Ghost Talkers (Kowal)

Next up: “Ghost Talkers” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Oh MAN was this a lucky library find.  It’s hurled itself to the top of my ‘Buy’ list.

Summary

In this alternate version of our world, ghosts and mediums are real.  Spiritualism is not just tricks and slight-of-hand.  And in the midst of World War I, the British military has taken advantage of this fact.  With men dying by the battalion in the new and horrific ‘trench’ style of warfare, every little bit of intelligence is important.  So, soldiers are trained to, should they be mortally wounded, observe their surroundings carefully, so that they can make a full report on any enemy locations or troop movements to the mediums who debrief their spirits before they go beyond the void.

Ginger Stuyvesant is a medium with the Spirit Corps, a woman dedicated to her duty even as the horror of reliving soldiers’ deaths weighs on her.  She knows that the work they do is important.  The Spirit Corps also gives the spirits of the British soldiers closure, a chance for last messages to loved ones, a sense of completed duty and fulfilled responsibility.  And it gives the top-brass vital information, every wounded soldier becoming, in effect, a spy reporting on the enemy.  Largely, their work has gone unnoticed, but the Germans are becoming wise to the trick, though they obviously do not fully understand how it works.  Reports of wounded soldiers’ eyes being put out, and German troops complaining of “ghost spies,” are filtering in.  While their clumsy attempts at stopping the ghosts don’t disrupt the system, the fact that they are aware of the system is worrying.  More worrying still is that the Germans seem to be aware of the existence of the Spirit Corps, and are trying to locate their base of operations.

When Ginger debriefs the ghost of a soldier who had been killed by a traitor, she uncovers an enemy plot to find and destroy the Spirit Corps.  But the top-brass don’t believe her, either as a woman or as a medium.  So she must risk life and limb to find the evidence that will support her claim.

My thoughts

So great.  It’s been a long time (almost a year, I think) that I cold-picked a book that captured me like this.  I’m so glad I nabbed this at the library; I really enjoyed it.

Because of the setting and premise of the book, it is rather dark.  WWI was not a pleasant thing.  It was the first instance of mechanized warfare, and the battle tactics had not yet caught up to the technology of war.  So we had things like entire battalions trying to charge a line, and getting mown down to the last man by machine guns.  We had the advent of chemical warfare with the mustard gas bombs (post WWI saw a lot of updating of the ‘rules’ of fair war, with the Geneva Protocol and such).  Terrible, horrible things that just decimated the forces on both sides of the conflict.  And this book doesn’t really shy away from that.  Hell, it opens with Ginger speaking to a ghost, and then reliving his final moments.

Even so, the book manages not to completely drown you in despair and horror.  There are many instances of humor and sweetness.  I really liked Mrs. Richardson and her knitting.  Lady could have won the damn war with her knitting.  And Ginger and Ben’s dynamic is really wonderful.  They are a great team and very understanding of each other.  Their love for each other is really clear.

There is also a slight undercurrent of racial issues in the book, owing to the time period it is set in.  England is still super colonial at this point of time, holding power over a number of countries around the world.  And of course America is still racially divided, with segregation still around.  There are a number of characters that illustrate these differences, in the Spirit Corps and in the troop divisions.  It’s not a very big part of the book, but it does come up a few times.

Overall, a very good book.  Even if it did make me choke back tears a few times.

Rating

7/7 stars

Warnings

Some gore.

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