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Book Review: Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal

All too often, soldiers make the ultimate sacrifice. But what if death didn’t relieve them of their duties? What if the fallen still had a final task to perform?

Cover of Ghost Talkers, by Mary Robinette Kowal.

That's the premise underpinning Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers, a paranormal mystery set during World War I. Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress, and other female mediums have discovered how to speak with the spirits of recently killed soldiers; the soldiers have been trained to report in and provide details about enemy positions before passing on, providing a significant intelligence advantage to the Allies. But shortly after the story starts, Ginger learns that German spies have caught wind of the “Spirit Corps,” putting the program—and its mediums—in danger. What follows is a well-designed example of how to fuse multiple genres together. (Which isn’t surprising, given that Kowal and her co-hosts on the excellent Writing Excuses podcast are currently discussing this topic.) Ghost Talkers threads together elements of fantasy, spycraft, romance, history, and the aforementioned mystery. Each genre feels necessary, enhancing rather than clashing with the rest. I particularly liked how the spiritually assisted romance between Ginger and her fiancé, Benjamin Harford, comes from a healthy relationship—there’s plenty of drama elsewhere in the story; no need to manufacture it out of contrived misunderstandings and bickering. For all this, the story never fully grabbed me. (Perhaps because I listened to the audio version—sometimes a book just works better for me in text form.) But I respect the effort and skill that went into writing Ghost Talkers, and I’m interested in reading more works by Kowal.

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