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Living with Ghosts Mass Market Paperback – March 3, 2009
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About the Author
Kari Sperring has been writing as long as she can remember and completed her first novel at the age of 8 (12 pages long and about ponies). She started writing fantasy in her teens, inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien, Alexandre Dumas and Thomas Mallory. She holds a B.A and a PhD in medieval history from Cambridge University, and as Kari Maund has written and published five books and many articles on Celtic and Viking history and co-authored a book on the history and real people behind her favourite novel, The Three Musketeers. She’s been a barmaid, a tax officer, a P.A. and a university lecturer, and has found that her fascinations, professional or hobby-level, feed and expand into her fiction. Living With Ghosts evolved from her love of France and its history, ghosts, mysteries, Celtic culture, strange magic and sword fights. Her novel-in-progress has even found a creative role for bookkeeping. She’s British and lives in Cambridge, England.
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Top Customer Reviews
This ties in, it turns out, with a plot against the throne. As the boundaries between the living and the dead begin to break down, a small group of reluctantly entangled characters are the only ones who can save the city. All are complex, flawed characters whose past mistakes come to bear on the current situation, and all of them change and develop throughout the novel. They are connected to each other in an intricate web of relationships: friends, relatives, ex-lovers.
This web of relationships is complex enough that it could be confusing for some readers, especially when the names are added in; Sperring's character names are a mouthful, and most have a nickname too. For example, Valdarrien becomes Valdin and Yvelliane becomes Yviane. Perhaps the most confusing is that Illandre and Allandur are the same family name, in the Merafien and Lunedithin languages respectively. Pronounced aloud, it makes sense, but reading it in print, I was embarrassingly slow to pick up on that. There's also a political situation to grasp, and so it's a fair amount of knowledge for a reader to absorb. Sperring makes the wise decision to develop the plot slowly and gradually during these initial chapters. This is one case where a slow start is extremely helpful. We aren't thrown into an epic battle, for example, without figuring out who the players are first. Sperring also builds the mood during these chapters; the incessant rain at first just seems like a fitting backdrop for the characters' troubled moods, but then evokes its own dread as the nature of Merafi's protections is revealed and one considers what effect the rain might have upon them.
After that, the deluge -- pardon the ancien regime pun, but it seems fitting as Merafi is clearly influenced by Bourbon France. The magic in Living with Ghosts is mysterious and elemental. It reminds me of something George R.R. Martin said about magic in fantasy fiction in an interview: "I can tell you generally that when treating with magic in fantasy, you have to keep it magical. Many fantasy writers work out these detailed systems, and rules, and I think that's a mistake. For magic to be effective in a literary sense, it has to be unknowable and strange and dangerous, with forces that can't be predicted or controlled. That makes it, I think, much more interesting and evocative. It functions as a symbol or metaphor of all the forces in the universe we don't understand and maybe never will." This is that kind of magic, and once in a while it's confusing but overall it works -- and may just send shivers down your spine. The characters, as mentioned above, grow and change throughout the story. This is both a reaction to the events and a force that helps shape the events. For example, Gracielis must overcome his feelings of inadequacy if he's to help save the city; and the way the river's nature and Valdarrien's emotional state weave together at the climactic moment is simply perfect and heartbreaking.
Living with Ghosts is the kind of book about which one might say, "this is the sort of thing you will like, if this is the sort of thing you like." There's a certain type of decadent, historically-influenced, character-driven, political, and often urban fantasy that I deeply enjoy and that is sometimes hard to find. Definitely give Sperring a try if you like Jacqueline Carey, Ellen Kushner, and Lane Robins. The writing is beautiful, the characters are well-drawn, and the story is scary and tragic and deeply romantic, without being a romance (i.e. no tidy happily-ever-after here).
(The Kindle edition of Living with Ghosts has one slightly annoying flaw: some of the line breaks that denote point-of-view shifts are missing. Most of the time it's easy to reorient yourself, but in one scene toward the end, I briefly thought Joyain had actually morphed into Valdarrien via magic, which would have been a huge plot twist! But it was just a missing line break.)
But ghosts should not be walking the streets of Merafi. They are part of the dangerous magic that Merafi is supposedly free from. Nor should there be pouring rains and flooding, and the ruination of trade. Something is threatening the city. Even the Queen is ill and dying.
Thiercelin, a young noble, seeks out Gracielis when he begins to be haunted by the ghost of his friend, the wild and notorious duelist, Valdarrien, whose sister he has since married. Threads of plots from the past and the present are intertwined, forming a tighter and tighter binding about the city and its inhabitants.
Joyain, a simple soldier, finds himself guarding a delegation that may be plotting treason. And Iareth, a member of the delegation and former lover of the ghostly Valdarrien, fears plots and treason as well. She is charged with watching and reporting to her own hidden masters. Agendas, secrets and intrigues abound.
The dark magic choking the city is evocatively depicted. The characters are complex and intriguing. The world-building seems assured, although much is only hinted at. One would like to explore this world more thoroughly, and know the characters better, as well. This is one of those books one wished would go on for much longer; definitely a memorable and fascinating tale.
Wow, this is one of the best adult fantasies that I've read in a long time. I absolutely loved it and will reread it as soon as I can. It's the story of a nobleman, Thiercelin, the love he has for his wife who is a busy politician, his relationship with her brother, Valdarrien, and a courtesan/priest, a man by the name of Gracielis, and a few other characters, all of who have POVs. This is a dark tale about a woman who wishes to take over the city of Merafi, first by destroying it. There's magic, the kind I love, hidden, mysterious, and never really explained. There are several love stories going on, all of which I loved and then there is the evil coming. The dead are coming back. Ghosts appear, the waters of river rise, and so much more.
Very good books, atmospheric, clever, and emotional, with a very satisfactory ending. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED TO ANYONE, age 14 and up who loves really good fantasy novels. No saving the world here, just saving a city and the lives of its citizens. Heartbreaking love stories, really sensual and romantic.
And I adored Valdarrien. Give me that man anytime!