Review: “Sparrow Hill Road,” by Seanan McGuire

Pros: Fascinating worldbuilding and characters
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road is about Rose Marshall, a ghost who’s been sweet 16 for decades. She’ll forever wear the prom dress she died in, and she does whatever she can to help those drivers who are headed toward a grim fate on the Ghost Roads. Sometimes she saves them. Sometimes she helps them get home one last time. Sometimes she saves their souls from an evil not-quite-phantom who fuels his immortality and youth using the ghosts of the newly dead–he’s the one who killed her, and she still runs from him, even though she knows eventually she’ll have to do something about him, if only because no one else will.

The description I read of this book made it sound like a novel concentrating on the latter plot line, but it’s actually more of an anthology of interconnected stories about Rose and the Ghost Roads. An intricate level of worldbuilding has gone into this milieu. Ghosts of all different kinds, following different sets of rules, abound. Routewitches pop up quite a few times, and on the whole they seem inclined to help Rose achieve her goals, although not always in the manner which she’d prefer. It was hard to imagine how Rose’s setup would support a book this large, but we’re talking Seanan McGuire here, so I trusted. I was right to trust–the stories are fascinating and imaginative all the way through. I’ve already pre-ordered the sequel: The Girl in the Green Silk Gown.

The characterization is beautiful. Rose is a complex character, not at all limited by her urban legend(s). (Naturally in the decades since she died she’s been the source of a handful of them, some more accurate than others.) We gradually learn more and more about her own death, until finally it’s time for her to tell us the whole story. We also see her square off against a ghost that doesn’t know it’s a ghost, fight to save someone who’s approaching their fate, and do an unpleasant favor for the Queen of the routewitches. She tags along with some ghost hunters on a whim, and discovers that some of her own family still has an interest in her. The stories are varied and interesting, as is the world in which they take place. I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys ghost stories.

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