First things first, historical fiction isn’t really my cup of tea. I’ve read (listened) to some fiction of eighteenth and nineteenth century pieces, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. For whatever reason, taking creative liberties fleshing out real events doesn’t appeal to me. Perhaps it’s because I can’t grow attached to the characters, or because I know what’s going to happen. As always, there won’t be any plot spoilers or anything, especially since this book was published so recently.
That being said, I don’t have all that much experience with alternate history. I wouldn’t consider Jonathan Stroud’s works alternate history because they focus more on the characters and the premise rather than any specific period in history or events therein (save for ones in ancient history he touches on).
So when I jumped into Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers, I admit I was apprehensive. I have little to no interest in either of the World Wars or any relatively modern history, because frankly the use of modern weapons and tactics bore me. I didn’t want to read about some soldier stuck in a war fearing for his life.
Thankfully for me, that isn’t what the book is. It focuses primarily on a possible conspiracy that sprouted because of a few occurrences within the ranks of the military. In the English army there is a Spirit Corps: a branch of the military dedicated to communing with the souls of the dead Allies in order to gain critical information about strategic movements and positions.
The book does a good job investing the reader in the characters and, at a few points, can get quite sad. There are quite a few unexpected occurrences in this, many of the clues hidden and interwoven with the plot so cleverly you don’t even recognize clues as clues! Many books I’ve read are relatively easy to piece out “who done it”, but this one had me stumped until the reveal for a good number of reasons.
Another great factor in this book is that it feels so authentic to what I would imagine a “period piece” to be. This conveys very fluently what I would imagine that era to feel and sound like, and its nice to have characters in a book function in “modern” society for a change. (Sword and sorcery isn’t the way to go all the time, it seems!)
I’d say the largest shortcoming this book has is its main character. Her name is Ginger, and she is a ginger, for one, which is (obviously) intentional, but I personally feel is a bit silly. But she also plays the stereotypical role of the “strong woman in a man’s world” too perfectly. I understand that its somewhat the point: that character wouldn’t be very common at all in that era, after all, but still. To me, she acts very predictably, and I see that character trope too often to be able to appreciate it as much as I would like to.
Overall, nice short book. I’d be interested to see what else she has written, though I don’t think I’d be very interested in most of her other works. Not that I would know. I barely know anything about Mary Robinette Kowal.