Pros: Rich, inexorable, and gripping
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
Merafi has been safe from supernatural creatures due to an ancient pact, and it’s been so long that the inhabitants no longer believe in such things. Neighboring Tarnaroqui still harbors the power of elementals in some of its people’s blood, and their assassin priests wield that power to terrible effect. The clans of Lunedith have lost the ability to shape-change, but they still have some power of their own as well.
Thiercelin, a Merafian noble, has started seeing the ghost of his old friend Valdarrien. He can’t tell his wife lest she think him insane, so he sets out on his own to figure out what’s going on. Helping him is Gracielis, a high-class courtesan from Tarnaroqui. He can see and interact with ghosts but his power is minimal at best, and exacts from him a high toll. He does what he can to protect those he cares for, but he’s bound to a woman with great power and even greater ambitions.
Long-dead Valdarrien seeks to deny his death and to find his lost love, but he doesn’t realize how much he’s hurting everyone else by doing so. Iareth, his intended, has returned to Merafi with Kenan, Lunedith’s future ruler. She hopes to figure out what Kenan has planned for the Merafians he loathes and thwart him if she can. Kenan, meanwhile, has dark connections of his own, and has found ways to harness his clan’s power to devastating ends. The soldier Joyain, assigned to the Lunedithin delegation, just wants to protect his city and live in peace, but soon he finds himself battling wraiths and fighting just to keep up with the changes.
Merafi’s pact has been broken, and the river overflows its banks. It brings plague, riots, and hungry elemental creatures. The city is disintegrating, and those sworn to protect it can’t even see what’s in front of their eyes. It’s left to a handful of individuals to fight, love, and die on behalf of Merafi and its opportunistic neighbors.
Kari Sperring’s Living With Ghosts depicts a rich, fascinating world peopled with flawed, equally fascinating people. Ms. Sperring is a master at depicting not-entirely-likable people who, nonetheless, are compelling and worth investing in. Any frustrations I had with the characters’ actions added to the story rather than detracting. The world-building is lovely, sketched out in the details of the characters and their actions with no need for unsightly info-dumps. I found the whole thing riveting and didn’t feel a need for any more or less detail than was provided.
The characters ruled the story, but I found plenty of tension and danger to keep the pace moving. The story pulled me in entirely—enough so that I had to set the book down overnight to digest its contents before I could consider reviewing it. The huge cast of characters occasionally left me reaching for the memory of who exactly a given name connected to, but it was only an occasional occurrence and not a real problem.
Living with Ghosts was such an intense, tight experience that it doesn’t need an extensive breakdown. While it would be wonderful to see more of Sperring’s world, I was wholly satisfied by the scope and scale of this individual story. I don’t often re-read books, but I can easily see myself coming back to this one to experience its events again.