by Mary Robinette Kowal
Published on August 16, 2016 by Tor
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Historical
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Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, 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…
The world is in the midst of World War I. Men are out on the battle front while women do what they can in hospitality tents and in the field as nurses. Except for Ginger Stuyvesant who isn’t like most women. In fact, she’s downright supernatural.
Ghost Talkers is a new fantasy about a medium and how she aids soldiers in finding peace — after she hears their final reports. The Spirit Corps encompass a secret division that has conditioned soldiers to report in upon their death to mediums who send the information back to the war front. Once the book turned from setting the scene to the mystery of the traitor, I was hooked. I loved the idea of the Spirit Corps and their involvement in the war. At the very least, it made history a little more interesting. Though an alternate universe to ours, I never felt like it was odd that suddenly mediums and ghosts existed. For all I knew, while reading, this is how it actually happened.
Kowal has a way of completely twisting your emotions until you’re a bloody mess. This is fair warning to any who are easily swept away in the books they read. I became a medium, shadowing Ginger as she sought out the traitor all the while dealing with a tragedy that broke my heart. The attention to detail throughout the book was perfect. Enough to set the scene and submerge you completely but not so much that the story drowned in the exposition. It’s a fine balance that Kowal nailed.
I really loved Ginger’s character. She holds a lot of power without it going to her head, but what shines through is her love for her fiancé and the lengths she will go for him. And considering what that involves at times, it’s a wonder the woman remained sane. Her fiancé, Ben, was absolutely perfect and witnessing his character arc was gut-wrenching. Much like these two, the rest of the Ghost Talkers cast held their own and I’d love to read a spin-off novella for some of them like the medium Helen.
What really solidified this book for me was the fact that I’ve never read anything like it. I’m not partial to ghost-fantasties (Philippa Ballantine’s Geist being a rare exception) but this one worked. A good bit of the supernatural but mixed in with mystery against a war backdrop. Not only that, but the book didn’t shy away from gore without falling into horror (if that makes any sense). Death came in many forms and Kowal showed them all but I never felt turned off by it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with blood and guts (hell, I read the Game of Thrones books) but I appreciated that Ghost Talkers brought in those not-so-pleasant scenes and made them palatable for a wider audience.
At the end of this book, I almost cried (definitely teared up a bit). To date, I can only think of two books that ever struck me in such an emotional way beside this book. I laughed (several times out loud startling my dogs). I pressed my Kindle closer to my face hoping that maybe I’ll suddenly be able to read faster and find out what happens next. I came as close to tears as any book as made me. This book managed to capture everything in one volume (though I would absolutely read a sequel if the author decided to write one).
Ghost Talkers is a fabulous historical fantasy that every lover of the genre should read (and everyone else on top of that). Though I read it as an eBook, I’ll definitely be buying this one in print.