Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
First line: "The Germans were flanking us at Delville Wood when I died."
Review: This book, as I squeed on Twitter, shattered my expectations -- and my heart.
Set during World War I, the novel follows the British Army's Spirit Corps, a group of mediums who take the reports of soldiers killed on the front. They have an edge, as the campaigns of Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle -- plants for the British government -- have made the world think spiritualism was bunk.
But with the guidance of a West Indian woman, Helen, soldiers are "programmed" to want to report in before they pass on, and the Spirit Corps -- thought to be merely a morale boosting team -- hold continuous, hours-long seances to gather this precious intel from the newly dead.
Our heroine is Ginger Stuyvensant, an American heiress engaged to British officer Ben Harford. She's committed to the Spirit Corps, the other mediums and the ones in their circles with the slight "sight". But not everyone is as convinced that they are valuable, and when Ginger and Ben turned up tidbits and evidence of a spy, they face considerable resistance. Still, they fight for their colleagues, and seek out the truth where ever it leads them -- and it leads to much delicious heartbreak.
All the characters are wonderfully fun, even the tertiary ones, and the setting and world are describe in enough detail to be real without overwhelming the narrative. In particular, Kowal evokes all those elements that I appreciate in novels set during wartime conflict -- race and class and gender, bittersweet love and gutting loss -- as well as including original touches that transform this expected narrative into something more ethereal and unbelievably, more poignant.
Kowal is attentive, too, to the other details that matter, like the inclusion of a character of color as one of the main characters -- a touch I appreciate, as she acknowledges that people of color were in Europe, fighting, during World War I.
So obviously, a winning read for me -- definitely a top ten of 2016. I've been trying to pass along my physical ARCs but I think this is one I'll keep -- I see a reread in my future! (Also, this cover. Unfgh. J'adore it and it so captures the novel.)
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Fantasy / World War I / France / Spiritualism / Paranormal / Espionage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books (8/16/2016)
Source: Won from Based on a True Story
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction