Sat
Mar 28 2009 2:03pm

Review: Living With Ghosts

I’m not a compulsive book-finisher. If something is terrible, I’ll stop reading and move on, but there’s also a frustrating place between good enough to enjoy and bad enough to put down without guilt or curiosity. Kari Sperring’s Living With Ghosts, appropriately enough, falls into that gray area. It was tantalizingly almost good.

Sperring’s world has three cities: Tarnaroq, home of mages called undarii who deal with death; Lunedith, which follows its ancient clan ways; and Merafi, our setting. Merafi has no truck with ghosts or the clan magics, a position it can hold because of a big anti-ghost binding laid there by its founder. I thought of it as 18th-century Paris.

According to the back cover, main character Gracielis is a “failed assassin priest turned courtesan and spy,” which wins my personal Copy-Fail Award, with all runners-up being other parts of this back cover. (Three ellipses? Really?) Gracielis failed the final test to become undarios, but he still sees ghosts, which shouldn’t be happening in protected Merafi. Up in the palace, Yvelliane d’IIlandre is trying to hold the city’s government together while its queen is dying, an especially difficult task now that the troublemaking delegation from Lunedith has arrived, there’s plague in the lower city, and strange creatures have appeared in the mists. Yvelliane’s husband Thiercelin is fiercely bored with his wife working all the time, and, oh yeah, he saw a ghost the other day….

The character relationships are all interlaced: this one married to that one, whose brother loved that one, who ends up staying with…you get it. Everyone is a viewpoint character, so you see them from the inside and the outside at different times and in different contexts, and Sperring juggles them quite well. I liked the idea of a busy politician and her moping husband, and Thierry was well-drawn and sympathetic. I loved Gracielis’s patron Amalie and the Tarnaroqui envoy Iareth Yscoithi, enough that I was very angry at how Iareth ends up. Her taste in men is abominable; when we meet her true love Valdin, who has been built up as a rakish and tragic duelist, he’s actually just immature and whiny, the sort of guy that Ellen Kushner's Richard St. Vier would smack as soon as look at. The uneven characterization bothered me, but the ones I liked were enough to keep me reading.

The plot’s neat—almost pat—causality also gave the book momentum, although sometimes the payoff was too long in coming. At first, I thought that Living With Ghosts would be better if it were tighter, with less chance to lose the tension generated by the scenes with actual plot in them, but I got towards the end, I wished that I had more justification for events. Things that have to happen just happen, even if there’s no good reason other than that’s how the plot wraps up. It's a reminder of how hard this book-writing thing must be—and who am I to throw stones, when I don’t do it?—to have a book that works paragraph by paragraph, page by page, but doesn’t come together when you add them all up.

All of that said, you may very well like the book, dear reader, so I’m offering up my review copy to the first commenter who specifically asks for it; if you are that person, e-mail me your snail-mail address at megan dot messinger at macmillan dot com. It’s a regular mass market paperback with some “carried it in my messenger bag for two weeks” wear. Cave lector.

22 comments
Richard Fife
1. R.Fife
I'll take a bite of this. Send it my way and thank ya kindly.

I empathize with you on the "just good enough to keep reading." I had that with Tower of Shadows by Drew Bowling. Also had the kinda "What, that's the end? But why?" feeling you described.

Safety word is Kumquat, btw.
Tex Anne
2. TexAnne
Latin geek alert: "caveat lector." (Vel lectrix.) "Cave" means "beware of," as in "cave canem," "beware of the dog."

We now return you to your regular geekitude.
Richard Fife
3. R.Fife
Iunno, perhaps it is a "beward of the reader". Perhaps this book turns its readers into blood-thirsty ghosts, so we need to run screaming from anyone who has read it?
Megan Messinger
4. thumbelinablues
I was afraid to work from popular phrases, so I phoned a friend who did a bit of Latin - next time, I will definitely ask the audience! :-P
Angela Edwards
5. AngelaE8654
Tantalizingly "almost good" huh? I used to be an avid reader. Now, I don't seem to have the patience. I suspect that is part of the "internet lifestyle" which is too bad. My husband has the exact same problem.
Tex Anne
6. TexAnne
Nah, "beware of the reader" would be "cave lectorem," since "the reader" is the direct object.

Now that I think about it some more, "cave lector" fits the post perfectly--"Reader, watch out!" I forgot about the vocative for a second....
eric orchard
7. orchard
I seem to come across a lot of almost good books. There will be some compelling element that pushes me forward slowly.I have been finishing less books lately because of this. If I hit that uncertainty at page 40 of 400 I know I probably won't finish the book.I think this book sounds pretty cool, actually.
Sheena Bandy
8. Sheena Bandy
Tantalizingly almost good. Wow.

