Review: “A Country of Ghosts,” Margaret Killjoy

Pros: Excellent work on characters and setting
Cons: Pacing; unrealistically idealistic for me
Rating: 3 out of 5

Margaret Killjoy’s A Country of Ghosts follows a journalist named Dimos Horacki as he’s embedded at the front of a war. The kingdom he lives in is trying to take over a neighboring country, and he’s been assigned to follow and profile famed war hero Dolan Wilder. Only Dimos has a tendency to say what he thinks, and after Dolan gets his hands on Dimos’s first dispatch to his newspaper, Dimos is sent on a deadly little raid that doesn’t stand a chance. Captured by the enemy, realizing he’s been set up to die, he decides he’d rather learn about his country’s enemies. Their odd anarchistic “free” society perplexes him, but he comes to love the people he’s with, and settles in to help them defend themselves.

The overall pacing of the book just did not work for me. The action of the war was good, but I wish Killjoy had interspersed more action with the talking parts of the novel. Instead, it’s action/talking and society-building/action. It’s very clunky and results in some tediously boring chapters, especially when compared with earlier, faster-paced material. The characters spend a great deal of the narrative on convincing various villages to contribute to the defense of their homeland, and on introducing Dimos to the unique character of the new world he’s in.

Now for that world-building. The setting is extremely well-detailed, and it’s easy to see the countryside and towns as Dimos and his new companions ride through them. That utopian anarchistic society, though… I just can’t buy into it, no matter how detailed and carefully thought-out it is. I guess I just can’t believe there’s that much generosity across the board in humanity any more, that they could all support each other like one big happy family with no economy and no bartering. We’re literally told there’s no poverty. At least Killjoy doesn’t try to depict everyone as lovey-dovey–in fact as a whole the society seems a bit grumpy–but I suppose recent politics have left me with too little faith in humanity at this point. I just can’t buy into it at the level it’s shown here.

The characters have depth and interest. It’s easy to tell them apart, and they have plenty of personality. There are a few names that are a little too similar, but it’s a minor problem.

All in all, the pacing and the super-idealism don’t work for me. If you think those things wouldn’t bother you, then you’ll probably enjoy this tale–I know an audience exists for these things, it just isn’t me this time.

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