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…
Review: This book description was right up my alley: historical fiction PLUS fantasy PLUS romance. And, while there were a few surprised here and there, I mostly enjoyed this book, perhaps especially because it is *shocker!* a standalone novel!
The book description for this is surprisingly accurate, so I won’t bore you with another recap of events, but jump right in. The biggest question was this book was whether not it would manage combing fantastical elements into a historical setting in a seamless manner. It would have been all too easy for the fantasy to overwhelm the setting or to throw questions on historical events. However, this is pulled off with aplomb. I particularly enjoyed the backstory with Houdini and Sir Conan Doyle being used by the military itself to discredit spiritualism in an effort to protect their mediums and discourage Germany from adopting similar tactics. It was a clever way of tying in reality while providing a clever explanation for events.
The story also doesn’t shy away from the prejudices that were alive and well in this time period and would impact our female protagonist and her fellow mediums. The systematic sexism and racism of the time are handled neatly, if a bit too easily. The conflicts were a bit too mild and the resolutions, a bit too easy. For a shorter novel, however, that’s main focus is narrating a spy story with a fantastical twist, I can’t fault it too much for not devoting more time to fleshing these bits out more thoroughly. Not every book needs to accomplish everything, and I was satisfied with the approach taken here.
The beginning does start with what could amount to a spoiler-y twist. For some, it’s probably pretty obvious, but I’ll refrain from going into details for those (like me!) who weren’t really looking for it (though now I do feel a bit “duh” about the whole thing…). I really enjoyed the mystery/spy/traitor storyline that was the central focus of this book, and thought that the use of mediums and ghosts was incorporated in clever, if not completely unique, ways. I also very much enjoyed Ginger as our leading lady.
This is a shorter, stand-alone novel, so if you’re in the mood for a quick read and are interested in WWI but not too finicky about the addition of things like ghosts, mediums, and seances, then this book might be just the thing!
Rating 7: I enjoyed it, but it’s also a very tried-and-true story with nothing particularly challenging or unique to offer. Still a fun read though!
“Ghost Talkers” is a new title and isn’t on many Goodreads lists. But I would include it in this list “Gaslamp Fantasy” and, even though it has obviously has fantasy elements, this list “WWI Historic Fiction.”
Find “Ghost Talkers” at your library using WorldCat.