I hope someone says that about my books someday.

*dies laughing*
Arachne Jericho
9. arachnejericho
The "almost good" comes from, I think, having more experience in what you like or don't like, so that you can tell when you aren't likely to get it, even if the plot draws you forwards and you want to find out what happens.

I've run into that phenomenon as I read more and more (and not necessarily because of the Internet).
Mikah McCabe
10. spriteheroine
Most of the books I read that fall into that grey area lure me with beautiful cover-men. It's a trap I can't seem to stop falling int--oh lord, look at that cloak, I want to read about it RIGHT NOW!
Sam Rateliff
11. savings
Even though I don't believe in ghosts, I am freaked out as anybody by a good ghost story.
Patricia Ryans
12. patriciht8
>>I'm not a compulsive book-finisher. If something is terrible, I'll stop reading and move on, but there's also a frustrating place between good enough to enjoy and bad enough to put down without guilt or curiosity

Haha! I can relate to that. Being a student of English literature for 8 long years, there have been countless instances when I have tucked away a voluminous novel after reading the first few chapters. My main problem is that I easily get bored and distracted. Novels that others would read again and again (think Harry Potter) would bore me too. I have been always like this, even though back then I had no internet access.

But give me a 100-page book any day - no more and no less - and I promise I would finish it in a heartbeat!
john stone
14. fatbikez
Tantalizingly almost good. Wow.

I hope someone says that about my books someday.

*dies laughing*
peter jones
15. peterjones
Really when i read that it was credible for me...Good attempt...Keep it up!!
crex ice
17. williamwong
Nah, "beware of the reader" would be "cave lectorem," since "the reader" is the direct object.

Now that I think about it some more, "cave lector" fits the post perfectly--"Reader, watch out!" I forgot about the vocative for a second....
scathe six
19. issuu
Even though I don't believe in ghosts, I am freaked out as anybody by a good ghost story.
Marek Daniec
22. thepupaboy
Ghosts? Yeah that was sth that scared me when I was like 10 years old. I remember old lady which we had in the hall. I always was scare of her that she will came in the night and do sth to me. She looked like a old witch - that was not a ghost exactly but.. I often sleept with my eyes closed :D
Max 56
23. Max56
I think, having more experience in what u like or don't like, so that u can tell when u aren't likely 2 get it, even if plot draws u forwards & u want 2 find out what happens.
Sheena Bandy
29. çanta modelleri
Çanta markalar? ülkemizde ve yurtd???nda çok fazla olup çe?itli çanta markalar? kaliteli ve klas görüntüleri ile birçok ki?i taraf?ndan be?enilmekte ve al?nmaktad?r. Dolay?s?yla bayan çanta modelleri aras?nda birçok model yine bayanlara hitap edilmektedir. Bayan çanta modelleri aras?nda birçok renk ve desen vard?r. Bu renk ve desenler aras?nda bayanlar tüm k?yafetlerine uygun çanta modellerini kullanmakta ve aksesuar olarak çantalar? kullanmaktad?rlar. Çanta modelleri bayanlar ve erkekler için de?i?iklik göstermekte olup birçok tarz fark? olan modeller de bulunmaktad?r. Erkekler de çanta kullanmaktad?rlar. Birçok e?yalar?n? koyduklar? çantalar birçok e?yay?da toplamaktad?r. Erkek çanta modelleri çok çe?itli klasik ve spor tarzda olanlar? mevcuttur. Özelliklerinden bahsedicek olursak, klasik modeller daha çok i?e giden ki?iler için ve klasik k?yafetlerle uyum sa?lad??? için kullan?lmaktad?r. Spor çantalar ise spor zamanlar?nda veya e?ofmanlarla birlikte kullan?l?rlar. Spor giyimlerle birliktede spor çantalar ayr?ca kullan?lmaktad?r. Spor çantalar? erkekler daha çok kullanmaktad?rlar. Kot pantolon tsh?rt lerle kullan?lan spor çanta birçok renk ve desen modelleri ile de farkl?l?klar göstermektedirler.
Sheena Bandy
30. steph s
I love anything about ghost or the supernatural. There is a great article at htt://www.paranormallcentral.com about a famous haunted house and I got a free physic reading. It was dead on. Creepy.
Sheena Bandy
33. Suzaine
LIVING WITH GHOST

Ghost..
It was some 6-7 years of age, when I use to believe it, and was really afraid of it..
But now at present this concept makes me laugh..
And this scary movie might turned out to be a funny movie for people like us, atleast to me..
Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha...

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